The Coronado Veterans of Foreign Wars building was packed tight on Sunday night for a campaign visit from Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

His appearance in Coronado comes as DeSantis is slipping in some national polls for the No. 2 position in the Republican race behind former President Donald Trump, who holds a massive lead over his GOP rivals. 

DeSantis told The Coronado News to “stay tuned” on what will differentiate him from Trump as their campaigns continue. 

Among leading presidential candidates

DeSantis is among the leading 2024 Republican presidential candidates who will meet again at the second GOP primary debate on Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, where Trump is not expected to attend. 

Although Sunday’s event was kept low profile, DeSantis’ visit elicited a full room, and many attendees were veterans.

DeSantis addressed the crowd before moving behind the bar to serve up drinks and shake hands.

Ron DeSantis spoke at the VFW on Sunday, Sept. 24. He served attendees drinks at the bar afterwards. Staff photo by Sofie Fransen.

Navy background in Coronado

He told the attendees that it was great to be back to the place where, 15 years ago, he received orders as a young Navy lieutenant to report to the Coronado Naval Amphibious Base, Naval Special Warfare Group One. 

DeSantis joined the U.S. Navy in 2004. He was deployed to Iraq and served as a legal advisor to a Navy Seal commander. He left active duty in 2010 and remained in the U.S. Navy Reserves.

According to CNN, DeSantis is the only veteran in the GOP presidential field. 

Mayor Richard Bailey said many veterans were in attendance. Staff photo by Sofie Fransen.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey said that Desantis’ background in the military is something that especially resonates with the Coronado community, which is home to Naval Base Coronado, employing over 36,000 military and civilian personnel, according to Military OneSource. 

“I think that’s important for really any candidate to have that type of experience, that they know what is happening to military men and women,” Bailey said. “We have a lot of vets in attendance today, so that message really resonates well of someone who understands what military life is like and what’s important for national defense.”

Country in a state of decline

DeSantis opened his remarks by comparing California to Florida, even saying he agreed, via conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, to debate with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, although he is waiting on confirmation.

DeSantis speaking to a full house on Sunday. Staff photo by Sofie Fransen.

His list of grievances against the state of California included higher taxes, the way the state treats education, disrespecting parent’s rights, and prior COVID lockdowns. 

And, DeSantis said that as a whole, the country is in a state of decline.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to return this government to its rightful owners, which is we, the American people,” DeSantis said. 

He said that the state of Florida serves as proof that it can be done, listing his movements as governor of the state to improve the economy, lower crime rates and increase pay for first responders and teachers. 

“I’m motivated to help change the country in the right direction because I’ve got a 6-, a 5- and a 3-year-old old at home,” DeSantis said at the event. “I really believe that our generation is in danger of being the first generation in American history that’s going to leave to our kids and grandkids an America that is less prosperous and less free than the one we inherited.”

Serving drinks and shaking hands

After addressing the crowd, DeSantis moved to shake hands with individuals and serve drinks from behind the VFW bar. The room was buzzing with voices, as people were eager to meet the presidential candidate.

Coronado resident Pete Collins, who served in the Navy 29 years and retired last November, heard about the event on Saturday. He said he appreciates how DeSantis puts his money where his mouth is. 

Attendees raising their glasses to DeSantis. Staff photo by Sofie Fransen.

“I’m very happy to see another Navy veteran who’s actually tearing things up and doing the right stuff,” Collins said. “He recognizes where a lot of the problems are, and he takes proactive action to get those [right steps] done.”

Ongoing sewage crisis

Bailey said that the single greatest federal issue that the Coronado community could use support from Washington on right now is the Tijuana sewage pollution crisis, which has consistently shuttered the city’s beaches as yellow warning signs peppered the coast on Sunday south of the Hotel del Coronado. 

 The Coronado News earlier this year published a five-part series that examined decades of broken promises by U.S. and Mexican officials to end the continual sewage flow from rapidly growing Tijuana. 

“I really thanked him for making Coronado one of his campaign stops,” Bailey said. “It’s really uncommon for just regular, everyday Americans to actually be able to shake the hand of a presidential candidate. So, for him to take the time to come to a little town like Coronado really means a lot.”

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Sofie Fransen is a staff writer for The Coronado News. She graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University, majoring in English-Education and minoring in Journalism. She was the Opinion Editor of The Point student newspaper. In the summers, she has been commercial fishing for the sockeye salmon run in Alaska. She can be reached by email or at 360-527-5848.