DeSantis was just endorsed by a lawmaker on the Oath Keepers roster. Will Republican voters care?

DeSantis was just endorsed by a lawmaker on the Oath Keepers roster. Will Republican voters care?
Image via Gage Skidmore.
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The presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has demonstrated a knack for lining up support from state legislators, including some who see his chief rival Donald Trump as a drag on the Republican ticket.

Out of the 113 state lawmakers in DeSantis’ home state of Florida, 99 pledged support. In New Hampshire: 51. In Iowa: 37. In Michigan: 19.

And that was all before DeSantis announced his candidacy.

Since then, he’s also collected endorsements in Oklahoma and South Carolina.

On Wednesday, the DeSantis campaign announced endorsements from 18 state legislators in North Carolina, where the candidate recently addressed the state GOP convention. Along with House Majority Leader John Bell, the list includes a lawmaker with a notable extremist connection.

Rep. Keith Kidwell represents a coastal district that includes part of the Outer Banks. A far-right lawmaker who has sponsored legislation to prevent children from receiving gender-affirming care and to allow life-time concealed handgun permits, Kidwell’s name turned up on a leaked membership roster of the Oath Keepers militia group in October 2021, as first reported by Raw Story. The entry, which included a working cell phone number for the lawmaker, indicated that he had made at least one donation to the organization since 2012.

Dozens of members of the far-right militia group, which recruited military veterans and law enforcement, have been charged for involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Since the revelation about Kidwell’s membership, six members of the Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, have been convicted of seditious conspiracy.

Emails from Raw Story to the DeSantis campaign seeking comment on Kidwell’s endorsement for this story were not returned.

Kidwell declined to comment at the time about his Oath Keepers membership on the basis that “the information was ill-gotten.” A year later, after the Anti-Defamation League highlighted the inclusion of elected officials on the Oath Keepers’ membership list, Kidwell continued to remain silent on his association with the extremist group.

DeSantis has similarly attempted to sidestep questions about the Jan. 6 riot as he, along with other Republican hopefuls compete for votes from the Republican base, more than a quarter of whom approved of the attack, according to a poll released in March.

“I wasn’t anywhere near Washington that day,” DeSantis said in response to a question from a high school student during a campaign stop in New Hampshire earlier this week. “I have nothing to do with what happened that day. Obviously, I didn’t enjoy seeing, you know, what happened. But we gotta go forward on this stuff. We cannot be looking backwards and be mired in the past.”

The Oath Keepers association is not likely to create a liability for DeSantis in the Republican primary, as extremism continues to make inroads with the GOP electorate since Jan. 6. The Florida governor is a marquee speaker at the national summit of Moms for Liberty — recently designated as an “antigovernment organization” by the Southern Poverty Law Center — in Philadelphia this weekend.

Other speakers with prime slots include four of DeSantis’ Republican primary opponents: Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, “anti-woke” entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

All of them hold the distinction of sharing billing with a lesser-known speaker who holds a noteworthy resume. A former local prosecutor in Florida, KrisAnne Hall is a one-time member of the Oath Keepers known for arguing that states and local counties are not obligated to comply with federal law.

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