Another Florida man has filed paperwork to enter the 2024 presidential race.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who bills himself as a "unifier," is poised to launch a long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Running on a record of attracting tech businesses to Florida, reducing crime and capturing the Hispanic vote, he argues that he can help the party chart a positive path forward and appeal to moderates with his focus on climate change. He is the first Hispanic candidate to enter the Republican primary field this cycle.
Suarez, a real estate attorney and the son of former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, was initially elected in 2017. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2021 and serves as the president of the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
He has become well known for attracting technology investors to Miami. He previously met with PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and has publicly courted Tesla CEO Elon Musk. He has also been a strong supporter of cryptocurrency, aiming to make the city a hub for digital currency. He argues that Miami can be a "prototype" for the country.
Suarez recently came under fire after a Miami Herald investigation alleged that he helped a development company that pays him $10,000 a month to navigate permit issues. The county’s Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has begun investigating the matter, NBC Miami reported.
In an interview with NBC News' Tom Llamas on Monday, Suarez defended himself and questioned the timing of the report.
"I’ve been a public official for 13 years, I’ve never had any issues," he said. "There’s never been ever a question as to my integrity. I’ve been a working councilman and a working mayor throughout that entire time. And I find it interesting that that the our local newspaper, you know, just a couple of weeks before I’m set to make a big announcement, all of a sudden uncovers this troublesome story. Look, I have always distinguished myself by someone who’s never used my public position to benefit any private entity. I never will do that."
He will face the challenge of running against two Republicans from Florida with far more name recognition: former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Matthew Isbell, an elections consultant in Florida, said that the mayor's reluctance to engage in culture war issues could also cost him in the Republican primary campaign.
"Suarez on climate change isn’t going to play well in a primary. It might play well in a general, but if you can’t get past the primary, it doesn’t matter," Isbell said.
"He’s going to have to appeal to a lot of steadfast conservatives that do not care that the city of Miami got new development," Isbell added. "Voters in West Virginia don’t care, voters in Indiana don’t care and, frankly, voters in Key West don’t care."
Suarez has said that he intends to be firmly in the race ahead of the first Republican debate in August. Earlier this spring, he met with major Republican donors, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, CNBC reported.
Ahead of his announcement, Suarez also traveled to battleground states to address voters. He spoke before a crowd at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College on the heels of a visit to Iowa.
There, he aimed to cultivate an image as a personable politician. According to local media reports, he shared his personal cellphone number on stage, describing the move as “radical.” He hit DeSantis for being too stiff to engage in the retail politics that draws voters in.
“He seems to struggle with relationships, generally,” Suarez said. “I look people in the eye when I shake their hands.”
When asked by Llamas whether DeSantis would be a "good president" during the interview Monday, Suarez replied, "If I thought someone else would be a good president, I wouldn’t be running. Or I wouldn’t be talking about the possibility of running for president."
Suarez reportedly voted for Andrew Gillum, DeSantis' Democratic opponent, in the 2018 gubernatorial election. Four years later, he cast his ballot for DeSantis.
Richard Conley, a presidential scholar at the University of Florida, said that Suarez has a compelling story that helps voters identify with him. Still, he said that Suarez faces a time crunch in building up momentum and name recognition when polling shows that Trump has captured around half of the Republican primary vote.
“The fundamental dilemma for all these candidates is, if half the Republican base is firmly for Trump, how do you differentiate yourself?” he said.
Suarez has called for the next president to have a “positive” vision for the future, saying current candidates gave voters "a lot of negativity, a lot of divisiveness.”
He said he did not vote for Trump in the 2020 election. But he has been reluctant to criticize the GOP front-runner, portraying himself as an alternative to Trump's style without explicitly naming his opponent.