MIAMI — Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Monday he has resigned from Congress to devote himself to running for governor in one of the nation’s most closely watched midterm election contests.Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, is locked in an intense battle with Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, the Democratic nominee.In a letter to Speaker…
MIAMI — Representative Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Monday he has resigned from Congress to devote himself to running for governor in one of the nation’s most closely watched midterm election contests.
Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, islocked in an intense battlewith Mayor Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee, the Democratic nominee.
In a letter to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Mr. DeSantis cited his likely absences for the rest of the congressional term as a reason to step down.
“Under these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to accept a salary,” he wrote. He made his resignation retroactive to Sept. 1. “This is not a decision I make lightly,” he said.
Mr. DeSantis, a three-term congressman from the Sixth District, which includes the Daytona Beach area, routed the state’s agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam, in the Florida primary two weeks ago. The Republican racewas definedby President Trump’s endorsement of Mr. DeSantis,a loyal acolyte.
Republicans in Washington said that, with the congressman’s seat set to be filled in the November general election, there would almost certainly be no special election to fill the vacancy. Running to replace him in the G.O.P.-leaning seat are the Republican Michael Waltz and the Democrat Nancy Soderberg.
Mr. DeSantis’s decision was aimed in part at denying Mr. Gillum and Democrats ammunition about his missing votes. The Republican was absent for all 14 votes on the House floor last week and likely would have missed dozens more between now and the election.
Mr. DeSantis’s advisers said he would now be able to spend all his time campaigning without having to confront criticism about wasting taxpayer money and not representing his constituents, a line of attack he implicitly sought to pre-empt in his letter of resignation.
But after being attacked in the Republican primary for being a Washington fixture who mostly communicated with Floridians via cable news interviews, Mr. DeSantis also indicated with his decision a recognition that he must further immerse himself in his state. He has proved far more comfortable discussing national issues than the more parochial topics that typically dominate governors’ races.
He is hardly the first lawmaker to step away from his seat in pursuit of another elected position, but the abruptness of his decision reflects the competitive nature of a race that is already drawing intense national attention and carries immense symbolic and substantive implications. Florida is the country’s largest swing state and the race pits an African-American progressive, who would be the state’s first black governor, against one of Mr. Trump’s most outspoken congressional allies.
A Quinnipiac poll last week, one of the first public surveys taken since Florida’s Aug. 28 primary, showed a highly competitive race. Mr. Gillum drew 50 percent from likely voters while Mr. DeSantis was taking 47 percent.
And Mr. DeSantis has been dramatically outdone in fund-raising in the aftermath of the primary, as national progressive donors pour money into the state. But he is about to get some outside help of his own: the Republican Governors Association is set to begin advertising on Wednesday in Florida, said an official with the group, starting a multimillion dollar ad campaign that is expected to blister Mr. Gillum.
The days immediately following the primary were consumed by racially charged politics after Mr. DeSantis, 39,was accusedof using a racist dog whistle in a Fox News interview in which he cast Mr. Gillum, also 39, as a supporter of far-left policies.
“The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state,” he said. Mr. DeSantis’s campaign later said characterizing his comment as racist was “absurd.”
Two days later, racist robocallstargeting Mr. Gillumwere delivered to some Florida voters.
If the early resignation was intended to head off criticism from his opponents, it didn’t work. The Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, Terrie Rizzo, put out a statement detailing the votes Mr. DeSantis missed while campaigning. “Ron DeSantis’ entire political career has been about helping one person: Ron DeSantis,” Ms. Rizzo said, adding that the congressman had now “quit on the people of Florida.”