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        DeSantis floats idea to bypass swing-state voters as Florida GOP backs Trump’s fight to keep the White House

        Gov. Ron DeSantis is endorsing President Donald Trump’s fight to hold onto his job, floating the idea that GOP-controlled legislatures in battleground states won by Democratic nominee Joe Biden could appoint Trump electors and override the popular vote.

        DeSantis, one of Trump’s close Republican allies, declared Thursday on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News he would stand with Trump as the president’s re-election chances dimmed. He urged viewers to donate to Trump’s legal fund and suggested people living in battleground states with GOP legislatures, specifically Michigan and Pennsylvania, contact their state lawmakers who could provide “remedies.”

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        “Under Article II of the Constitution, presidential electors are done by the legislatures and the schemes they create and the framework,” DeSantis said. “If there’s departure from that, if they’re not following law, if they’re ignoring the law, then they can provide remedies as well, so I would exhaust every option to make sure we have a fair count.”

        Before the election, The Atlantic reported on a legal theory that involved GOP legislatures bypassing the popular vote and appointing electors loyal to Trump on the basis of rampant fraud.

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        GOP leaders in Pennsylvania have rejected that idea.

        “The Pennsylvania General Assembly does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election," Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff wrote in an Oct. 19 column.

        DeSantis' appearance on Ingraham’s show on Thursday came as Biden cut into Trump’s vote advantage in Georgia and Pennsylvania as mail ballots were counted. Biden is now ahead in those crucial states, both of which could put him over the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, according to The Associated Press' tally.

        Trump issued a statement Friday, calling for “full transparency into all vote counting and election certification.” Monitoring polling places and election offices is allowed in most states, but poll watchers aren’t allowed to interfere with the count. Typically, they must register in advance. Some election officials are live-streaming the counting of ballots, so the public can watch.

        “This is about the integrity of our entire election process," Trump said. "From the beginning we have said that all legal ballots must be counted and all illegal ballots should not be counted, yet we have met resistance to this basic principle by Democrats at every turn. We will pursue this process through every aspect of the law to guarantee that the American people have confidence in our government. I will never give up fighting for you and our nation.”

        Other Republican leaders in Florida — U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — have taken a more measured tone than DeSantis but have not condemned the president’s claims. DeSantis, Rubio and Scott are all rumored to have presidential ambitions. DeSantis and Rubio are up for re-election in 2022.

        Trump is popular in Florida and won the state by more than 370,000 votes.

        Rubio and Scott stressed on Twitter that all “legal" votes should be counted. The specification that legally cast votes should be counted could be significant as the Trump campaign files legal challenges questioning the validity of ballots.

        Scott wrote Thursday night, “Free and fair elections is what America is about. Every LEGAL vote needs to be counted fairly and transparently.” After Trump’s statement, Scott tweeted a link to a “voter fraud issue report form” and a website to donate to Trump’s legal fund.

        “President (Trump) is absolutely right to demand transparency and to demand that all irregularities be investigated completely,” Scott wrote. “Good for him.”

        Rubio wrote on Twitter after Trump’s premature victory speech early Wednesday morning, “The result of the presidential race will be known after every legally cast vote has been counted.”

        Then after Trump’s White House statement Thursday night, he tweeted, “If a candidate believes a state is violating election laws they have a right to challenge it in court & produce evidence in support of their claims.”

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        Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., praised DeSantis for his work supporting the president while criticizing other GOP leaders for staying quiet. Trump Jr. called for a “total war over this election," as Biden cut into his father’s leads in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

        “The total lack of action from virtually all of the ’2024 GOP hopefuls' is pretty amazing,” Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter.

        But he added, “One notable exception seems to be Ron DeSantis right now.”

        DeSantis slammed Fox News during a news conference Wednesday for calling Arizona for Biden, saying there was “some type of motive, whether it was ratings, whether it was something else.” Then he told Fox News' Sean Hannity he was concerned about “vote dumps” happening after the election.

        North Florida’s U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has also been mentioned as a possible presidential contender, called for Pennsylvania’s legislature to “immediately launch an investigation into voter fraud allegations in their state” and “not appoint electors until the investigation has concluded.”

        Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, who co-chaired Trump’s re-election in Florida, issued a statement that “in order to have confidence in the results of our election, it is critical that every legal vote is counted and any illegally-submitted is not.”

        DeSantis' remarks drew criticism from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat. She tweeted that DeSantis’ statements are “irresponsible, destructive, and will inflame tensions of an already fragile nation.”

        Gwen Graham, a Democrat who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Florida governor in 2018, slammed DeSantis for helping to defend Trump’s baseless claims.

        “He has been Trump’s number one sycophant,” said Graham, a former Democratic congresswoman. “I wish I could say I was surprised. At this time in our country’s history, America will lift up leaders that put upholding our democracy first. DeSantis is shamefully on the wrong side.”

        Mac Stipanovich, a political strategist who played a key role in the 2000 recount in Florida, called upon Republicans to condemn Trump’s strategy of sowing doubt in the election’s results. Stipanovich advised then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris during the 2000 election, which Republican George W. Bush won by 537 votes over Democrat Al Gore.

        “Any elected Republican unwilling to stand up to Donald Trump after his disgraceful and dangerous attack tonight on American democracy and its electoral process is unfit to be a trustee of the res publica,” he wrote on Twitter. “Qui tacet consentire videtur (He who is silent is taken to agree).”

        The Broward County Republican Party issued a statement that it will continue to stand behind Trump.

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        “We stand by President Trump’s decision to make sure every legal vote is counted and encourage the Trump campaign to exhaust all measures,” said George Moraitis, chairman of the Republican Party of Broward County. “There is nothing more honorable than protecting the integrity of our voting system and our sacred democracy.”

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        Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general, is on the front lines of Trump’s effort to challenge the electoral system, appearing at a news conference in Pennsylvania.

        On Fox News, she raised the prospect of “fake ballots,” but also did not cite any specifics.

        “For every vote that came in late, that was postmarked late, ... that discounts every legal vote that came in,” Bondi said. “The good residents who are all supporting us in Pennsylvania their votes don’t count by these fake ballots that are coming in late.”

        Under a three-day extension being challenged in court by the Trump campaign, mail ballots with a Nov. 3 postmark can arrive at election offices until 5 p.m. Friday in Pennsylvania.

        Pennsylvania election officials have not flagged “fake ballots.”

        Orlando Sentinel staff writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report.

        Skyler Swisher can be reached at sswisher@sunsentinel.com, 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher.

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