Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announced Friday that it will open an office in Sarasota and that local GOP chairman Joe Gruters is joining the Trump team as the Florida chairman.
“My message is clearly resonating in Florida,” Trump said in a statement. “We have tremendous support from so many great people in the state. I am proud to watch that support grow, to see our team expand and to be leading in the polls here.”
The move is a big opportunity for the highly-ambitious Gruters that also comes with some risks.
As Trump’s top official in Florida, Gruters will be the face of a campaign that has rocketed to the top of the polls and is upending the GOP establishment.
Gruters said he expects to be intimately involved with all aspects of Trump’s Florida campaign and that the Sarasota office will be the state headquarters.
“The opportunity to lead a campaign that’s in the lead and going to win is really incredible,” he said.
The position will give Gruters — who is already the vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida — more statewide exposure and could create opportunities for him to advance in politics, especially if his candidate wins. He was scheduled to introduce Trump at a big rally in Miami Friday night and will do the same Saturday in Jacksonville.
But Trump is a polarizing figure, who has turned off many with his repeated insults and heated rhetoric on immigration and other issues. Gruters could be risking his future in elected office by taking such a prominent role with a controversial campaign. He is currently running for the state House and could be a candidate for Congress or other offices in the future.
“I’m proud to stand next to Trump,” Gruters said when asked about the negative perception of the candidate that many have. “He’s somebody special who tells it how it is and I think he’s going to be able to unite the country and make American great again.”
Gruters will be responsible for leading a campaign against two home state favorites, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
As an early supporter of Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital executive who had no experience in elected office before beating better-known candidates to become governor in 2010, he has experience backing outsiders against establishment favorites. Susan Wiles, campaign manager for Scott in 2010, was named co-chair for Trump’s campaign.
The relationship between Trump and Gruters goes back years. Trump twice received the Statesman of the Year Award from the Sarasota GOP under Gruter’s chairmanship.
Trump’s campaign had been talking with Gruters for more than a month about joining their team. Gruters said that working with Trump is a unique opportunity to make a difference and “change the course of the country.”
It’s also a “big win for Sarasota,” he said. Christian Ziegler, a Republican state committeeman from Sarasota, agreed.
“I think it’s great,” Ziegler said of Trump making Sarasota his Florida headquarters. “I want all the campaigns to have an office in Sarasota. I think Sarasota’s the number one grassroots area in the state.”
Ziegler said Friday’s announcement that Trump is beefing up his team in Florida is a sign that “they’re planning on playing heavy” in the state.
Recent polls have Trump leading both Rubio and Bush in Florida, a must-win state for Republicans in the presidential election. This is Trump’s first big campaign swing through the state but he said in a statement that “I look forward to spending a lot of time here.”
“Florida is truly one of the most important states in the election and it has always been a home to me,” said Trump, who has a residence in Palm Beach County and business interests throughout the state.
Trump’s Sarasota office will open in early November and the campaign will be hiring more paid staff, Gruters said. He is serving in a volunteer capacity but Trump already has a number of paid employees in Florida, including state director Karen Giorno.
Gruters said his position in the Trump campaign will not conflict with his role as the Sarasota GOP chairman, which includes working to have other presidential candidates make appearances in the area.
“We will continue to try and bring all the candidates in,” he said.