Francis Suarez, the 45-year-old Republican mayor of Miami and poli-nepo-baby, announced Thursday he’s running for president. Jumping into the already-crowded and growing GOP primary pool, Suarez will need to find a way to stand out and break through with voters. Suarez is kicking off his campaign with a six-figure digital ad buy in Iowa, New Hampshire and, notably, Nevada, an early state with a significant Latino population. This is a signal that the first-generation Cuban-American hopes being the only Latino major candidate in the race will be part of what makes him stand out from the crowd.
But finding a message that differentiates Suarez from nine other Republican candidates isn’t his only challenge. As a mayor of a mid-sized city, a Republican who has refused to worship at the altar of former President Donald Trump, and a bit of a crypto-bro, Suarez has his work cut out for him in this campaign.
Challenge No. 1: Mayors struggle to gain national recognition
Within the city of Miami, Suarez is well known and seemingly well liked. After serving as a city commissioner, Suarez was elected in 2017 with 86 percent of the vote and reelected in 2021 with 79 percent of the vote. In a 2020 poll, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Suarez had a 68 percent approval rating.
But outside of Florida, Suarez has very little name recognition. You may not have heard of him until this week — or perhaps he is lodged in your brain as one of the first U.S. elected officials to contract COVID-19. In fact, in every poll so far (so, prior to him announcing his campaign) that includes him as a potential candidate, Suarez has received 0 percent support.
This isn’t unique to Suarez — presidential candidates whose highest prior office was mayor have always had a tougher hill to climb than candidates who were governors or members of Congress. While a small number of presidents were mayors at one point in their political careers, all of them held higher office before running for the big job. A mayor has never won a major party nomination for president, let alone won the general election, and few have even tried.
And despite his overall popularity, Suarez has had his share of local scandals recently: Reporting from the Miami Herald revealed the mayor — who is also a corporate and real-estate attorney — had worked as a private consultant for a developer that sought city hall approvals for a building project. Suarez has said he did not intervene or use his position to help anyone, but the relationship is being investigated by the FBI.
Challenge No. 2: He’s not very Trumpy
Though he has been a registered Republican since the age of 18, Suarez hasn’t quite fallen in line with the modern GOP. He has publicly not supported the two biggest front-runners in the Republican primary: He said he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 or 2020, nor did he vote for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2018 (he caved and voted for DeSantis in 2022). His policies remain conservative (lowering taxes and keeping them low has been a focus of his administration, for example), but he takes a slightly more moderate stance on issues like climate change and immigration. Miami, as a coastal city, is at some of the highest risk of impact of rising sea levels, and Suarez has acknowledged this risk, declaring a climate emergency in 2019 and investing in infrastructure to make the city more resilient to flooding. It’s also a city with a population that is majority immigrants, including Suarez’s own parents, meaning a hardline, Trump-style nativist stance was never going to be a popular position for the mayor. He’s argued that asylum-seekers from Venezuela should be offered temporary protected status, and he thinks his party ought to take a more moderate stance on immigration overall, with less focus on the border and more on legal pathways to immigration.
Suarez has said he’s had his Republican bona fides questioned in the past — “I get criticized for that sometimes, like not passing a purity test of some sort,” he told The New Yorker in October — and his distance from Trump and Trump-like politics puts him at a disadvantage in a primary where three-quarters of voters are backing either the former president or the hard-core conservative DeSantis. And early polling shows Republican primary voters care more about ideological purity than they do about other considerations, like electability. Suarez isn’t the only GOP candidate pivoting away from the Trump lane, but any candidate not toeing the populist party line will face a tougher time winning over voters in the primary.
Challenge No. 3: Nobody likes a crypto-bro
If you had heard of Suarez before his presidential run and it wasn’t for getting COVID-19, it might have been for his reputation for courting Big Tech to move to Miami. In December 2020, venture capitalist Delian Asparouhov tweeted, “ok guys hear me out, what if we move silicon valley to miami.” Suarez jumped, quote-tweeting Asparouhov with the question, “How can I help?” It was a minor moment on Twitter that day, but it also genuinely kicked off discussions that have since led to multiple major tech entities and founders setting up shop in the Magic City, including Blackstone and Elliott Management. He’s also been bullish on cryptocurrency: Suarez has received his mayoral salary in bitcoin since 2021, lured major crypto conferences to the city and last year unveiled a crypto bull sculpture in the style of the Wall Street bull.
But Suarez’s crypto fandom may be seen as a negative to voters. Part of his flirtation with the industry included convincing FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange, to move its headquarters to Miami … until the company went bankrupt and its founder was charged with fraud. And overall, most Americans don’t have a favorable view of cryptocurrency — just 8 percent have a positive view of crypto, according to a CNBC All-America Economic Survey from December (around the time of the FTX founder’s arrest). This is particularly true of Republicans, who polls show lack trust in the industry. In a YouGov/The Economist poll, also from December, 45 percent of Republicans said cryptocurrency was a “very unsafe” investment, compared with 41 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of independents. And 43 percent of Republicans said it was somewhat or very unlikely that cryptocurrency will ever become a reliable form of payment in a Morning Consult poll from March. Having so much of his mayoral identity connected to a precarious industry that voters don’t trust may be yet another obstacle Suarez has to overcome.
Mary Radcliffe contributed research.
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