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Matt Gaetz
Rep. Matt Gaetz insists he isn’t running for governor. Alex Brandon/AP

Matt Gaetz Says He Isn’t Running for Governor. Nobody Seems to Believe Him.

Florida Republicans and Democrats alike are already plotting for a race Gaetz insists isn’t happening.

Political insiders in Florida — Republicans and Democrats — are obsessed with the possibility of Rep. Matt Gaetz running for governor even though Gaetz insists he’s not interested in the job.

Gov. Ron DeSantis still has two years left in his term, but Democrats have already identified Gaetz as a candidate they’d like to run against — convinced they could beat a conservative firebrand statewide. Meanwhile, Florida Republicans are certain Gaetz’s popularity with MAGA Republicans and former President Donald Trump will ultimately push him into the race.

“Matt Gaetz is extremely popular with the base, and he’s a threat to any other candidate that wants to run. That’s why people are talking about him,” Joe Gruters, the former chair of the Florida Republican Party, told NOTUS.

NBC News reported in September that Gaetz shopped around the idea during a party for a Republican state representative. Gaetz’s office denied a request for comment.

One Florida Republican political consultant told NOTUS that Gaetz’s future looms so large in the political discourse that it’s even dominating other candidates’ thinking. In a recent meeting with a Republican thinking of running for a different office in 2026, this consultant said, “A lot of the conversation was, what does the landscape look like if it’s Republican gubernatorial nominee Matt Gaetz,” adding that allowing the “chattering class” to circulate Gaetz as governor instead of confirming a run “probably works to his advantage.”

At least a dozen names have been floated in Florida’s political circles as potential candidates, including Reps. Byron Donalds and Mike Waltz on the right. Few count Gaetz out of that group, and political insiders are plotting around the possibility of his candidacy two years out. “I think the Republicans could very well nominate Matt Gaetz in 2026, and that probably creates an opportunity for us,” Florida Democratic consultant Steve Schale said. “We could probably use a break by them nominating someone like Matt Gaetz.”

Schale predicted that Republicans would probably rather have a more “traditional” conservative, like Waltz or Attorney General Ashley Moody, be their nominee. “[Gaetz] is very popular among a very specific sliver of voters, and he’s incredibly unpopular among everybody else,” he said. Among Democrats, state House minority leader Fentrice Driskell and U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz have signaled an interest in running. There are rumors that state party Chair Nikki Fried is also interested in a run. The Republican supermajority in Florida’s State Legislature briefly considered adding a runoff primary, a proposal Gaetz said would target potential candidates like him. The bill would have ensured that a gubernatorial candidate would have to win the absolute majority in their party — not just the plurality in a crowded field.

Gaetz panned the idea on X in February. “Runoff elections cost taxpayers millions, increase targets for fraudsters and empower establishment candidates over firebrands,” Gaetz, a self-described firebrand, wrote. “You guys in Tallahassee didn’t have to do this. I have no plans to run for Governor,” he added. A committee postponed the bill two days later, and the state’s legislative session ended without action, though a similar bill could come up again at the next session.It’s not the first time Gaetz has shut down the rumors of his candidacy. “I’m not running for governor,” he told NOTUS in December. “It’s not something I’m planning on or in any way preparing for. It’s not part of my focus.”

Eric Jotkoff, a Democratic consultant from Florida who’s known Gaetz for 15 years, said the possibility of a Gaetz candidacy is still dominating the insider chatter because people simply don’t trust Gaetz to tell the truth about his ambitions.

“If Republicans do put up a Matt Gaetz or a Byron Donalds as their gubernatorial candidate, there could be a backlash there of people saying, ‘OK, enough. After 25-plus years of one-party rule, you guys have just gotten too crazy,’” Jotkoff said.

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It wouldn’t be easy. Democrats have lost numerous recent big-ticket elections and don’t have a statewide elected official to lead messaging. Democratic consultants say the party needs to lay the groundwork now in order to beat an opponent like Gaetz in 2026.

“The concern is, absent somebody getting in and really defining the field and having two years to raise money and organize, I worry that our likely setup in 2026 is not one to take advantage of the possibility that they could nominate Matt or nominate Byron or somebody who runs way to the right,” Schale said.

Meanwhile, Trump remains a wild card; he could endorse a candidate well before the race. After all, he endorsed Gruters for a potential 2026 chief financial officer run two weeks ago. For now, Gruters insists Republicans aren’t sweating about nominating a candidate too far to the right. As to the runoff primary proposal, “I think that was briefly discussed, and it was shot down almost immediately. I think it was a stupid idea,” Gruters said. “Why would you change a system that you’ve completely been able to dominate over the last two decades?”

Claire Heddles is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.