During a stop in Tampa on Friday, U.S. Senate candidate Ron DeSantis left no doubt that he is angling to present himself as the strongest candidate in the GOP field on foreign policy.
DeSantis, a Republican Congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, hosted an hour and a half long event he called "Defeat the Jihad" in which he talked to about 50 people about how President Barack Obama's policies have made defeating ISIS in Iraq more difficult. He also spoke out against the U.S. releasing enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay and warned against the U.S. accepting Syrian refugees into the nation without proper vetting.
DeSantis said what sets him apart from his four Republican opponents is his U.S. Navy service and continuing service in the reserves. DeSantis said his knowledge of Iraq and Guantanamo Bay is not just an academic exercise.
"I have direct service in those theaters," said DeSantis, who has been in the Navy for more than a decade.
In addition, DeSantis, is a member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
During his event at a hotel conference room near the Tampa International Airport, DeSantis said one of President Obama's biggest mistakes has been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. In Iraq that is sending a message to Sunni Arabs that the U.S. is tilting its policies in favor of the Shia. That has Sunni Arabs more receptive to the message from the Sunni-dominated ISIS and could make them less trusting of U.S. efforts, making it even harder to eject ISIS from Iraq.
DeSantis also warned that the U.S. would be naive to release the remaining "hardcore terrorists" being held at Guantanamo Bay. He said no matter what nation they are released to they will be a threat to American interests.
"They are going to find their way back to the fight," DeSantis said.
On Syrian refugees, DeSantis said the U.S. has to be reluctant in taking them because the FBI has told Congress they cannot properly background all that are trying to come to the U.S. now. He said there are reports that ISIS is trying to use the refugee flow to get terrorists to western nations.
"If they can't be vetted, we can't bring them in," DeSantis said.DeSantis was not the only Republican trying to make headway in Tampa on Friday. Just a few miles away, Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican from Miami, was touring the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. He used the tour to highlight how government regulations are threatening the cigar company.
Also running in the Aug. 30 GOP primary are U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores; Orlando businessman Todd Wilcox; and Manatee County homebuilder Carlos Beruff.