As former President Donald Trump wrapped his keynote speech at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party on Saturday, the party says it continues to prefer Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the oval office. If it can convince DeSantis to run, that is. Last week DeSantis took an early lead over Trump among likely Republican presidential primary voters in New Hampshire, according to a new independent poll.

Trump trails DeSantis 42% to 30% in the latest poll from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

“New Hampshire sets the pace, and I like to say we’re the tip of the spear,” said Republican state Rep. Fred Doucette, deputy majority leader of the House. “The GOP understands that.”

DeSantis sounded much like a 2024 presidential candidate as he was sworn in for a second term earlier this month, addressing national issues like immigration and inflation as much as highlighting his own plans for the state.

He said on issues like COVID-19 restrictions, federal spending and immigration policy, Washington is driven by a political ideology that has eroded freedom and stunted commerce.

“We reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy. We will not allow reality, facts and truth to become optional. We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die,” DeSantis said to loud applause.

As Trump seeks to shore up support, DeSantis is building momentum in his war on the woke.

On Monday, DeSantis was in Tallahassee reiterating the state’s rejection of a proposed nationwide advanced African American studies course, saying it is more about pushing a liberal political agenda than teaching history.

The Republican governor said he supports banning the course being offered to some high school students because its lessons delve too far into topics such as queer studies and abolishing prisons. On Tuesday, DeSantis was in battleground state Pennsylvania to accept a gold medal from the Union League of Philadelphia. The League’s highest honor was first bestowed on President Abraham Lincoln back in 1863.

And on Thursday, he was in Miami saying the state should get even tougher on crime — from reforming the state’s death penalty laws to introducing heavier penalties for child sex offenders. “Don’t take safe communities for granted,” DeSantis said. “We are a law and order state.”

Among his plans that will be presented to the state Legislature:

• Citing the outcome of Parkland’s high school shooter case, the state will consider requiring a supermajority vote of a jury for a criminal to get the death penalty. Under current law, a jury has to be unanimous in recommending a death sentence.

• The state will consider making it a first-degree felony to possess, sell or manufacture fentanyl to look like candy. The governor said he is proposing a mandatory life sentence and $1 million penalty for those targeting children. His office also is allocating $20 million for law enforcement agencies to increase efforts to stop the illicit sale and trafficking of fentanyl.

• Requiring convicted child rapists to serve at least life in prison and exploring options to make them eligible for the death penalty.

• Strengthening Florida’s bail laws by limiting who is eligible for release prior to first appearance. -Requiring law enforcement to report missing persons to the National Missing and Unidentified Person’s System. Currently, they are required to report missing persons only to the Florida Crime Information Center and the National Crime Information Center.

DeSantis ended the week with an interview with Turning Point USA, where he turned again to national politics.

“We’ve had three substandard election cycles in a row, ‘18, ‘20, and ‘22, and I would say of all three of those, ‘22 was probably the worst, given the political environment of a very unpopular President Biden,” DeSantis said. “Huge majorities of the people think the country is going in the wrong direction. That is an environment that’s tailor-made to make big gains in the House and Senate, and state houses all across the country, and yet that didn’t happen. You know, I think we need change, we need some fresh thinking.”

Will DeSantis provide that change?

In recent weeks, a number of credible polls have shown that DeSantis — previously in Trump’s shadow — is surging in favorability among Republican voters.

One poll released by Marquette University Law School showed DeSantis leading Trump with 64% to 36% among Republican voters in a matchup for the party’s nomination for president.

DeSantis has had a good January 2023, and he remains far ahead of any other potential Republican candidate looking to November 2024.

Until then: It’s off to Florida’s Legislative session in March.