"Your governor is very concerned about what we're doing in Florida, so I figured I had to come by," he said during his visit.
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Southern California on Sunday, taking swipes at Gov. Gavin Newsom in his own backyard amid a widening Republican Primary battle ahead of 2024.
"I know you guys got a lot of problems out here, but your governor is very concerned about what we're doing in Florida, so I figured I had to come by," DeSantis said, speaking before a crowd of over a thousand people at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library's Air Force One Pavilion and drawing considerable applause.
But it was not a warm welcome from everyone. The Simi Valley Police Department said Sunday that library employees discovered black spray paint on an entrance sign reading "Ron DeFascist" in the early morning hours.
Authorities said employees were able to remove the paint before DeSantis' arrival. However, soon after, a large contingent of several dozen protesters took to the sidewalks in front of the library to protest his speech.
DeSantis' visit to the Golden State follows two days spent in Texas fundraising for the Harris and Dallas County Republican Parties and exactly one year away from Super Tuesday when voters in both states will hit the polls to cast their ballot for a 2024 presidential nominee.
While DeSantis has not officially entered the race for the Republican nomination, he is widely viewed as a potential favorite by many. A recent UC Berkeley/LA Times poll released last week showed him leading former President Donald Trump by eight points in California's primary next year.
In a statement issued on Saturday before his arrival, Newsom sarcastically welcomed DeSantis to the "real freedom state."
"California residents are safer, healthier and more prosperous than those unfortunate enough to have you as their governor," he said. "Oh, by the way, you're going to get smoked by Trump."
During his speech, DeSantis took the opportunity to draw a sharp contrast between his state and California, as well as other Democratic states like New York and Illinois.
"I think it goes back to this woke mind virus that's infected the left and all these other institutions," DeSantis said. "I mean, think about the way they have governed the states. They put things like woke ideology over the tried and true principles that President Reagan stood for and that most Americans believe in."
Following his speech in Simi Valley, DeSantis traveled south to Orange County to speak to over 900 donors at the Westin Anaheim Resort in a closed-door event.
"We raised more money from this event than we've raised on any one-night fundraising event in the history of the Orange County Republican Party," Fred Whitaker, chair of the county party, said. "So you could say the interest for Governor DeSantis is off the charts."
Areas like Orange County and Simi Valley offer ample opportunity for potential Republican candidates like DeSantis to rub elbows with some of the country's wealthiest and most powerful GOP members ahead of 2024.
"We are the county with the most Republican donors; we're the county that still, as far as urban counties, is the most competitive for Republicans; we control over two-thirds of all the elected offices in Orange County and yet we're in the heart of the LA basin," Whitaker said. "I think if you have any interest in running for president, then you need to talk to Orange County Republican donors. You need to talk to Orange County Republican voters."
According to OpenSecrets, DeSantis brought in nearly $4 million alone from California amid his gubernatorial reelection battle in 2022, outpacing even more conservative states like Texas. Although California is a liberal stronghold, it could wield substantial weight in a GOP presidential primary.
Between its winner take all status and the number of delegates it offers - more than any other state -- California could be critical to any candidate hoping to make it through Super Tuesday amid a potentially crowded GOP field.
"California, by moving its primary from June to March for the 2024 presidential election, is going to have a much different dynamic than there was in 2016," Whitaker told ABC News. "In 2016, by the time the primary happened, the nomination had already been decided. Super Tuesday's right in the heart of it."