TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The idea that Rep. Matt Gaetz will run for Florida governor in 2026 has been the topic of several conversations in Tallahassee over the past few days, including during a reception Sunday night for the incoming speaker of the Florida House.
Gaetz has long been considered on the shortlist of those who will try to seek the Republican nomination for governor, a field that is expected to be crowded because the incumbent, Ron DeSantis, will be facing term limits. DeSantis is currently running for president but would have two years remaining in the governor’s mansion if that run falls short.
Gaetz, like most other Florida Republican politicians, was in Tallahassee for the designation ceremony of Miami Republican state Rep. Danny Perez, who starting next year will serve as speaker of the Florida House.
As part of those festivities, Perez held a reception Sunday night at an AC Hotel by Marriott near the city’s downtown. At the event Gaetz was seen “kind of holding court,” and he strongly implied several times he would be running for governor, four people at the event told NBC News.
“There was a lot of talk about it at the reception last night, and Gaetz was telling people to basically expect him to be in,” one longtime Florida Republican lobbyist said.
Gaetz has not publicly downplayed the idea he might run for governor one day, but told NBC News Monday his only political focus at the moment is trying to elect Donald Trump in 2024.
“Many did encourage me to consider running for governor one day,” Gaetz said of the Sunday evening event. “But we have an outstanding governor who will be in that position through 2026.”
“My only political focus right now is Trump 2024,” he added.
Gaetz was a top adviser to DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial bid, but the two have since had a falling out. Gaetz has become among the most vocal backers of Trump, whose presidential campaign now leads in most primary polling by significant margins over the rest of the field.
“I think he will,” John Morgan, a prominent Florida trial attorney and Democratic political donor, said of Gaetz’s chance of running for governor.
Morgan chatted briefly on Monday with Gaetz just outside the Florida House chamber. The two have long known each other, and worked together early in DeSantis’ administration on issues related to medical marijuana.
“He will be running in a large field. He could win with 30 percent,” Morgan said. “Trump’s endorsement alone gets him that.”
A Florida GOP operative said that, though Trump has not addressed the future race publicly, the former president would back his longtime ally.
“He’s 100 percent in,” said a Florida Republican operative on Gaetz running for governor. “I think Gaetz is an instant front-runner and from what I hear he’s already won the Trump primary.”
Trump has not directly addressed the race — and his campaign declined to comment — but his endorsement played a huge role in helping DeSantis win the 2018 Republican primary. Even aside from Gaetz, several of the former president’s political allies are considering a run.
Gaetz is currently a central figure in the fight in Washington over a potential government shutdown.
He has increasingly fought with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as he tries to negotiate a deal to avoid a government shutdown. Gaetz has been critical of McCarthy, who has not agreed to push for spending cuts Gaetz and other congressional conservatives want as part of the deal.
The issue also briefly put him at public odds with U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., a Trump ally who is also eyeing a potential bid for governor in 2026. Gaetz tweeted “I will NOT surrender” Sunday night in response to reports that Donalds was on a House GOP conference call outlining a proposed 30-day continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.
Other Republicans eying a bid include state Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson; state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz; and state Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Matt Dixon is a senior national politics reporter for NBC News, based in Florida.