Crypto-friendly Miami Mayor Francis Suarez enters GOP presidential race to challenge Donald Trump

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Miami Mayor Francis Suarez filed paperwork Wednesday to launch his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, jumping into the crowded race just a day after GOP front-runner Donald Trump appeared in court on federal charges in Suarez’s city.

The 45-year-old mayor, the only Hispanic candidate in the race, declared his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. He had teased an announcement, noting that he would be making a “big speech” Thursday at the Reagan Library in California.

Before Trump arrived at the courthouse Tuesday, Suarez toured the media encampment wearing a T-shirt with a police logo, as his city’s police force had jurisdiction over the downtown area.

“If I do decide to run,” he told CNN, “it’s starting a new chapter, a new conversation of a new kind of leader who maybe looks a little different, speaks a little different, had a little bit of a different experience, but can inspire people.”

Suarez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, is the son of Miami’s first Cuban-born mayor. He has gained national attention in recent years for his efforts to lure companies to Miami, with an eye toward turning the city into a crypto hub and the next Silicon Valley.

Suarez, who is vying to become the first sitting mayor elected president, joins a GOP primary fight that includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Despite having a candidate field in the double digits, the race is largely seen as a two-person contest between Trump and DeSantis.

But the other competitors are hoping for an opening, which Trump has provided with his myriad legal vulnerabilities — none more serious than his federal indictment on charges of mishandling sensitive documents and refusing to give them back. He pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Miami federal court to 37 felony counts.

Suarez has said he didn’t support Trump in either the 2016 or 2020 presidential elections, instead writing in the names of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and then-Vice President Pence. In 2018, Suarez publicly condemned Trump after reports came out that he had questioned why the United States would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa.

But times have changed, with Trump advisers now praising Suarez’s work and helping him promote what he calls “the Miami success story.” Trump’s former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has even floated Suarez’s name as a possible vice presidential pick.

Suarez, who is married with two young children, is a corporate and real estate attorney who previously served as a city of Miami commissioner. He has also positioned himself as someone who can help the party further connect with Hispanics. In recent months, he has made visits to early GOP voting states as he weighed a possible 2024 campaign.

He is more moderate than DeSantis and Trump, but has threaded the needle carefully on cultural issues that have become popular among GOP politicians.

Suarez has been critical of DeSantis, dismissing some of the state laws he has signed on immigration as “headline grabbers” lacking in substance. He has said immigration is an issue that “screams for a national solution” at a time when many Republicans back hard-line policies.

The two-term mayor previously expressed support for a Florida law championed by DeSantis and dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, but he has not specified whether he supported the expansion of the policy to all grades. Like other Republicans, Suarez has criticized DeSantis’ feud with Disney over the same law, saying it looks like a “personal vendetta.”

Further ingratiating himself with the Trump team, Suarez has echoed Trump’s attacks on DeSantis’ demeanor, saying the governor doesn’t make eye contact and struggles with personal relationships with other politicians.

In 2020, the mayor made a play to attract tech companies to Florida after the state relaxed its COVID-19 restrictions. He met with Big Tech players and investors such as PayPal founder Peter Thiel and tech magnate Marcelo Claure, began appearing on national television and was profiled by magazines.

Suarez, who has said he takes his salary in Bitcoin, has also hosted Bitcoin conferences and started heavily promoting a cryptocurrency project named Miami Coin, created by a group called City Coins.

But the hype dissipated as virus restrictions eased elsewhere, eliminating Miami’s advantage on the COVID-19 front. Suarez’s vision also hit roadblocks with the collapse of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which was set to move its U.S. headquarters to Miami’s financial district before its founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas last December.

The only cryptocurrency exchange that traded Miami Coin suspended its trading, citing liquidity problems, not living up to its promise to generate enough money to eliminate city taxes.

Miami also ranks among the worst big U.S. cities for income inequality and has one of the least affordable housing markets.

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