(Bloomberg) -- Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis promised an audience of conservatives that if elected president he would wage war on what he called woke influence on schools, government and corporate boardrooms.

“We are going to leave woke ideology in the dust bin of history — where it belongs,” DeSantis told the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual policy conference in Washington on Friday. 

DeSantis, who is running a distant second to former President Donald Trump in GOP primary polls, stressed his efforts to defend religious freedom as governor, including keeping churches open during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We’re proud we’ve been able to and will continue to stand for religious liberty,” he said. “This is a time to proudly put on the full armor of God.”

DeSantis’s speech was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and more than one standing ovation from a pro-Trump crowd that met some other GOP presidential candidates with tepid applause or jeers.

Still, the governor faces an uphill battle to wrest Trump’s grip on the party, and much will hinge on his performance in early nominating states. Appearances at events like the Faith and Freedom summit give him a chance to make inroads with the party base, whose support he needs to emerge as a viable alternative to Trump, and could help quell questions on whether he’s comfortable schmoozing with voters face-to-face.

Read more: DeSantis Seeks to Connect With Iowans as Trump Alternative 

Support for DeSantis among voters nationwide rose 5 percentage points from April, while backing for Trump — who was indicted this month on federal charges related to his handling of secret documents — fell 3 percentage points, according to an Emerson College poll released Thursday. Yet DeSantis trails Trump by 31 points nationally in the RealClearPolitics average of early polls.

Wooing the Base 

DeSantis has aligned himself with the far right of the GOP on cultural matters, namely abortion, LGBTQ rights, and public school teachings about race and gender, to build his national profile. He is also embroiled in a high-profile fight with Walt Disney Co.

In a video introduction to his remarks Friday, DeSantis touted his record on those issues and efforts to stand up for parental rights.

Read more: DeSantis Taunt in Disney Typeface Tempts Trademark Punchback

“The left is lighting the fire of a cultural revolution, all across this land,” he said. “I will lead the effort to extinguish the fire of cultural Marxism once and for all.”

He also said he would defend conservative Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito from “scurrilous attacks.” The justices are the center of ethics controversies over accepting gifts and travel from wealthy Republican donors that they did not disclose.

Riffing on Roe 

Friday’s event was a cattle call for Republican candidates, who sought to burnish their social-conservative credentials. 

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy said the US faced a litany of social ills, including “wokism, transgenderism, climatism, covidism, globalism, depression, anxiety, drug abuse, suicide.”

DeSantis rarely discuses abortion on the stump and only briefly touched on the subject, saying his decision to sign legislation banning the procedure after six weeks was “the right thing to do.” 

Other contenders though anchored their message around the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of nationwide abortion rights.

Former Vice President Mike Pence implored candidates to support a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. He rebutted those, like Trump, who argue the Dobbs decision simply returned the issue to the states, that six-week bans are “too harsh” or that the Republican position cost the party congressional seats in 2022. 

“The president and I have had our differences but I believe elections are about the future. And different times call for different leadership,” said Pence, who received polite applause.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told CNN’s “Inside Politics” it was too early to settle on a 15-week ban. “We’re not there yet. Let’s let the states make these judgments,” he said.

Christie received applause when he nodded to his anti-abortion record in his speech, but was booed when he attacked his former ally Trump.

“I’m running because he’s let us down,” he said, as the heckling and booing got louder.

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