HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) — The presidential primary race may be already starting to take shape statewide as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was the keynote speaker at the Alabama annual Republican Party state dinner.

The event drew so much attention coordinators had to switch venues from the Sheraton at the BJCC in downtown Birmingham to Hoover’s Finley Center to have enough space. Media was not allowed inside.

CBS 42 Political Analyst Steve Flowers said although DeSantis has not officially announced a run for the presidency – the big crowd drawn to Thursday’s event shows people are paying attention and want to hear from him.

“The fact that they’ve had to expand the venue tells you he’s going to be a popular candidate,” Flowers said. “This event’s for him. He’s the main attraction. That tells you how popular he is in Alabama without even announcing for president.”

Former Jefferson County Republican Chair Paul DeMarco agrees DeSantis’ popularity sets him apart. He and Flowers say Alabama having a March primary is also key.

“There’s no question that Ron DeSantis – his success in Florida, the results he’s got in Florida has made him a contender for the presidential primary and I expect he’ll put his name in the hat in the next two or three months,” DeMarco said.

Lawmakers voted to move Alabama’s primary to March instead of May — making Alabama even more important in the race for a republican candidate, according to DeMarco and Flowers.

“It really put Alabama in play. If you’re running for president, you gotta come to Alabama,” DeMarco said. “It’s a strong republican state.”

Flowers said DeSantis is a new version of Former President Donald Trump – but younger.

“He’s seeing that he’s known without doing any campaigning,” Flowers said. “For some reason, the right-wing and the republican party realizes this is our rising star.”

DeMarco said Alabamians are looking for a change in Washington, D.C.

“I think they’re looking for a results-driven leader in the White House and that’s why I think tonight, the success of tonight and why people are drawn and want to hear from Ron DeSantis,” DeMarco said.

Flowers tells CBS 42 that Trump is polling at 35 percent and likely won’t get any more or fewer votes. He said if DeSantis runs he has a strong chance at winning the Republican nomination – but other candidates like Mike Pence or Nikki Hayley could take those votes away from DeSantis.

Alabama’s primary is set for March 5 next year.