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It’s official: Florida Gov. DeSantis files paperwork for his presidential campaign

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about his book “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival” in Doral, Fla., on March 1.  (Jose A. Iglesias/El Nuevo Herald/Jose A. Iglesias)
By Alex Roarty Miami Herald Miami Herald

Ron DeSantis filed paperwork Wednesday to run for president in 2024, making a long-awaited entrance to a race that will test whether a Republican governor who rewrote Florida’s political rulebook – and often infuriated critics – can overcome the challenges of a race for the nation’s highest office.

The formal entrance to the race officially puts DeSantis, 44, on a collision course with former President Donald Trump, his onetime political benefactor whom he now faces in a Republican presidential primary. The two politicians are the top choices of GOP voters, according to early polls of the contest, although Trump has opened a substantial lead in recent months that has solidified his status as the race’s clear-cut front-runner.

In addition to Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have also formally declared as presidential candidates, with the winner of the primary likely facing Democratic President Joe Biden in next year’s general election.

DeSantis is expected to talk more about his presidential announcement Wednesday evening during an online Twitter event with billionaire Elon Musk, who owns the social media platform.

To win the primary, DeSantis will almost certainly have to defeat Trump, a feat that eluded both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2016. If he defeats the former president and wins the general election, he would be the first-ever elected official from the Sunshine State to occupy the White House.

DeSantis’ decision to enter the presidential race has been anticipated inside Florida and nationally for years, ever since he became a national Republican star for his response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. In February, DeSantis published a new book – “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival” – and he’s spent the last several months promoting it in stops across the country, including the electoral battlegrounds of Georgia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Stunning ascent

DeSantis’ entrance to the race marks a new chapter in his stunning political ascent, one that in six years has seen the lifelong Florida resident transform from a little-known congressman to a leading presidential candidate. In between, he twice won the election for Florida governor, in 2018 and 2022.

The governor’s re-election victory, in which he won by nearly 20 points in a year that saw many GOP candidates underperform expectations, is expected to be a major part of his message on the campaign trail. His allies have already spent months arguing that his victory in a state known for tight contests shows that DeSantis is the candidate most likely to beat Biden in 2024. DeSantis’ pitch to Republicans is also likely to lean heavily on his record as governor, arguing that if president, he would sign into law a conservative agenda similar to the one he backed as Florida’s governor. Even before his campaign announcement, the governor put Florida at the center of his message, touting it as part of a book tour that described the state as a “blueprint” for the nation as a whole.

DeSantis’ record as governor – one likely to endure renewed scrutiny on the campaign trail – includes his response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which saw him break with many medical experts and lift public health restrictions. He also restricted discussion of gender and sexuality in schools, flew undocumented immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and investigated restaurants and bars that host drag shows with children present. More recently, DeSantis has backed new laws that restricted access to abortions after six weeks, allowed permitless concealed carry for firearm owners, and engaged in a lengthy back and forth with Disney over the company’s political advocacy and the presence of a specially created district that let the corporation govern its vast swath of Orlando-area properties.

The fight over Disney, in particular, has led to criticism from Republicans like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that the governor doesn’t sufficiently embrace limited-government principles. And even some allies have raised questions about whether his far-reaching position on social issues would reduce his electability in a general election.

But DeSantis has talked openly about adopting a governing philosophy that is more aggressive than past conservative orthodoxy, arguing the change is necessary to combat what he sees as a rising tide of liberalism in many parts of society, including public education and corporations. His allies argue that the governor has taken positions in the past that critics have labeled extreme, only for him to easily win re-election as governor.

Trump looms

In taking on Trump, DeSantis faces a candidate whose endorsement in 2018 is widely credited with helping him win a Republican primary over the establishment-backed Adan Putnam. DeSantis styled most of his approach that year after Trump, even including his children in a campaign ad that cheekily endorsed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the two men’s relationship has become antagonistic recently, as speculation grew that DeSantis would run for president against Trump. Now, the former president regularly attacks the governor over social media and in press releases, arguing that DeSantis is insincere in his beliefs and eager to cut entitlement programs like Social Security. (The governor has said that he does not want to cut Social Security.)

DeSantis’ own message in recent months has also led to a visible backlash among some Republicans: His description in March of the Ukraine-Russia war as a “territorial dispute” led to pushback from many Republicans, some of whom argued that he was trying to imitate Trump at the cost of saying what he truly believes.

DeSantis later partially walked back the comments, saying he should have been more clear that he doesn’t think Russia’s invasion of their neighboring country was legitimate.

Whether because of his missteps, Trump’s attacks, or the former president’s indictment in March that conservatives almost universally hailed as unfair, DeSantis has slipped in polls of the 2024 GOP presidential race.

A late April poll from Fox News found that Trump received the support of 53% of GOP voters, compared to 21% for DeSantis. That’s a stronger showing for Trump than the same survey in February, which reported that the former president had 43% to the Florida governor’s 28%.