Who is Gov. Ron DeSantis, the newest presidential hopeful?

  • Ron DeSantis is considered the most viable Trump alternative by many
  • His positions on culture-war issues put him in the national spotlight
  • In his campaign, DeSantis is also likely to cite Florida's economic gains

(NewsNation) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis officially filed paperwork to launch his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday, joining an already crowded field of candidates preparing for 2024.

Rumors have swirled around DeSantis and whether he would compete for the nomination. Once a close ally of former President Donald Trump, DeSantis has parted ways with Trump, who has frequently attacked the Florida governor in speeches and at rallies.

While many in the party still expect Trump to get the nomination for 2024, others have put DeSantis forward as the most viable alternative. Big-money donors and PACs have already begun to throw their support behind the governor, with more sure to come after he officially announced his candidacy.

A native Floridian, DeSantis attended Yale University and Harvard Law School before joining the U.S. Navy. His time in the military included being stationed at Guantanamo Bay as well as a deployment to Iraq. He also served as a legal adviser for SEAL Team 1.

After being honorably discharged, DeSantis was elected to Congress, serving as a representative from 2013 to 2018. He began serving as Florida’s governor in 2019.

DeSantis rose to attention on the national stage for his focus on often-controversial cultural issues.

The governor sent dozens of immigrants from Texas — by way of Florida —to Martha’s Vineyard, a small island off the Massachusetts coast to draw attention to the influx of Latin American immigrants trying to cross the southern border. He signed and then expanded a Parental Rights in Education bill — known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law — which bans instruction or classroom discussion of LGBTQ issues in Florida public schools for all grades.

More recently, he signed a law banning abortions at six weeks, which is before most women realize they’re pregnant. And he removed an elected prosecutor who had vowed not to charge people under Florida’s new abortion restrictions or doctors who provide gender-affirming care.

Those positions have drawn DeSantis into an ongoing fight with the Walt Disney Company, as the company opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, leading to a drawn-out and increasingly complex dispute between the governor’s office and Disney.

The outcome of that dispute may prove critical to the long-term prospects of one of Florida’s signature industries. In 2022, the state set a record for tourism, with 137.6 million visitors. The state also set records in the first quarter of 2023, with a record 37.9 million visitors.

While DeSantis’ role in the culture wars may appeal to the Republican base, he’s also likely to talk up some more traditional achievements in an attempt to woo more moderate voters.

During DeSantis’ tenure, Florida has remained a top destination for people and businesses. In 2022, the Sunshine State saw the biggest gain of residents, with roughly 319,000 people moving there, along with many businesses, including real estate investment group Blackstone, investment bank Goldman Sachs and hedge fund Citadel. Florida also ranked fourth in the nation for new business formations in 2022.

DeSantis is also likely to bring up Florida’s record on education, where it ranks No. 14 in pre-K through 12 and No. 1 in higher education. Florida’s test scores also continued to improve in 2022, bucking a nationwide trend of declining scores. DeSantis is likely to attribute that to his fight to continue in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with many of his other positions, DeSantis’ COVID-19 policies have also been at the center of controversy. The state fought and sometimes outlawed measures designed to prevent COVID-19, including vaccine mandates.

DeSantis is also likely to showcase his blue-collar background and his status as a family man in an effort to contrast with Trump and appeal to blue-collar and religious voters. DeSantis grew up with a mother who worked as a nurse and a father who installed Nielsen TV rating boxes. A Catholic, he married his wife, Casey Black, in 2009. The couple have three children together.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

2024 Election

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