Who is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis?

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(NewsNation) — Speculation is growing over whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is planning a presidential run in 2024, meaning more eyes are on the vocal Republican politician.

While he’s had his share of political victories and found support from fellow conservatives, he has also faced resistance and detractors from the other side of the aisle.

And now, DeSantis is drawing donations from some of the nation’s wealthiest Republicans — including over $3.4 million from former Trump supporters who never donated in Florida state elections before, according to Politico. In his reelection bid for governor, DeSantis has already raised a record-setting $100 million.

Q: What is Ron DeSantis’ political background?

DeSantis is the 46th governor of Florida, a position he’s held since 2019. Before that, he was in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Florida’s 6th District. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, according to the National Governors Association, DeSantis went to Yale University and also graduated from Harvard Law School. DeSantis then went into the Navy and was deployed to Iraq in 2007. After active-duty service, he became a federal prosecutor until entering the political realm in 2012, when he was elected to Congress.

Q: What were his policies during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis rose to national prominence for his criticism, and bucking of, COVID-19 measures other states and the federal government put into place such as vaccine and mask mandates. As The Washington Post reports, he has gained support among political moderates with his “hands-off” approach to COVID-19. A recent profile on the governor by the New Yorker details how, although DeSantis ordered a statewide lockdown as the coronavirus began spreading in Florida, he later changed his mind, lifting nearly all remaining restrictions and ending the enforcement of mask mandates.

In 2021, DeSantis signed a law prohibiting businesses or government entities from mandating vaccines, and saying schools cannot have vaccination or masking requirements. Recently, the Special Olympics dropped a vaccine mandate for its Orlando games after Florida moved to fine the organization $27.5 million for violating this law.

And now, with the U.S. getting ready to roll out COVID-19 shots for children 5 and younger, Florida is the only state that hasn’t preordered its supply from the federal government. DeSantis said although the state won’t facilitate distribution, the vaccines will be available for those who want them.

While some lauded DeSantis’ COVID-19 approach, others criticized it, including the Miami Herald editorial board, which said “any public distrust of this administration has been well-earned” when Florida would not report its number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

According to the Washington Post, Florida has seen 350 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents. In comparison, the national average is 304 per 100,000 residents. 

Q: What political battles has he had as governor?

Florida came under national scrutiny over legislation on gender and sexuality, such as the Parental Rights in Education bill. Called the “Don’t Say Gay Law” by critics, the bill was signed into law by the governor in March, and bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade. Several gay rights advocacy groups sued DeSantis to block the new law, and President Joe Biden decried it as “hateful.”

After Disney, Florida’s largest moneymaker, announced it would suspend political donations in the state. DeSantis lashed out at the company, and other critics of the law, insisting the policy is reasonable and that it should be parents, not teachers, talking to children about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Taking things a step further, DeSantis signed legislation taking away Walt Disney World’s right to operate a private government over its properties in the state. Set up in 1967 by the state legislature, the private government controlled by Disney World, the “Reedy Creek Improvement District,” had been allowed to provide services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure.

Under the law, the Reedy Creek Improvement District would be eliminated by June 2023, although the measure does allow for districts to be reestablished.

DeSantis has also gone head-to-head with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, although he hasn’t been as successful on this front. DeSantis signed a law that would give Florida’s attorney general the authority to sue social media companies for treating them unfairly, and enabled the state to fine large social media companies $250,000 a day if they remove an account of a statewide political candidate and $25,000 a day if they remove a local candidate’s page. But a federal appeals court ruled that unconstitutional.

Environmental issues have also been a focus for DeSantis, with the governor creating a “resiliency office” to combat flooding and sea level rise in Florida, and investing billions into restoring the Florida Everglades. Some critics, however, argue that DeSantis is not doing enough for the environment.

Q: Is he running for president?

DeSantis has been floated as a potential contender in the 2024 presidential election, though he has not officially made an announcement about it.

His biggest competition, in that respect, would be former President Donald Trump. Like DeSantis, Trump has not officially thrown his hat into the ring, although the New Yorker reports that the former president is “very close” to making a decision.

When asked directly about whether he’s running for president, Politico wrote that DeSantis just said he’s been “focusing on the task at hand” as governor. Still, the news outlet noted that the governor has held fundraisers and appearances across the nation, which could help should he decide to run for higher office.

In the meantime, DeSantis has been making his political influence known, endorsing a handful of state Senate races, as the Tampa Bay Times reports. The newspaper said this is being viewed as an effort by DeSantis to form a faction of senators loyal to him who will get his agenda through the Florida legislature.

Q: How good are DeSantis’ chances of becoming the Republican presidential nominee?

Several straw polls have shown DeSantis doing well among potential 2024 presidential candidates. The Hill reported that DeSantis beat former President Donald Trump for the second year in a row in a presidential straw poll conducted at the Western Conservative Summit in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this month. The percentage of voters who said they approved of DeSantis for the 2024 race was 71%, while 67.7% approved of Trump. Other potential candidates trailed behind the two frontrunners by significant margins, The Hill stated.

However, other polls have seen voters pick Trump as the candidate they want for 2024, such as one from Rasmussen Reports. A poll by Harvard CAPS/Harris shared exclusively with The Hill in January also put Trump as an early favorite. Either way, DeSantis has an edge over other candidates who have been suggested as possible 2024 candidates, such as former vice president Mike Pence or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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