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DeSantis is running for president on his record. Supporters and opponents see opportunity

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Heritage Foundation 50th Anniversary Celebration leadership summit on April 21, 2023, in Oxon Hill, Md.
Alex Brandon
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Heritage Foundation 50th Anniversary Celebration leadership summit on April 21, 2023, in Oxon Hill, Md.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has entered the 2024 presidential race. He’s stepping into a crowded Republican primary contest.

The wait is over: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made official his long-speculated entry into the presidential primary and the governor, his supporters, and his detractors can’t wait to talk about his record.

DeSantis’ entry into an increasingly packed Republican presidential primary was heralded hours before, via a trailer video on Twitter. It was later replaced by a full announcement with DeSantis, over a musical score, laments:

“Our border is a disaster, crime infests our cities, the federal government makes it hard to make ends meet, and the president flounders," he says.

On Wednesday, DeSantis officially filed his paperwork to run and sat for an audio-only discussion via Twitter Spaces. That part was plagued by audio and technical issues and received a mostly critical reception by pundits and commentators. Still, for Florida’s Republican Party, which has worked for more than 20 years to turn the state a solid red, DeSantis' bid holds the promise of officially sealing Florida as a red state.

Still, Florida Republican Party Vice Chairman Evan Power says the state party isn’t picking sides in the primary.

“We’re a general election machine and we’re going to prepare and get our get-out-the-vote operation ready for the general election and we’re going to be happy for whoever wins the nomination and be ready to fight for them on Day 1. And I think a primary process is good for our party.”

That’s because DeSantis, and other Republican hopefuls, first have to overcome former President Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for DeSantis. Trump views the governor as being disloyal and also a chief rival to Trump's path back to the White House.

It's not only the Trump side that’s against DeSantis.

“There’s something to be said about going too far, too far, too fast, right?" said Ryan Wiggins, a spokeswoman for the anti-Trump group, the Lincoln Project. Wiggins notes there's inter-party dissatisfaction with some of DeSantis' politics, like a fight with Disney, a six-week abortion limit, and increasing crackdowns on LGBTQ rights that have led to a myriad of lawsuits against the state.

There are also restrictions on speech in higher education that have professors eyeing jobs elsewhere, and universities worried about a brain drain.

“If you’re going to push through some really bad, fascist legislation that’s gonna cost taxpayers a fortune to litigate because none of this stuff is constitutional. If you’re going to do that, you better go slow. Because what’s happened is, it’s backfired on him, nationally," said Wiggins.

"His whole campaign slogan is ‘Make America, Florida.’ The rest of the country is like ‘Hell No! Don’t make us Florida! We don’t even wanna know Florida. We don’t even know you, girl.'”

Meanwhile, Democrats are also pouncing on the governor’s legislative record. Where Republicans see key conservative victories on issues like the new abortion limit, restrictions on transgender medical care, further crackdowns on undocumented immigrants, school reading, and classroom materials, Democrats see an attack opportunity. Miami Democratic Senator Shevrin Jones is an advisor to President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign. And when it comes to DeSantis.

“The policy attacks on education, dismissing African American studies, DEI, book bans…it just shows the disdain for all Floridians and communities of color," he said.  

Florida’s Republican-majority legislature has given the governor a boost through changes to state law that will guarantee he can both run for president and be governor at the same time. They’ve shielded his travel records and the guest list for the publicly owned residence he lives in.

Original Story: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has entered the 2024 presidential race. He’s stepping into a crowded Republican primary contest that will test his national appeal as an outspoken cultural conservative and the party’s willingness to move on from former President Donald Trump. DeSantis revealed his decision in a Federal Election Commission filing before a planned online conversation Wednesday night with Twitter CEO Elon Musk.

It marks a new chapter in DeSantis’ rise from congressman to two-term governor to a leading figure in the nation’s bitter fights over race, gender, abortion, and other divisive issues. Questions loom about his readiness for the national stage. But DeSantis is seen as Trump’s strongest Republican rival.

Democrats are already pouncing on the governor's policy record.

“America, Governor Ron DeSantis is a tantrum-throwing bully who threatens our ability to live our lives free from tyranny and oppression. He’s bought and paid for by the wealthy corporate elites while he sacrifices the health, safety, livelihoods, and futures of all Floridians," said Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville.

"Ron DeSantis has relentlessly attacked our freedoms, signing a near-total abortion ban, implementing permitless carry of hidden, loaded guns that makes us less safe, and enforcing unconstitutional laws that are costing Floridians millions to defend in court.

This is a warning for all Americans: do not trust Ron DeSantis because he’ll always do what’s best for his own political career while the people get left further behind. And while Americans of all races, places, and backgrounds value our fundamental freedoms, Ron DeSantis will take all that we hold dear if it means taking another step up the political ladder.”

Also weighing in, Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried.

“Floridians have had a front row seat to the devastating impacts of Ron DeSantis’s extreme MAGA agenda, literally footing the bill for his national ambitions and paying the price for the dangerous laws he’s pushed. From signing extreme abortion bans, attacking LGBTQ kids, and passing laws that allow book bans, to signing legislation that could make it easier for criminals to carry guns, handing out tax breaks to big corporations and billionaires, and supporting cuts to Social Security and Medicare – DeSantis has spent his entire career using Floridians’ lives as a stepping stool to cater to the MAGA base. We’ve already seen how catastrophic it is for working families when DeSantis is in office, with Floridians facing unaffordable housing, health care and property insurance costs. Our country simply can’t afford DeSantis, and we will fight tooth and nail to make sure he doesn’t take his extreme thirst for power to the White House.”

Despite vocal opposition by Democrats and progressive groups, DeSantis cruised to reelection, defeating his Democratic challenger by a 19-point margin.

*Editor's Note: This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.