May 25, 2023 - Politics

DeSantis' hometown, Dunedin, divided on his presidential aspirations

Photo illustration: Maura Losch/Axios. Photo: Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida's worst-kept secret is out: Gov. Ron DeSantis is officially running for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election.

Why it matters: DeSantis, seen as former President Trump's most serious challenger, rose to national prominence for snubbing public health recommendations to curb the spread of COVID-19 and pursuing an aggressive conservative agenda on hot-button cultural issues.

The big picture: DeSantis will use the moves he's made in Florida β€” like fighting Disney, banning critical race theory, restricting discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms, removing a "Soros-prosecutor," and opposing China β€” as a "blueprint" for the U.S.

  • "In Florida, we prove that it can be done. We chose facts over fear, education over indoctrination," DeSantis said in his announcement video. "We show that we can and must revitalize America."

Between the lines: Lawmakers in Florida recently passed a spate of measures, including budget allocations and a public records carve-out, that bodes well for DeSantis' presidential campaign.

  • The Republican-controlled Legislature revised Florida's "resign-to-run" law in April to exclude people running for president or vice president. DeSantis signed it Wednesday after he filed to be a presidential candidate.

Zoom in: DeSantis grew up in Tampa Bay. However, in his new book, "The Courage to be Free," the governor said he identified with the Midwest more.

  • "I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay, but culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio," DeSantis wrote.
  • Still, he recalled playing baseball for a Little League team in his childhood hometown, Dunedin, and reminisced about arriving at Yale in full Florida garb: a T-shirt, jean shorts and flip-flops.

What they're saying: Customers at Flanagan's Irish Pub β€” one of DeSantis' favorite diners in his hometown β€” were divided on his presidential aspirations.

  • Some patrons said the governor ought to forgo his pursuit of the GOP nomination and instead angle to be Trump's vice president. Others said they wanted him to stay out of the 2024 race.
  • "This place has changed so much that it wouldn't reflect him now," Justin Taylor, a 30-year-old Dunedin resident, told Axios. "If DeSantis wants my vote, he needs to fix housing."
  • "I don't want him to run," said Sally Malinowicz, who moved to the state because of the governor's policies. "I want him to stay in Florida."

Nikki Fried, the Florida Democratic Party chair and former gubernatorial candidate, told Axios that DeSantis is using the state "as a stepping stool."

  • "Floridians have had a front-row seat to the devastating impacts of Ron DeSantis' extreme MAGA agenda, literally footing the bill for his national ambitions and paying the price for the dangerous laws he's pushed," she said.

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