MIAMI — After months of speculation, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis officially entered the 2024 presidential race Wednesday.
DeSantis, 44, revealed his decision in a Federal Election Commission filing hours before a conversation with Twitter CEO Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces, which appeared to crash as more than 300,000 joined to listen to the announcement.
“I’m Ron DeSantis, and I’m running for president to lead our great American comeback,” DeSantis said in a video shared on his Twitter account Wednesday evening.
As part of his official campaign kickoff, DeSantis will travel Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina next week “to share his vision for revitalizing America,” according to his office.
“Our Great American Comeback Tour” will feature a four-day swing across 12 cities and towns and will mark the governor’s first public campaign events since his Wednesday night announcement.
“We are laser-focused on taking Gov. DeSantis’ forward-thinking message for restoring America to every potential voter in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina,” campaign manager Generra Peck said in a news release. “Our campaign is committed to putting in the time to win these early nominating states. No one will work harder than Gov. DeSantis to share his vision with the country — he has only begun to fight.”
During the tour, DeSantis will conduct speeches, stops and fireside chats.
Gov. @RonDeSantis to blitz early states with “Our Great American Comeback Tour” after Memorial Day. Starts in Des Moines, Iowa runs four days touches three states and 12 cities. pic.twitter.com/c4BTmwP2EF
— Forrest Saunders (@FBSaunders) May 25, 2023
The Republican governor has long been perceived to be the chief challenger to former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican primary.
DeSantis, a two-term governor who first took office in 2019 and won reelection in a landslide, appeared to be inching closer to a formal announcement in recent weeks, moving his political operations to a new location in Tallahassee, outside of its previous spot at the state’s Republican headquarters.
In addition, DeSantis recently made political stops in the critical primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, touting his governance in Florida.
“One of the big things Ron DeSantis has going for him is he can point to five years of accomplishments that conservatives just love,” WPTV political analyst Brian Crowley said. “And what he will say is he did it without all the drama.”
However, Crowley added that DeSantis does have weaknesses as he heads onto a national campaign trail.
“Ron DeSantis, I think one of his flaws as a candidate is that he has failed to engage with the media on a regular basis. He doesn’t like taking tough questions,” Crowley said. “He’s not going to be able to avoid that with the media in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. He has to win those states or he’s not going to be the nominee.”
Since taking office four years ago, DeSantis has become one of the most polarizing leaders in state history, pushing Florida to the right by championing contentious new restrictions on COVID-19 protocols, immigration, abortion, and LGBTQ+ rights, along with seeking to limit the corporate power of Disney, one of his state’s most powerful business interests.
The governor has made anti-LGBTQ+ legislation a large part of his messaging, restricting instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through eighth grade in Florida public schools, and recently signing bills that ban gender-affirming care for minors, target drag shows, restrict discussion of personal pronouns in schools and force people to use certain bathrooms.
In one of his most controversial moves in office, DeSantis in April signed the Heartbeat Protection Act into law, which bans abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, human trafficking or to protect a mother’s life.
The ban gave DeSantis a key political victory among Republican primary voters as he builds on his national brand as a conservative standard bearer.
A staunch critic of COVID-19 lockdowns, masking, and vaccine requirements, DeSantis in January announced he wants to permanently ban mandates on the coronavirus vaccine and masks.
DeSantis said he’s seeking to protect Florida from what he calls the “biomedical security state,” denouncing groups like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with President Joe Biden, for their pandemic protection efforts.
“When the world lost its mind, Florida was a refuge of sanity, serving strongly as freedom’s linchpin,” DeSantis said. “These measures will ensure Florida remains this way and will provide landmark protections for free speech for medical practitioners.”
WATCH: Ron DeSantis: From Congress to Tallahassee to presidential candidate
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The governor has also rallied his base around bans on the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, along with eliminating state and federal spending on diversity, equity and inclusion programs at publicly-funded colleges in Florida.
In terms of immigration, DeSantis signed into law a contentious bill that includes more penalties for hiring undocumented migrants in Florida and more money to relocate them to other parts of the country.
Then there’s DeSantis’ battle against Disney. The two sides have been engaged in a tug-of-war for more than a year after the company opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.
The entertainment powerhouse in April filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, claiming the governor and his appointees violated Disney’s right to free speech, as well as the contracts clause, by taking over the special governing district that previously had been controlled by Disney supporters after Disney opposed the controversial legislation that critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
DeSantis has argued that a private company is not accountable to the public and thus should have the same regulations as other companies. He said the previous arrangement gave Disney “preferential treatment.” But DeSantis has criticized Disney and said its protest of the legislation “crossed the line.”
While DeSantis has picked up a lot of momentum in the Sunshine State, Trump, his chief opponent in the growing Republican primary field, holds the GOP crown, at least for now.
“Donald Trump, on the other hand, is beloved by a significant fraction of the MAGA movement,” Crowley said. “As more people enter the race, Donald Trump is counting on the idea those [candidates] will split up those folks who don’t want to see him get another term and that he will easily win the primaries and caucuses.”
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A number of high-profile Republican senators have backed Trump’s third bid for the White House, while DeSantis has received endorsements from many of Florida’s top Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.
Meanwhile, many Florida Democrats continued to be critical of DeSantis. Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried, who served as the lone Democrat on the Florida Cabinet with DeSantis before unsuccessfully seeking her party’s gubernatorial nomination in an attempt to unseat him, said in a statement that the governor “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,” she added. “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.”
Trump also chimed in on his Truth Social account, offering a backhanded compliment to the man he once endorsed for governor.
“I’d like to personally congratulate ‘Rob’ DeSanctimonious on finally announcing that he will be entering the race for President of the United States,” Trump wrote. “Hopefully he will get the full experience of being attacked by the Marxists, Communists, and Radical Left Lunatics of our Country, without which he will never know the kind of job he is doing.”
Trump, who made his official campaign announcement at his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach last November, and his campaign team have started focusing on DeSantis, with critical comments online and in emails. Recently, they’ve relished the loss of two DeSantis-backed candidates in races in Kentucky and Jacksonville. Trump said in a statement posted to Truth Social that “Ron’s magic is GONE!”
Trump and his officials have started focusing on DeSantis, with critical comments online and in emails. Recently, they’ve relished the loss of two DeSantis-backed candidates in races in Kentucky and Jacksonville. Trump said in a statement posted to Truth Social that “Ron’s magic is GONE!”
The Trump campaign has also regularly noted the governor’s deficit in early polling. Real Clear Politics estimates that Trump’s lead is now more than 30 points, on average.
Crowley told WPTV that Trump’s biggest challenge on the campaign trail is more legal trouble.
“The biggest threat to Donald Trump’s campaign is future indictments,” Crowley said. “There is more and more information coming out suggesting indictments that may come out in Georgia, but especially the classified documents, could be so serious that he could face potential prison time down the road.”