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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Alamy Stock Photo
US Election

Florida's Republican governor Ron DeSantis has officially launched his presidential campaign

The 44-year-old governor has filed a declaration of candidacy for US president.

LAST UPDATE | 24 May 2023

FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DeSantis has launched his 2024 presidential campaign, signalling 18 months of acrimony ahead as he and Donald Trump lock horns in what is expected to be an attritional contest for the Republican nomination.

DeSantis was considered a rising Republican star, but has been caught flat-footed by months of relentless attacks from the former president, who has surged into a commanding lead despite being engulfed in criminal investigations.

The 44-year-old governor filed his candidacy documentation with the Federal Election Commission hours ahead of his scheduled announcement in a livestreamed chat with billionaire Twitter owner Elon Musk on the social network’s audio platform.

Pro-DeSantis political organisation Never Back Down released a video to accompany the launch featuring the governor’s November 2022 election victory speech, in which he vows that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

“We chose facts over fear. We chose education over indoctrination. We weathered the storm,” he says.

Musk teased the 6pm (11pm Irish time) Twitter Spaces event in remarks to a conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, promising it would be live and unscripted, with “real time questions and answers.”

The announcement comes at the start of a three-day retreat in Miami for some of DeSantis’s wealthiest donors, who will be briefed on the campaign before the governor hits several early voting states next week.

National profile

Long viewed as the most viable challenger to twice-impeached Trump, DeSantis is better known than most of the hopefuls in the chasing pack for the Republican nomination – but still lacks the frontrunner’s national profile.

The launch format offers him a dual advantage – giving him precious access to Musk’s followers, many of whom are in Trump’s base, and, if he wins the nomination, the attention of a chunk of younger, less conservative voters he will likely need for a shot at the White House.

DeSantis has used his platform as Florida’s chief executive to burnish his conservative credentials, signing off on some 80 new state laws this spring, many targeting “woke indoctrination” in schools and other public institutions.

They include a ban on the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, a block on funding for efforts to promote diversity at public universities and one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Never Back Down, which has been acting as the governor’s de facto campaign arm, has a ground operation in most of the early nominating states and is making plans to expand.

But the launch comes with DeSantis’s ratings in decline as a number of policy missteps have prompted disquiet about his readiness to take on Trump.

He faces the daunting task of closing an enormous polling gap, with Trump posting leads of close to 40 percentage points, despite being indicted on felony financial charges and being found liable for sexual abuse in a New York civil trial.

Jockeying for endorsements

Behind the scenes, the Trump and DeSantis camps have been jostling to secure political endorsements from state lawmakers while, at the national level, Florida’s congressional delegation has broken heavily for Trump.

Musk is a well-known DeSantis admirer, although he was clear that Twitter would remain neutral on the nomination and that his hosting of the campaign launch should not be taken as an endorsement.

“I’ve said publicly that my preference, and I think the preference of most Americans, is … to have someone fairly normal in office,” he previously said, without making any explicit criticism of Trump.

Trump was banned from Twitter after the 2021 assault on the US Capitol by his supporters and has not posted since being reinstated in November.

He has been attacking DeSantis almost daily on his record, character and fitness for office, but responded to today’s announcement with relative restraint – simply posting favorable polling on his own online platform, Truth Social.

“Announcing on Twitter is perfect for Ron DeSantis. This way he doesn’t have to interact with people and the media can’t ask him any questions,” a Trump aide said.

Runners and riders

DeSantis begins his campaign in a top-tier of two alongside Trump based on early public polling, fundraising and campaign infrastructure.

DeSantis delayed his announcement until Florida’s legislative session was over.

But for much of the year, he has been courting primary voters in key states and using an allied super political action committee to build out a large political organisation that is essentially a campaign in waiting and already claims at least $30 million in the bank.

He joins a GOP field that already includes Trump, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina senator Tim Scott, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Former Vice President Mike Pence is also considered a likely presidential candidate, but has not yet announced a bid.

Includes reporting by – © AFP 2023 and the Press Association

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