Gov. Ron DeSantis is officially running for president.
His announcement doesn’t come as a huge surprise; it’s been expected ever since his 20-point trouncing of former Gov. Charlie Crist in last fall’s election. In Tampa Bay, where he grew up, people have been talking about the possibility even longer. One childhood friend said he talked about running for president even then.
The Tampa Bay Times has covered DeSantis for decades, from his days as a standout Little Leaguer in Dunedin to his time as a U.S. representative to his controversial terms as one of Florida’s most powerful governors ever. As he enters the next phase of his political career, we picked out 11 stories that tell his story from the perspective of his hometown newspaper.
We’ll have plenty more DeSantis coverage in the weeks and months to come. For now, get caught up with these 11 essential reads.
What did Ron DeSantis do during his tour in Iraq? (Sept. 21, 2018): DeSantis’ experience as an Iraq War veteran and Navy attorney is a key facet of his political biography. But little is known about what he actually did in the military. His commander at the time said his responsibilities included making sure detainees were treated humanely, in accordance with international law, and making sure Navy SEAL and Army Green Beret missions were legally planned. He also worked at the military’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility. “He was super smart, articulate, resourceful and a positive part of the staff,” said Navy Capt. Dane Thorleifson. “I relied on him heavily.” Read more here.
Ron DeSantis is a textbook Florida governor candidate for Republicans. But will it be enough? (Oct. 19, 2018): The working-class childhood, the Ivy League education, the military service and stint as a U.S. congressman — DeSantis had what seemed like a perfect biography for a Republican gubernatorial candidate when he first ran for statewide office in 2018. But even then, he was seen as aloof, distant and pugnacious, traits that can turn off supporters and independents alike. Now that he’s eyeing an even higher office, those questions about his character have reemerged. “How does he deal with pushback when he’s out of the comfortable setting of Fox News and of Republican base voters?” one GOP strategist said. “That is something where he’s got some room for growth.” Read more here.
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Ron DeSantis’ political team planned $25K golf games, $250K ‘intimate gatherings,’ memos say (Sept. 12, 2019): Glimpses of the political machinery churning behind Ron DeSantis are rare. In 2019, memos obtained by the Times showed that donors could pay tens of thousands of dollars for access to DeSantis, from $25,000 for golf in a foursome to $250,000 for an hourlong “intimate” gathering. The push to “maximize dollars” from donors across the country was designed “to fundraise and maintain a high political profile at all times — inside and outside of Florida,” wrote the chairperson of DeSantis’ political committee. Read more here.
The Ron DeSantis double play: A star ballplayer and future politician (March 10, 2020): Long before DeSantis entered politics, he was a slugging first baseman and pitcher on the Dunedin National Little League team that in 1991 reached the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Baseball was a key part of DeSantis’ early life; it helped take him from the fields of Dunedin High School to Yale University. “I always knew he was going into politics,” said Brady Williams, who was then one of DeSantis’ closest friends and is now third-base coach for the Tampa Bay Rays. “His goal was to be the president of the United States. Was that far-fetched? A lot of things we talked about that summer were far-fetched. And a lot of them happened.” Read more here.
Year 1 of Florida’s coronavirus outbreak: 8 key DeSantis decisions (Feb. 26, 2021): A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, some 30,000 Floridians had died from the virus, with another 1.8 million infected. DeSantis was at the forefront of every decision the state made during that time, from changing how it reported COVID data to dealing with a troubled unemployment system to rolling out and revising vaccine distribution strategies. Today, DeSantis’ push to keep the state open for business early in the pandemic is frequently cited by supporters as one of his best decisions as governor. How did he manage everything else? Read more here.
Ron DeSantis wants voters’ signatures to match. Would his pass the test? (April 13, 2021): In 2021, DeSantis pushed for a law that would require stricter vote-by-mail standards, including one that would require a voter’s signature to match their most recent one on file. That led reporters to ask: Would DeSantis’ own signature be accepted as a match? The Times found 18 publicly available DeSantis signatures that varied significantly over time, from his years as a special assistant U.S. attorney to his time as governor. Forensic experts said a few of them might not fit the criteria of his own bill. Read more here.
Inside Fox News, DeSantis is ‘the future of the party.’ And he’s taking advantage. (Aug. 13, 2021): DeSantis’ swift political rise owes a lot to Fox News, where the governor has been a frequent guest. As a Jacksonville congressman and later as governor, he was in such demand on Fox that producers offered to let him dictate talking points and interview topics, according to emails obtained via public records request. During Florida’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the network and governor’s office worked together on an exclusive televised vaccine event. It’s not the only time other networks have been barred from official events. As one Fox News producer told DeSantis’ team: “We see him as the future of the party.” Read more here.
Casey DeSantis: The ‘X Factor’ in Florida Governor’s Inner Circle (April 13): Should Florida’s first lady become America’s first lady, she would be an influential one. The former newscaster from Ohio is the governor’s closest confidante and most frequent humanizing presence, starring in TV ads and drawing cheers alongside him at rallies. And she’s likely to be a key figure on the campaign trail. As U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz put it: “Nobody else who has been mentioned on the Republican side has a Casey DeSantis.” Read more here.
New Disney penalties hint at DeSantis’ punitive streak (April 22): From suspending Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren to penalizing the Walt Disney Co. for its criticism of his policies on gender and sexuality, DeSantis has shown a willingness to punish those who cross him or object to his agenda. That appetite for public retaliation, however, might not fly in Washington, D.C., should he be elected president and be expected to work with all parties. “Compromise is not necessary in our politics,” said former U.S. Rep. David Jolly, “but it is in our governing.” Read more here.
Ron DeSantis’ Tampa Bay hometown has evolved. Does it still claim him? (April 26): In his latest book, DeSantis writes that he was “geographically raised” in Tampa Bay, but his upbringing “reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio.” That disconnect is reflected in how many in his hometown of Dunedin view him today. The quirky coastal town is decidedly bipartisan with a long history of LGBTQ+ acceptance, from gay business leaders who helped establish its quaint downtown core to its weekly drag shows on Main Street. DeSantis doesn’t talk much about Dunedin, and many locals aren’t eager to discuss him, either. Said one local business leader: “It’s understandable why he would prefer to be viewed as somebody from Pennsylvania.” Read more here.
DeSantis hasn’t fostered deep political relationships. Will it matter? (May 4): Anecdotes abound of DeSantis appearing aloof in person, occasionally distracted in conversation and generally less interested in pressing the flesh than most political candidates. He’s endorsed candidates around the country, but some past congressional colleagues, and even Republican state legislators in Florida, feel he keeps his distance. While those close to him say he’s worked to change that perception in the buildup to a proper campaign, others say he still has work to do. Read more here.