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Who is Ron DeSantis, Florida's governor seeking US presidency?

He is considered former President Donald Trump's strongest GOP rival in the crowded 2024 contest.

After months of anticipation, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has formally entered the Republican presidential primary contest.

As of now, he is considered former US President Donald Trump's strongest GOP rival in the crowded 2024 contest, but many voters are only just starting to get to know the 44-year-old governor.

Here are five things to know about DeSantis, the Republican Party's newest presidential contender.

His early life

A Florida native with family roots in the Midwest, DeSantis was a standout baseball player in his younger years. He represented the Dunedin, Florida, squad in the 1991 Little League World Series before becoming the captain of Yale University's team.

After a short stint teaching high school, he went on to Harvard Law School. He then became a Navy Judge Advocate General officer, a position that took him to Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

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DeSantis ran for Congress in 2012, won his Orlando-area district and became a founding member of the far-right Freedom Caucus on Capitol Hill. Like many conservatives in Congress at that time, he pushed for changes to Medicare and Social Security, including one measure that would have raised the retirement age to 70.

He served in Congress for three terms before launching what was considered a long-shot bid for governor in 2018. He won that race by less than 1 percentage point before securing a dominant reelection last fall.

Anti-woke warrior
Ron DeSantis.

Ron DeSantis. (Source: Associated Press)

Perhaps more than any Republican official in the nation, DeSantis has fought for and enacted policies that inflame the nation's cultural divisions. He calls it his war on "woke".

He just concluded a legislative session that establishes him as perhaps the most aggressive and accomplished conservative governor in the country's bitter culture wars.

He signed and then expanded the Parental Rights in Education bill — known by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" law, which bans instruction or classroom discussion of rainbow community issues in Florida public schools for all grades.

He also signed a law that bans state and federal funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities.

This spring, he signed a law banning abortions at six weeks, which is before most women realise they are pregnant.

DeSantis also enacted a law this spring allowing Florida residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.

He pushed new measures that experts warn would weaken press freedoms.

He also he took control of a liberal arts college that he believed was indoctrinating students with leftist ideology.

DeSantis vs Disney

DeSantis is willing to fight anyone or anything that gets in his way.

There may be no better example than his feud with the Florida-based entertainment giant Disney, one of his state's largest employers.

The fight began last year after Disney, beset by significant pressure both internally and externally, publicly opposed the "Don't Say Gay" law. In retaliation, DeSantis took over Disney World's self-governing district through legislation passed by Florida lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors that would oversee municipal services for the sprawling theme parks and hotels.

DeSantis has threatened to build a state prison on park property.

The dispute has drawn condemnation from business leaders and his Republican opponents, who said the moves are at odds with small-government conservatism.

Disney has filed a lawsuit against the DeSantis administration, a legal battle likely to follow DeSantis through the 2024 presidential contest. Amid the fight, Disney announced last week that it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida that would have employed 2000 people.

Is he a more electable Trump?
Ron DeSantis talks with President Donald Trump during a meeting in 2018.

Ron DeSantis talks with President Donald Trump during a meeting in 2018. (Source: Associated Press)

DeSantis' allies claim than he is more electable than Trump in a general election.

Just six months ago, DeSantis won his Florida reelection by a stunning 19 percentage points — even as Republicans in other states struggled. His victory represented the largest margin of victory in any Florida governor's race in decades.

He even won Miami-Dade County, a longtime Democratic stronghold packed with voters of colour.

Of course, it's unclear whether that success would translate to the national stage.

Voters often view elections for governor differently from those for federal office.

Still, DeSantis' team has signalled it will highlight electability in a clear contrast with Trump, who faces multiple legal threats and presided over Republican losses in three consecutive national elections.

However, there are questions about his ability to connect with both voters and party leaders on a personal level.

Largely for that reason, most of Florida's Republican congressional delegation have already endorsed Trump over DeSantis.

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