Ron DeSantis' presidential bid tests whether he'll be Trump's biggest 2024 challenge so far

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(WASHINGTON) -- Ron DeSantis is expected to enter the 2024 Republican presidential primary race on Wednesday -- setting the stage for a long awaited and potentially volatile contest between the Florida governor, who is a rising star in his party, and former President Donald Trump, who has so far dominated most polls in the very early months of the election.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post survey showed that among the six best-known candidates, Trump clinched 51% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents while DeSantis garnered 25%. A majority of those voters said they'd be satisfied with either Trump (75%) or DeSantis (64%) as their presidential nominee.

Those margins are far ahead of other declared candidates, like South Carolinians Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, though still well behind Trump, a former DeSantis ally who grew more critical as DeSantis' own national ambitions became clearer.

The governor will announce his candidacy during a live, audio-only Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday, sources have told ABC News. He is also set to file with the Federal Election Commission this week.

Wednesday's announcement will mark the climax of months of anticipation about the governor's plans to seek higher office. He has made trips this year to several key early-voting states, including multiple stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, but ultimately waited until the completion of the Florida legislative session to formally enter the presidential race.

Gearing up to run, DeSantis has argued that it's time for Republicans to move beyond Trump.

"Two [people] have a chance to get elected president: [Joe] Biden and me, based on all the data in the swing states, which is not great for the former president and probably insurmountable because people aren't going to change their view of him," he told donors last week, sources have said.

During the legislative session, DeSantis burnished his conservative bona fides while continuing to stoke the controversial culture war issues that have increasingly been his signature. He signed bills restricting abortion after six weeks, defunding diversity programs at state universities and permitting concealed carry of a firearm without a government-issued permit.

He also targeted Disney's long-standing self-governing status in Florida after the company opposed the state's Parental Rights in Education Act forbidding discussion of sexual orientation and gender in some K-12 classrooms, a ban critics called "Don't Say Gay."

DeSantis and Disney -- which is ABC News' parent company -- have since become embroiled in a legal battle, with DeSantis arguing Disney is trying to "to have their own fiefdom" and Disney accusing DeSantis and other Florida officials of being "patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional."

Over the past week, the governor has touted his record in front of audiences made up of the kinds of voters who often swing Republican primaries.

In Orlando on Saturday, while delivering a speech at a gala hosted by the Florida Family Policy Council, an anti-abortion group, DeSantis promised "a war on the woke," vowed to lock up people who "take away or cut off someone's private parts" -- referring to gender confirmation procedures -- and railed against critical race theory, parts of which many conservatives argue are being inappropriately taught in K-12 grades.

"We need to restore sanity to our society, we need to restore normalcy to our communities and we need to restore integrity to our institutions," DeSantis said, to cheers.

A former Navy lawyer-turned-lawmaker, DeSantis first emerged on the national stage during the COVID-19 pandemic when he bucked public health guidance on masks and vaccines, contending that some restrictions could be excessive and unnecessary.

He has seemingly relished angering Democrats and hitting back at the mainstream press -- a task also carried out online by his staff, who are prone to post on Twitter their correspondence with reporters while calling out what they see as unfair coverage.

DeSantis was born in Jacksonville and spent his childhood in the Tampa suburb of Dunedin. He graduated from Yale University, having played on the baseball team, and Harvard Law School before joining the Navy in 2004.

He first held office in 2013, as a representative for Florida's 6th Congressional District, serving until 2018.

That year, he won the Republican nomination for governor -- after an endorsement from Trump -- and narrowly defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in the general election.

Since DeSantis became governor, Florida, long seen as a purple state, has shifted markedly in favor of Republicans.

He links those conservative victories to his style of leadership, a response to even those critics in his own party -- including Trump, who labeled him with a characteristically insulting nickname: "DeSanctimonious."

"You can call me whatever you want just as long as you also call me a winner, because that's what we've been able to do in Florida is put a lot of points on the board and really take this state to the next level," DeSantis said earlier this year.

In November, he won reelection by nearly 20%, the largest margin by a Republican governor in Florida's history.

He and his wife, Casey, whom he married in 2009, have three children together.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023 at 9:12AM by Will McDuffie, ABC News Permalink