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US Election: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Launches Presidential Campaign In Challenge To Trump

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is so far the most potent challenger to former President Donald Trump in contest to the Republican Party's nomination.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the latest Republican leader to enter the race for party's nomination for 2024 US presidential election
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In direct challenge to former US President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday launched his campaign for 2024 presidential election.

In the US election system, candidates have to first seek the nomination of their own party before facing the other party's candidate in the final election.

DeSantis has pitted himself directly in opposition to Trump. He currently ranks second among 2024 Republican presidential candidates, according to election news and polling website FiveThirtyEight. Trump remains on the first position.

The campaign of DeSantis will test both his national appeal as an outspoken cultural conservative and the Republican Party's willingness to move on from former President Donald Trump. Considered to be a Trump-like Republican without the baggage of legal troubles and the shadow of Capitol Riots, DeSantis was until a few weeks ago considered a serious challenger to Trump. However, a string of events have somewhat hurt this reputation in recent months.

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The latest Republican presidential candidate

DeSantis is the latest Republican to enter the party's contest for the nomination for the 2024 presidential election. 

DeSantis joins a field that already includes: Trump, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Arkansas Gov. 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.

It marks a new chapter in the extraordinary rise of DeSantis from little-known congressman to two-term governor to a leading figure in the nation's bitter fights over race, gender, abortion and other divisive issues. 

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DeSantis is considered to be Trump's strongest Republican rival even as the governor faces questions about his readiness for the national stage.

DeSantis' entry into the Republican field has been rumoured for months and he is considered one of the party's strongest candidates in the quest to retake the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden. The 80-year-old incumbent, Republicans say, has pushed the nation too far left while failing to address inflation, immigration and crime.

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

Where do DeSantis and Trump stand?

The two GOP powerhouses have much in common.

DeSantis, who likely would not have become the Florida governor without Trump's endorsement, has adopted the former president's fiery personality, his populist policies and even some of his rhetoric and mannerisms.

Yet DeSantis has one thing Trump does not: a credible claim that he may be more electable in a general election than Trump, who faces multiple legal threats and presided over Republican losses in three consecutive national elections.

DeSantis, just six months ago, won his reelection in Florida by a stunning 19 percentage points — even as Republicans in many other states struggled. He also scored several major policy victories during the Republican-controlled Legislature's spring session.

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Aware of DeSantis' draw, Trump has been almost singularly focused on undermining DeSantis' political appeal for months. Trump and his team believe that DeSantis may be Trump's only legitimate threat for the nomination.

Hours before the announcement, Trump argued in a social media post that "Ron DeSanctus" cannot win the general election or the GOP primary because of his previous votes in Congress on Social Security and Medicare.

"He was, and is, a disciple of horrible RINO Paul Ryan, and others too many to mention," Trump wrote. "Also, he desperately needs a personality transplant and, to the best of my knowledge, they are not medically available yet. A disloyal person!" 

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"RINO" stands for Republican In Name Only. 

Challenges for Ron DeSantis

Trump's kitchen-sink attacks and nicknames won't be DeSantis's only hurdle.

DeSantis may be a political heavyweight in Florida and a regular on Fox News, but allies acknowledge that most primary voters in other states don't know him well.

A Florida native with family roots in the Midwest, DeSantis studied at Yale University, where he played baseball. He would go on to Harvard Law School and become a Navy Judge Advocate General officer, a position that took him to Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

DeSantis ran for Congress in 2012 and won an Orlando-area district, becoming a founding member of the far-right Freedom Caucus on Capitol Hill.

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Despite his lengthy resume, friends and foes alike note that DeSantis struggles to display the campaign-trail charisma and quick-on-your-feet thinking that often defines successful candidates at the national level. He has gone to great lengths to avoid unscripted public appearances and media scrutiny while governor, which is difficult, if not impossible, as a presidential contender.

Would-be supporters also worry that DeSantis has refused to invest in relationships with party leaders or fellow elected officials, raising questions about his ability to build the coalition he will ultimately need to beat Trump. By contrast, the more personable Trump has already scooped up an army of endorsements in key states, including Florida.

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The 'anti-woke' policies of Ron DeSantis

Beyond the primary, DeSantis' greatest longer-term challenge may rest with the far-right policies he enacted as governor as an unapologetic leader in what he calls his war on woke. 

The Florida governor sent dozens of immigrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast to draw attention to the influx of Latin American immigrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. 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 LGBTQ issues in Florida public schools for all grades.

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More recently, he signed a law banning abortions at six weeks, which is before most women realise they're pregnant. 

And he single-handedly removed an elected prosecutor who vowed not to charge people under Florida's new abortion restrictions or doctors who provide gender-affirming care.

DeSantis also signed a law this year allowing Florida residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. He pushed new measures that experts warn would weaken press freedoms. He also took control of a liberal arts college that he believed was indoctrinating students with leftist ideology.

The governor's highest-profile political fight, however, has come against the beloved Florida-based entertainment giant Disney, which publicly opposed his “Don't Say Gay” law. In retaliation, DeSantis seized control of Disney World's governing body and installed loyalists who are threatening to take over park planning, among other extraordinary measures.

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

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

(With AP inputs)

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