Mon. Jun 5th, 2023

    In DeSantis’ small Florida hometown, voters see ‘scumbag’ or ‘hometown hero’ as they head to the polls

    Dunedin is a 36,000-person city on Florida’s west coast.

    DeSantis is up for reelection Tuesday, and could seek the White House in 2024.
    Insider interviewed voters from his small hometown of Dunedin, Florida.
    They said the town was politically mixed, though support for the governor was more visible.

    DUNEDIN, Florida — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t open up often about his personal life during his reelection campaign. He didn’t share stories about this 36,000-person town where he grew up, or talk about lessons his parents taught him as a child. 

    But here in his oceanside hometown, residents of Dunedin know the governor well.

    Republican voters said they were thrilled that the man who played baseball just up the street could have a shot at the White House someday. Democratic voters said it was hard for them to believe the governor spent most of his youth in this town, one they said they don’t see as a red stalwart. 

    “I’m not proud that we have a governor that believes what he believes,” said Robert, citing concerns about DeSantis’ record on immigration, on LGBTQ rights, his banning of certain math books, and “his bullying tactics.” Robert, who declined to share his last name, said he was driven to vote on Tuesday over fears that democracy was on the line if Republicans gain a majority in the House and Senate.

    Dunedin’s downtown, by city hall, doesn’t allow chain stores. Small businesses, including breweries and coffee shops, line the street.

    The city of Dunedin, on Florida’s west coast, is about 25 miles West of Tampa, where DeSantis will hold his election night party as the voting results roll in Tuesday evening. DeSantis is up against Democrat Charlie Crist, a former US congressman who was also a Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011. 

    Dunedin’s downtown doesn’t have chain stores. Instead, it’s an eclectic mix of breweries, homemade ice-cream shops, and clothing boutiques. The town has frequent weekend festivals celebrating arts and culture, including Mardi Gras. Katie Ducharme, vice chair and chair-elect at the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, told Insider it’s a place that would have suffered under extended lock-down orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “There would be a lot of people who would have struggled so much more or been out of business if it wasn’t for his decisions,” she said of DeSantis’ push to reopen businesses against the advice of federal health officials.

    Dunedin, Florida, has an arch in the center of town that reads, “Defending Freedom.” Dunedin is the town where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spent most of his youth.

    Dunedin has mixed politics

    As is true for a lot of Florida small towns, Dunedin’s downtown area doesn’t charge for parking, and people ride golf carts in the streets. Bagpipers wearing kilts perform in the highschool band, in a nod to the city’s Celtic heritage. 

    In the center of town is an iron arch that reads “Defending Freedom” — a sign that could almost echo the governor’s campaign reelection message, in which he has called Florida the “free-est state.”

    “Him being from Dunedin has actually drawn people into Dunedin,” said Pam Pravetz, president and CEO at the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. “There are people who wanted to move here and live in this town because of him.”

    Residents told Insider that Dunedin was the kind of place where people didn’t lock their doors and didn’t think twice about their children biking to school. 

    But Dunedin, Pravetz said, was “not real conservative.” It celebrated Pride Week in June in support of the LGBTQ rights movement, is pushing sustainability projects, and issued a proclamation to support racial justice during the 2020 nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. The city’s elected officials are nonpartisan.

    According to the county’s supervisors of election, Republicans have roughly a 10,000-person registration advantage over Democrats in Pinellas County, which encompasses Dunedin but also left-leaning St. Petersburg. Roughly 30% of voters are not affiliated with either party. The town’s population is 86% white, according to the US Census. 

    In 2020, President Joe Biden won the county by just 1,200 votes, or 0.22 percentage points, over former President Donald Trump.  City-level data for Dunedin were not immediately accessible, but DeSantis lost the entire county by 3 points when he ran for governor in 2018. 

    Some of the governor’s critics live in his hometown.

    “Ron DeSantis is a scumbag,” Laura, who declined to share her last name, told Insider after exiting a polling station. She said she and her family had moved to the area from Collier County, Florida — home to Naples — because their former home was too red. 

    “I think it’s super weird that he’s from here,” she said. 

    A lone DeSantis sign stood on the city’s Main Street, and no Crist signs were in sight. In the neighborhoods on the periphery of Dunedin High School, where DeSantis attended, more signs supporting DeSantis were in front yards than Crist signs. American flags outnumbered them all. 

    Sharon Kemp-Gonzalez, an environmentalist originally from England who has lived in Dunedin for eight years, voted for Crist because she said DeSantis was weak on the environment and, as a mother of four daughters, she was concerned about him restricting abortion further than the 15-week ban he signed into law this year. 

    “It pisses me off,” she said of DeSantis having roots in Dunedin. “I really do not like the man. I think that he’s self-serving, self-interested, and I just think he’s a political animal not out for the everyday folk.” Her husband, Tom Travers, said he saw Desantis as “super right-wing” and “Trumpy,” and viewed Dunedin as being a town split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. 

    In Florida overall, Republicans have out-registered Democrats by roughly 300,000 people, giving DeSantis the edge heading into Election Day. 

    Polls in Florida will close at 7 p.m., so it’s not yet clear whether DeSantis will win over his hometown. At the polling station, people hugged or waved at their neighbors as they headed in to vote in the city’s bustling community center. 

    Devin Shepherd, 33, told Insider there was “no maliciousness” among voters from different parties. He said he voted for DeSantis, calling the governor a “strong leader.” Shepherd, a Coast Guard veteran, hopes Desantis will run for president eventually, but said he was torn because he wanted to keep him in Florida for a while. 

    Others would like to see a DeSantis presidency sooner. 

    “He’s going to be president one day,” Roberta, a more than five-decade-long resident who declined to share her last name, told Insider as she exited the polling station. “Hopefully as soon as possible.” 

    Stephen Brannen voted early for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, calling him “the hometown hero.”

    ‘I just like his attitude’

    Debra Rinfret, who was visiting Dunedin from Queens, New York, said she was delighted to learn from Insider that she was vacationing in the governor’s hometown. She’d come to Dunedin to visit her friend’s family. 

    “I just like his attitude,” she said. “He helps people and he’s no bullshit” 

    Before leaving New York, Rinfret said she cast a vote for Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, whom DeSantis campaigned with in late October. Given the option between Trump and DeSantis for 2024, Rinfret said she hadn’t yet decided. 

    DeSantis supporters from Dunedin said it was hard to believe one of their own had gone on to become governor. 

    Stephen Brannen voted early for “the hometown hero,” he told Insider as he gutted mackerel on the dock at the marina, tossing the entrails into the ocean as an egret lurked on a railing.

    Brannen, who works as a firefighter in a nearby town, went to the same high school as the governor, and like DeSantis, played baseball. He was several grades above DeSantis, however, so he said he didn’t know him personally. He called Dunedin “one of the greatest towns in the world.” 

    Still, he said, it was “kind of weird” to see someone from his hometown become governor. The idea of someone from here becoming president someday, he said, “would be pretty wild.” 

    “This is a little small town,” he said, “and there aren’t a whole lot of people that when they leave here become really famous.”

    Read the original article on Business Insider


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