DeSantis set to announce his presidential candidacy from Dunedin – but where?

The governor’s hometown is in a more conservative part of what is considered a presidential bellwether county

By: - May 18, 2023 1:42 pm

Dunedin Welcome sign (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gov. Ron DeSantis expects to announce his candidacy for president after Memorial Day and from his hometown of Dunedin — that’s according to several media outlets over the past 24 hours — but how much do people know about Dunedin?

It’s a city of about 36,000 residents, based on U.S. Census data. It’s about 90 percent white. There’s more females than men.

Dunedin sits in Northern Pinellas County, the more conservative part of what has been considered a politically moderate county. It has been considered one of the bellwether counties in the country when it comes to presidential elections. The county has voted for the winning presidential candidate in every single presidential election since 1976, with one exception – when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in the 2000 recount.

So where would a presidential announcement take place in Dunedin? A couple of potential gathering spots come to mind:

The biggest and perhaps most logical location is TD Ballpark, an 8,500-seat facility that is the spring training home for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Dunedin Blue Jays, the team’s Class A minor league squad. It’s where he also practiced and played games while playing on the baseball team at Dunedin High School.

A drawback to that site of course is that as Memorial Day approaches, so does the humidity in Florida, making any outdoor events a physical challenge.

One possible indoor facility is the Conmy Center at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. It has a special events venue with a main hall that has “theatre style seating” that can accommodate 1,041 people, according to the center’s website. The church is located right next to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, where DeSantis received his primary education before attending his high school in Pinellas.

Doreen Saccardo, who books events at the Conmy Center, told the Phoenix that no one from the DeSantis camp has inquired about renting the facility.

Calls to Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski and other members of the Dunedin City Commission did not respond to requests for comment.

DeSantis was actually born in Jacksonville in 1978 but moved to Dunedin in 1985. He lived there until he graduated from high school in 1997 and left the area to attend Yale University.

In his recently published memoir, DeSantis says that though he grew up in the Tampa Bay region, he relates culturally more to the Midwest.

“I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay,” DeSantis writes The Courage to Be Free, according to NBC News, “but culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio — from weekly church attendance to the expectation that one would earn his keep. This made me God-fearing, hard-working and America-loving.”

This week in Tampa DeSantis signed five more bills into law, including a measure (HB 1438) that prohibits children from attending “adult live performances” such as drag shows.

Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, a Democrat, notes how LGBTQ+ community businesses have been prominent in Dunedin going back to when DeSantis was growing up there, and it didn’t appear to negatively affect his upbringing.

“If you’re going to make the argument that drag shows are bad for kids, well how’d you turn out all right?” he told the Phoenix. “Going to Harvard and Yale and becoming governor. That’s just a disingenuous argument, and like I say, he just kind of wants to ignore that as part of the narrative, and to me it just speaks to pure hypocrisy.”

Keep in mind that Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Pinellas County in 2020 by just 1,241 votes out of 561,161 cast, a margin of .22.

Hackworth says Dunedin “votes red but it doesn’t go to the extreme.” He adds that obviously some people in Dunedin like DeSantis, and some don’t. “It’s not like the whole town is crazy to have him as their hometown boy.”

DeSantis represented Florida’s 6th Congressional District from 2012-2018, which encompassed Daytona Beach and areas around the southern Jacksonville suburbs to New Smyrna Beach. He announced his 2018 campaign for governor while appearing on “Fox & Friends.”

Where have other candidates running in 2024 announced their candidacies?

Donald Trump is a native New Yorker who has made Palm Beach his home since leaving the White House in 2021. He announced his candidacy for president last November in front of a crowd who gathered at Mar-a-Lago, his waterfront estate in Palm Beach.

Nikki Haley announced her candidacy on Valentine’s Day via a video and followed up the next day before a crowd of thousands at the Shed at the Charleston Visitors Center in Charleston, South Carolina, the state capital. She grew up in Bamberg, S.C., approximately 73 miles from Charleston.

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson launched his campaign last month for president in his hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas.

Ohio entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy announced his candidacy during a live interview on Fox News and a three-and-a-half-minute video in February.

South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott launched his exploratory committee for president last month, but is scheduled to officially announce his candidacy for president in his hometown of North Charleston, South Carolina on May 22.

Florida was similarly home to two Republicans who were considered to be top contenders for the nomination for president in 2015-2016: Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both of whom lived in the Miami area.

Rubio made his campaign announcement at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami on April 13, 2015.

Bush announced his candidacy at the Kendall campus of Miami-Dade College on June 15, 2015.

CNN reports that DeSantis will file his paperwork declaring his candidacy next Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission, with a formal announcement expected to happen from Dunedin the following week.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.