Republican Ron DeSantis, winner of the race in Florida’s newly drawn 6th District, is an Ivy League-educated Navy lawyer who did a tour at the U.S. detention center at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq as counselor to Navy SEAL commanders. But he ran for Congress largely to tackle domestic issues, specifically reducing the federal government’s “size, scope, and influence.”
DeSantis grew up in northeast Florida, where his father installed television ratings devices for Nielsen. A talented baseball player, DeSantis played on a team at Dunedin High School that made the final four of the Little League World Series in 1991. He went on to captain the squad at Yale, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. To help pay for his studies, he held a variety of jobs, including collecting trash, moving furniture, and coaching baseball clinics.
He went on to earn a law degree at Harvard. He earned a commission as a judge advocate general, saying he joined the Navy out of a sense of serving the country. His military service has to some extent shaped his views on national security; what he saw in Iraq made him skeptical of nation-building. While there are a lot of “good people” in Iraq, he said in an interview, “getting involved in guerilla war doesn’t play to our strengths.”
DeSantis saw a chance to run for office when the new 6th District seat was created. He already had written a book, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers, whose title is a play on the name President Obama chose for his memoir, Dreams From My Father. He argued in the book that Obama and like-minded Democrats “have charted a course that is alien to our Republic’s philosophical foundations.”
Touting his military experience and strong conservative views, DeSantis easily beat six rivals in the August primary. He credited old-fashioned retail politics for the win. “I started in February with zero percent name ID, and we’d go door-to-door on a Saturday and Sunday,” he said. But he also won endorsements from such tea party favorites as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and had a pronounced money advantage over his rivals.
DeSantis was pitted in the general election against Democrat Heather Beaven, a fellow Navy veteran who had lost two years earlier to veteran 7th District GOP Rep. John Mica. Beaven focused on fixing Florida’s hard-hit economy by embracing entrepreneurship and renewable energy. But she had little chance in what was shaped into a solidly GOP district.
Though he says he is not imposing a strict term limit on himself, DeSantis gives himself four or five terms—six at most—to reach his goals. “I want to go and make it more of a citizen-leader body, rather than professionals who are there for years,” he said. To cut back on the number of lawmakers who come to Washington and stay in government for decades, DeSantis says, lawmakers must be willing to eliminate incentives, such as pensions.
Mike Catalini contributed to this article.