In the small town of Dunedin on Florida’s gulf coast, Ron DeSantis’s parents still live in the modest brick bungalow where the future presidential candidate grew up.
His father, Ron DeSantis Sr, doesn’t answer the door to reporters any more, following an interview last year when he overshared about his son being “stubborn” as a youngster.
Neighbours recall Florida’s now-governor playing basketball in the driveway. He called himself “D” then instead of Ron, and briefly became something of a local celebrity aged 12, when his Little League baseball team reached the World Series, eventually losing to Taiwan.
Mr DeSantis’s Italian-American family – all eight of his great-grandparents lived in Italy – bought the 1,829 sq ft house in 1985 for $65,000. It is now valued at $420,000, and has a double garage and small lawn.
For a living, his father installed Nielsen TV rating boxes around the neighbourhood, and his mother Karen worked as a nurse.
Mr DeSantis has described his upbringing in Dunedin as “blue collar,” but it was working class Florida-style.
Palm trees are dotted between the detached homes on the grid of streets where he lived. An orange sports car sits in one nearby driveway, and in another a large boat is for sale.
There are no factories or mines in Dunedin, and some of the world’s best beaches are a short drive away.
A few doors from Mr DeSantis’s boyhood home one neighbour was flying a large 2024 flag, which bore the names of both “Trump” and “DeSantis”.
It encapsulated the dilemma many Republican voters are feeling across the country, let alone on Mr DeSantis’s own street.
“I think Trump did a good job as president but I’m not crazy about him as a person,” the neighbour explained. “[Mr DeSantis] has a lot of the same values without the personality [of Mr Trump].
“I like what he’s done for Florida,” she added. “We need somebody much stronger and better than we have right now. He’d do a good job.”
The young Mr DeSantis was obsessed with baseball and would play Little League three miles from his home at Fisher Field, where there are half a dozen pristine fields with US flags flying on the home run fences.
He went to primary school at the nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, and on to Dunedin High School, a sprawling brick complex next to a church, with two more churches over the road.
The school has two large images of bagpipers on the front with the caption: “The best bands wear kilts.” The name of the town derives from Edinburgh, and it hosts an annual Dunedin Highland Games.
At school, Mr DeSantis was outstandingly bright. According to an entry in his graduation yearbook, he was US history student of the year and won the Princeton book award, along with a host of baseball awards playing for the school team, the Falcons.
There was no mention in the yearbook of any teenage political activism. His main non-academic activities were baseball and part-time jobs including one at the local Kash n’ Karry.
Considering he is now by far the most successful person ever to come from Dunedin – outstripping Game of Thrones director David Nutter – there is a surprising reticence among many Dunedinians to embrace him.
Julie Ward Bujalski, the mayor of Dunedin, which is just west of Tampa and has a population of 36,000, politely declined to comment on the town’s most famous son.
Instead, a spokesman for the town said: “We appreciate and are proud that we have a number of influential people from Dunedin, including the Governor.
“We don’t feel it’s appropriate to discuss the Governor given he’s exploring a partisan higher office and we are a non-partisan community.”
Dunedin has a vibrant artistic community and it is replete with studios and galleries, and has been home to numerous painters.
The Huettig Electric store where Mr DeSantis once worked – and which sponsored his Little League team – is now a luxury block of flats called “Artisan,” with modern art in the lobby.
Along the street are an organic supermarket, tap dance studio, art institute and independent cafes.
‘It’s not San Francisco’
“Most people would say our town is progressive. It’s not San Francisco, but it’s open and diverse,” said Bob Hackworth, 67, who was the Democrat mayor from 2005 to 2010.
“It’s hard for me to fathom how the culture of our town contributed to [Mr DeSantis’s] policies because they’re totally contradictory.”
The biggest nightlife draw in Dunedin has for decades been a drag show at Blur, a club on Main Street. When Mr DeSantis was growing up it was called Dallape’s.
Some in Dunedin have objected strongly to the governor’s recent signing of a law that prevents drag shows being performed in front of children.
“When he grew up in this town that had a prominent bar and had drag shows all the time,” said Mr Hackworth. “He had to be fully aware that was going on.”
The former mayor added: “There hasn’t been a real connection with the town. He had the Little League success, but then he disappeared after high school. I don’t think even when he ran for governor the town was mentioned.”
Mr DeSantis acknowledged his apparently complex relationship with his hometown in his book: The Courage To Be Free.
He wrote that he was “geographically raised in Tampa Bay” but “culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and north-east Ohio – from weekly church attendance to the expectation that one would earn his keep.”
Mr DeSantis is never going to be known as “Dunedin Ron” in the same way that Joe Biden is “Scranton Joe”.
Although he moved away from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Wilmington, Delaware as a child, Mr Biden references almost daily his birth in America’s industrial heartland.
However, there is something deeply American about Mr DeSantis’s upbringing.
Millions of voters grew up playing on similar baseball fields, dreaming of the major league as he did, and working in local mom-and-pop stores.
It was a suburban childhood that, unlike Mr Trump’s, many will recognise as similar to their own.
Mr DeSantis is expected to hold the kick-off rally for his 2024 campaign next week at Dunedin’s TB stadium, which the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team use for spring training.
In 2008, Barack Obama held a rally at the same venue, attracting 11,000 people.
Whether Dunedin will turn out in such numbers for its own famous son remains to be seen.