The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has officially declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president.
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DeSantis filed paperwork on Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission, ahead of a glitch-riddled launch event on Twitter with the owner of the social media site, Elon Musk, and an interview with Fox News later on Wednesday evening.
The announcement was long expected. DeSantis won re-election in a landslide last November, published a campaign-oriented memoir in February and was widely reported to be staffing up while visiting states that will vote early in the primary next year.
He retains support from powerful donors, has amassed significant campaign funds and is consistently a clear second to Donald Trump in polling of the Republican field.
As governor of Florida, DeSantis has pursued divisive, culture war-focused policies, including signing a six-week abortion ban and targeting the teaching of LGBTQ+ and race issues in public schools.
DeSantis rolled out his campaign with a live interview on Twitter Spaces with Elon Musk. The event, billed as “groundbreaking” by the billionaire Twitter owner, got off to a rocky start after technical issues crashed the audio live stream several times, leading to minutes of silence.
“We got so many people here that we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign,” said David Sacks, the Republican donor and friend of Elon Musk who moderated the audio event.
Once things got rolling, DeSantis said he was running to “lead our great American comeback”, before taking swipes at the media, Covid public health mandates, and what he branded the “woke Olympics” of the left.
Boosted by firm control of his state legislature, DeSantis has established a significant presence on the hard right of the Republican party, seeking to offer Trumpist policies favoured by the party base without the drama and controversy of Trump himself.
But DeSantis has not managed to reel Trump in, lagging in polling even as the former president faces extraordinary and mounting legal problems.
Amid widespread reporting of donor dissatisfaction with DeSantis’s perceived lack of interpersonal skills – a weakness gleefully seized on by Trump – a string of Florida Republicans have endorsed the former president.
DeSantis has also embroiled himself in a controversial power struggle with Disney, one of the largest employers in his state.
Disney opposed DeSantis’s so-called “don’t say gay” law, targeting the teaching of gender and LGBTQ+ issues. In return, DeSantis sought to remove self-governing powers the company has long enjoyed around its resort near Orlando.
The fight has both ensnared DeSantis in a courtroom battle and damaged his standing with pro-business Republicans.
Democrats, political observers and pollsters say DeSantis has moved too far right to appeal to general election voters, should he overhaul Trump to win the Republican nomination.
On Wednesday, Maxwell Frost, a progressive Democratic congressman, told the Guardian: “What’s happened in Florida should scare every single person across the entire country.
“Governor Ron DeSantis running for president and even being within striking distance of the Oval Office should frighten anyone who values democracy, voting rights, civil rights, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
“He’s repeatedly supported cuts to Medicare and social security, a lot of his focus is on toxic culture wars, book bans, attacking LGBTQ+ youth, erasing history … his quote-unquote ‘Florida blueprint’ is actually a disaster for families across the state.
“The next part of his story is to get the far-right, Maga extremist part of the Republican party on his side to out-Trump Donald Trump. Ron DeSantis is not fit to be president because he has not once proven he can and will do the right thing for the people he’s supposed to represent.”
DeSantis entered Congress in 2012 and became governor in 2018. Before entering politics, he was a navy lawyer. Questions have been raised about his actions while posted to Guantánamo Bay, the prison camp leased from Cuba at which prisoners were tortured in the years after 9/11. DeSantis has said he was “a junior officer” without “authority to authorise anything”.
Related: Ron DeSantis in Guantánamo: how questions about his past haunt the Florida governor
In April, DeSantis mounted an overseas trip. Formally meant to strengthen Florida trade links with Japan, Israel and the UK, the excursion was widely seen as preparation for a presidential run, an attempt to strengthen foreign policy credentials questioned after gaffes including calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute”.