By Team

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF/CNN) — Gov. Ron DeSantis has filed paperwork to formally launch his 2022 re-election campaign, setting the stage for what is expected to be one of the country’s most closely watched and expensive gubernatorial races.

DeSantis opened a campaign account Friday that is a key initial step in running, according to the state Division of Elections website.

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DeSantis has long made clear he will seek a second term and had about $58 million in cash on hand in his political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, as of Sept. 30. Opening the campaign account will provide another avenue for him to raise money.

Through his political committee, DeSantis has dwarfed Democratic candidates US Rep. Charlie Crist, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Sen. Annette Taddeo in raising cash.

During an appearance Monday in Zephyrhills to discuss a special legislative session next week, DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential contender, said it was “more of a formality” to open the campaign account and indicated a larger rollout would be forthcoming.

“We’re not going to be doing really anything in terms of public announcements until after the legislative session,” he said. “But you know, you got to prepare for these things. And so we’re off and doing that.”

The filing came almost exactly a year before the Nov. 8, 2022, general election.

The Florida politician has become one of the most recognizable Republican leaders in the country for his hands off approach to managing the coronavirus pandemic and his promise to keep businesses and schools open. DeSantis’ style has been heralded by Republicans and many businesses and vilified by Democrats, who blame the governor for the state’s deadly summer surge.

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At its peak, more than 300 Floridians were dying a day from coronavirus and for a time the state represented one in five of the United States’ hospitalizations for Covid-19. The state’s case rate has since sharply dropped, though the state is still averaging nearly 100 deaths per day.

DeSantis, though, dismissed the death toll as a seasonal uptick in cases. DeSantis has vowed to challenge President Joe Biden over the federal government’s new coronavirus vaccine mandate for large corporations. Florida is suing the Biden administration to halt the vaccine requirements and is calling lawmakers into a special session to protect workers who choose not to get the inoculated against the virus.

“No cop, no firefighter, no nurse, nobody should be losing their jobs because of these jabs,” DeSantis said at Monday’s press conference.   “We have got to stand up for people and protect their jobs and protect their livelihoods.”

DeSantis’ would-be challengers have sharply criticized his handling of the pandemic and have sought to paint the governor as anti-science. In a statement, Fried accused DeSantis of running for president instead of running Florida and said his “failure to combat COVID will be on the ballot.”

Crist said in a statement that DeSantis was running for a second term on a “deeply divisive, flawed record.”

“Our state deserves a Governor with a heart,” he added.

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