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The other Ron DeSantis: What’s it like to share a name with Florida’s governor?

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Ron De Santis, who shares a name with the governor, poses for a portrait at his Tampa, Florida, home on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.
Ron De Santis, who shares a name with the governor, poses for a portrait at his Tampa, Florida, home on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. (Ivy Ceballo/Tampa Bay Times/TNS) Photo Gallery

TAMPA, Fla. — The governor finally returned our phone calls.

At least, that’s what his friends call him.

Ron DeSantis, of Dunedin, was initially suspicious of the unknown 727 area code that showed up on his phone. But before long, he was chatting with a reporter about what it was like to have one of the most recognizable names in American politics.

Dunedin Ron DeSantis is not that Ron DeSantis. Though that Ron DeSantis, 44, is also from Dunedin, and would also presumably be skeptical of a call from a Tampa Bay Times reporter. (He’s never sat down with the paper for an interview.)

Dunedin Ron DeSantis has certainly never been elected to statewide public office. As far as he knows, he’s not related to the family in the Governor’s Mansion.

Like the actual governor, Dunedin Ron displays an American flag in front of his house. Unlike the governor, Dunedin Ron, 64, is a gearhead: a retired master tech for Ford who keeps a tidy garage workstation.

“Say you call the bank or something and you have to say your name. I qualify it now,” Dunedin Ron said. “I say, this is Ron DeSantis — not the gov.”

This is a strange time for people with the same name as Florida’s 46th governor, who is widely presumed to be eyeing a run for president of the United States. The subject of an avalanche of daily national news coverage, Gov. Ron DeSantis is as close to a household name as any state governor gets to be.

Before the last few years, there was nothing special about the name Ron DeSantis. Sharing his name wasn’t like being named “Joseph Biden” or “Donald Trump” — public figures for decades before they inhabited the White House. (Three Donald Trumps vote in Florida. Zero Joe Bidens.)

But now, Ron DeSantis, whoever he is, faces a particular set of social obstacles. When he announces his presence, he sends airlines and restaurants into a tizzy. Annoying questions about personal politics from casual acquaintances — or even the local newspaper — can be expected. (Both Ron DeSantises who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times for this story are fans of the governor.)

There are plenty of Rons in America, but few are named DeSantis: It’s the 3,530th most common surname in the U.S., according to 2010 census data. Between 1922 and 2021, some 1,072,270 babies were named “Ronald” — the 26th most popular male baby name in America, federal data shows.

Including the one who famously lives in Tallahassee, six Ronald DeSantises (DeSantii?) are registered to vote in Florida. Five are Republicans.

Dunedin Ron’s father, the lone registered Democrat, is also named Ron. Ron, the governor, has a father named Ron who also lives in Dunedin.

You see how this can get confusing.

A fifth Ron DeSantis, who lives in Manatee County, did not respond to requests for comment — which, on many days, gives him another thing in common with the governor.

A Tampa Ron De Santis, 54 — his family spells his name with a space between “De” and “Santis” — calls himself an Italian redneck from Winter Haven. For years, he co-owned a company that rented and sold satellite communication devices, and he’s also dabbled in real estate development.

Succulents crowd the front porch of Tampa Ron’s home. One of the rooms is pirate themed, complete with portholes on the closets. An old-school British phone booth stands in front of the house. A friend once ran a British-themed pub, and Tampa Ron had hoped to donate the cast iron structure. It was too big — probably a ton and at least 8 feet tall — so it now lives in the front yard.

With Democratic lawmakers converging on Tallahassee every year to decry his agenda, Gov. DeSantis is a controversial figure in his city.

Tampa Ron, in his, apparently is not.

“Hi, Ronnie!” a neighbor called out as he chatted with reporters on a recent morning.

Ron De(INSERT SPACE HERE)Santis had a brush with the politician DeSantis before he ever ran for governor. The two men both apparently belonged to a frequent flier program from a major airline. The airline routinely confused them, so Tampa Ron kept getting flight notifications for then-U.S. Rep. DeSantis. Tampa Ron said the elected official DeSantis was always flying from Jacksonville to Washington, D.C., or back home.

Tampa Ron said his name comes with amusing inconveniences: He gets calls from people hoping to talk to the governor. When he calls in a food order, the employees sometimes think he’s messing with them.

But neither Tampa Ron nor Dunedin Ron appeared too stressed about their name’s sudden ubiquity.

Dunedin Ron seemed happy to talk instead about his first ever brand-new car, a Dodge Challenger Scat Pack. When asked why he prefers to buy American, a grin came over his face.

“I’ll show ya,” he said, reaching for a key hanging on a hook near the door from his garage to his home.

With the press of a button, Dunedin Ron summoned the car to life. It roared with the classic sound of American muscle.

“That’s something an electric car will never do,” Dunedin Ron said.

In 2020, Ron DeSantis announced in a news release that improving Florida’s electric car infrastructure was one of his policy goals.

If Ron DeSantis has a problem with that, he’ll have to take it up with Ron DeSantis.

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