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Previous story A year into the pandemic, Florida is booming and Republican Gov. DeSantis is taking credit Next story

STORY BY JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT

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Published on March 17, 2021 6:26 AM

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A year into the pandemic, Florida is booming and Republican Gov. DeSantis is taking credit
St. Petersburg, Florida (CNN)After a year of criticism by health experts, mockery from comedians and blistering critiques from political rivals, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is standing unabashedly tall among the nation's governors on the front lines of the coronavirus fight.

"Everyone told me I was wrong," DeSantis, a Republican, said in a fundraising appeal on Tuesday, drawing attention to his defiance against the pandemic. "I faced continued pressure from radical Democrats and the liberal media, but I refused to back down. It's clear: Florida got it right."

As many parts of the country embark on an uneasy march toward normalcy, Florida is not only back in business -- it's been in business for the better part of the past year. DeSantis' gamble to take a laissez faire approach appears to be paying off -- at least politically, at least for now, as other governors capturing attention in the opening phase of the pandemic now face steeper challenges.

Despite far fewer rules and restrictions, Florida lands nearly in the middle of all states on a variety of coronavirus metrics. The state has had about 3% more Covid-19 cases per capita than the US overall, but about 8% fewer deaths per capita. More than 32,000 Floridians have died of Covid-19, and the state's per capita death rate ranks 24th in the nation. "Those lockdowns have not worked. They've done great damage to our country," DeSantis said Tuesday at a news conference in Tallahassee. "We can never let something like this happen again. Florida took a different path. We've had more success as a result."

DeSantis -- who, at 42, is the nation's youngest governor -- is standing out among his peers and seizing upon what he and his supporters believe is a vindication for their policies.