Who is Casey DeSantis, the powerful first lady of Florida?

A former TV reporter, she is widely seen as Ron DeSantis’s most influential adviser ahead of his likely 2024 presidential bid.

Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey DeSantis.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Behind the scenes, some political spouses hold more sway than others. And then there’s Casey DeSantis. The wife of the current Florida governor (and likely Republican presidential candidate), Ron DeSantis, Casey is so powerful that she appears to have changed the way her husband says his own name.

Last week, former President Donald Trump — the 2024 GOP frontrunner — reposted a video on Truth Social showing Ron DeSantis, 44, introducing himself seven times. In the older clips, he clearly says “Dee-Santis”; in the more recent ones, he says “Deh-Santis.”

“Who changes the pronunciation of their own last name in their 40’s?” sneered the tweet accompanying the video. “Is there anything genuine about this guy?”

Ron DeSantis, it turns out, spent most of his life going by “Dee-Santis”; “D” was even his high school nickname. But during the then congressman’s first run for governor in 2018, longtime Florida political reporter Adam Smith noticed that the candidate's wife was always saying “Deh-Santis” instead.

Ron DeSantis and Casey DeSantis.
Ron DeSantis, with Casey by his side, speaks at the University of Miami in May 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So Smith phoned the campaign:

“It’s also been a little controversial for us on the campaign trail,” [DeSantis communications director Stephen] Lawson confessed. “He uses Dee-Santis.”

But Casey Dee-Santis seems to use Deh-Santis, right?


“Yes,” Lawson allowed. And added, “He prefers Dee-Santis.”

When Smith asked if the name debate had become “a giant source of great friction between Mr. Dee-Santis and Mrs. Deh-Santis,” Lawson said no.

“I wouldn't go that far," he deadpanned.

Over the last five years, however, Ron DeSantis has increasingly taken to calling himself Ron Deh-Santis in public — including both times he was sworn in as governor, with Casey standing right by his side.

No one who follows the DeSantises would be surprised. By all accounts, Casey, 42, is her husband’s most influential adviser. By at least one account — a former congressional staffer’s — she is “the only person he listens to.”

Politico recently called Casey “unquestionably the most important person influencing DeSantis’ policy and political operations.” The New York Post described her as “the not-so-secret weapon who calls the shots on image strategy as Ron DeSantis’ political fortunes continue to rise.” And Vanity Fair likened Casey to “the most famous Republican political spouse in recent memory, Nancy Reagan,” noting that “DeSantis consults her on everything from hiring decisions and media appearances to policy positions and wardrobe choices.”

Casey DeSantis.
Casey DeSantis at the Moms for Liberty Summit in Tampa in July 2022. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

​​"It's clear she's the X factor," Scott Parkinson, one of DeSantis’s former congressional chiefs of staff, told Business Insider earlier this year. "They complete the political element that is Ron DeSantis. Without Casey, he would not be the same person."

“It's very Hillary Clinton 1992-esque," added Peter Schorsch, a former Republican operative and publisher of Florida Politics. "You're getting the two-for-one deal here."

Ron DeSantis has clawed his way into contention for the GOP crown by waging a culture war from Tallahassee — banning diversity, equity and inclusion programs; sending unwitting migrants to Martha’s Vineyard; yelling at a student for wearing a mask; battling Disney over its support of LGBT rights; engaging in strategic spats with the press.

But so far, he hasn’t managed to dethrone Trump. In fact, the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that the Florida governor is actually losing ground to the former president among GOP primary voters.

Donald Trump.
Former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Which is where Casey DeSantis comes in. As an extensive New Yorker profile from last June made plain, Ron is a remote figure who seems more comfortable poring over scientific papers than performing the rituals of retail politics: working rope lines, making eye contact, bonding with other human beings. "People who work closely with him describe a man so aloof that he sometimes finds it difficult to carry on a conversation," the magazine reported.

"You will be in the car with Ron DeSantis, and he’ll say nothing to you for an hour," a Republican donor once told Politico. "He would prefer it that way."

Casey DeSantis, on the other hand, is a natural: not just as a political spouse with a glamorous image and a compelling story — she recently beat breast cancer while raising three young children — but as a seasoned television personality who actively shapes her husband’s image and story as well.

To win the White House, Ron DeSantis will have to figure out how to connect with Americans on a grand scale. Casey is already starting to orchestrate that spectacle.

Born on June 26, 1980, in Troy, Ohio, Jill Casey Black was a committed equestrian at the College of Charleston before emerging as a polished local newscaster in Jacksonville, where she covered crime, golf, “entrepreneurs” and human-interest stories from 2003 to 2019.

Casey DeSantis addresses the crowd.
Casey DeSantis addresses the crowd at a Trump rally in 2018. (Zack Wittman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But she always had grander ambitions, according to former co-workers. “I remember I once said [to a colleague], ‘Casey wants to be a senator’s wife.’ And he said, ‘No, she fully intends on being a president’s wife,’” a former WJXT staffer told Vanity Fair in 2022.

Conservative even then — Vanity Fair reported that she once tore a Jacksonville alternative weekly in two on air because she “didn’t like its headline about Republicans” — Casey finally met her match in 2006 on the University of North Florida driving range.

"I kept looking over my shoulder because I wanted the bucket of balls that somebody had left,” she recalled in 2018. "My swing was so terrible. I needed as much practice as I could possibly get. As I'm looking over behind me, Ron is over there. He thinks I'm looking at him. [But] I was really looking at the balls.”

“I used the balls as a way to start talking to her,” Ron DeSantis admitted in an interview with Piers Morgan earlier this month. “So we started talking, we divvied up the balls and we hit 'em. And then we went out after that, and the rest is history.”

Ron DeSantis holds daughter Madison, and Casey DeSantis holds son Mason.
Ron DeSantis holds daughter Madison and Casey DeSantis holds son Mason as they stand in line to vote on Nov. 6, 2018. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Two years later, Ron DeSantis decided to propose after a stint in Iraq as a Navy lawyer. “It was good to get that one in the win column,” he told Morgan. In 2009, the DeSantises wed at Disney World, in a pavilion overlooking Cinderella's Castle and the Seven Seas Lagoon. Ron had originally planned to wear a tuxedo, but Casey convinced him to don his Navy dress whites instead.

"I was happy to defer to my bride on that call,” the governor writes in his new pre-campaign book, "The Courage to Be Free” — even though he almost missed their rehearsal dinner because he was rushing to get the ensemble tailored in time.

"Casey was happy with the wedding photos," he writes in his book, "so it was all worth it."

Ensuring a picture-perfect public image has been Casey DeSantis’s job ever since. To casual observers, this can read as typical — even old-fashioned — political wifedom. During the governor’s State of the State address earlier this month, for instance, she smiled and waved from the balcony of the Florida Capitol as her husband touted her service.

“Over the past four years, she spearheaded efforts to help our youth avoid drugs, to promote emotional resiliency in schools and to provide a pathway to prosperity for the less fortunate,” he said. “She also gave birth to our daughter Mamie and, mostly recently, fought a battle against breast cancer [that has inspired her] to rethink Florida’s battle against cancer by breaking down long-standing silos between researchers, cancer facilities and medical providers.”

Then-Sen. John Kennedy and his fiancée, Jacqueline Bouvier, play tennis in 1953.
Then-Sen. John Kennedy and his fiancée, Jacqueline Bouvier, in 1953. (Getty Images)

The fact that the state's first lady was smiling and waving while also corralling the couple’s squirmy middle son, Mason, 4, and wearing a hot pink, off-the-shoulder satin dress with elbow-length gloves, white point-toe heels and pearl earrings did not go unnoticed. “Casey’s attempt to channel Jackie Kennedy was entirely unsubtle,” opined Jezebel. “If the couple has bigger political dreams, Casey is definitely in on it. These are the wardrobe choices of someone auditioning to be first lady.”

But insiders say Casey’s sphere of influence extends far beyond the stereotypical duties of a first lady. During Ron’s first congressional bid, she “capitalized on her local celebrity to introduce [him] to power brokers in north Florida,” according to Vanity Fair. (“She squired him around to all the powers that be,” a source told the magazine.) A former congressional staffer even characterized Casey as her husband's primary campaign adviser. “He didn't listen to anyone else on the campaign," the staffer told Business Insider. "Ron and Casey did the strategy — did everything."

After Ron won the election, Casey basically joined his team. “She was looped in on every email and calendar invite,” a former staffer told Vanity Fair. “If Casey said jump, we would pull out the trampoline.” She interviewed job candidates. She outfitted her husband — a Yale- and Harvard-educated lawyer with Italian American roots in Pennsylvania and Ohio — in black cowboy boots.

Casey DeSantis.
Casey DeSantis on election night 2022. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

And most importantly, she used her TV skills — and her access to WJXT’s teleprompters — to train him for frequent appearances on Fox News, which boosted his national profile. “We had to buy his own earpiece and mic she wanted,” a former congressional staffer told Vanity Fair. Elsewhere, Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz has “credited his [makeup] contouring skills to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who learned from his wife, Casey.”

“If I wasn’t in office, I’d be working to make money in business, but [Casey] would be on Fox News,” the governor said in a 2022 podcast interview. “I guarantee you that.”

It remains to be seen, of course, how consequential Ron DeSantis’s “not-so-secret weapon” can really be in the context of a high-stakes presidential contest. The governor has seen his stock rise after winning a second term last November by nearly 20 points on an otherwise disappointing night for Republicans, and Casey DeSantis — who has worked tirelessly to humanize her husband in campaign ads and on social media — played a part in that coup.

“His wife ... is really running his campaign,” Trump told reporters in West Palm Beach on Election Day, as if it were an insult.

But the real challenge lies ahead. Democratic strategist David Axelrod, who steered Barack Obama to two terms in the Oval Office, once described a presidential bid as “an MRI for the soul — whoever you are, eventually people find out.” To make her Kennedyesque dream come true, Casey DeSantis will have to convince America that her husband can connect rather than just divide, that he can uplift rather than just outrage. She has her work cut out for her.