Ron Desantis visiting Michigan, the 'anti-Florida', on Thursday

Ahead of a highly anticipated presidential announcement, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will visit Michigan for his first appearance this year in the state transformed by Democratic majorities under high-profile Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The visit will put the contrasting leadership styles of the Republican and Democrat on display after they scored landslide 2022 reelection victories that vaulted them to be their parties’ brightest emerging stars.

In Florida, DeSantis and the GOP-dominated Legislature have moved the state further right, waging a culture war on what the governor has called "woke" agendas. In Michigan, Whitmer has led the way on codifying abortion rights and advancing sweeping gun reform with Democrats in full control for the first time in decades.

Whitmer has been a top ally to President Joe Biden and a kind of proxy for his leadership in their party — and what’s possible under Democrats. DeSantis is one of the top potential candidates looking to unseat Biden next year.

Thursday’s visit is also one of DeSantis’s first out-of-state appearances since former President Donald Trump was indicted. With all eyes on Trump and his charges, it has been difficult for those vying for the GOP nomination to gain much notice.

Trump frequently targets DeSantis — a similarity that the governor shares with Whitmer, who Trump labeled "that woman from Michigan" during his presidency. Recently, Trump has ramped up his DeSantis criticism, saying during a rally in Waco on March 25 that the Florida politician was disloyal and "dropping like a rock."

Potentially the fifth state to hold its Republican primary, Michigan could prove pivotal for the GOP presidential nomination winner. Michigan House Republican Speaker Bryan Posthumus flew to Florida in December to deliver a letter signed by 18 other state House Republicans encouraging DeSantis to run for president.

"When he becomes an actual candidate, I will be doing another letter saying we endorse you for President of the United States of America," Posthumus told The Associated Press.

DeSantis will first travel Thursday morning to central Michigan to speak at a Midland County GOP event. State Rep. Bill G. Schuette, a Midland-area Republican, said the county party wanted to hear more about DeSantis’s perspectives and proposals, in comparison to Michigan, which Schuette described as the "anti-Florida."

In the three weeks since Florida’s legislative session began, DeSantis has worked to expand the state’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law, ban diversity and equity programs at public universities and eliminate concealed carry restrictions. The state has also begun passing a six-week abortion ban backed by DeSantis.

"What Gov. DeSantis has done in Florida versus what Gov. Whitmer and the Democrats have done in Michigan is polar opposite," Posthumus said.

DeSantis is also scheduled to speak at Hillsdale College, a small, Christian classical liberal arts college in southern Michigan. The school has become a model for DeSantis’s transformation of a small liberal arts school, New College of Florida, that he says is indoctrinating students with leftist ideology and should be revamped into a more conservative institution.

DeSantis’s Midland event is expected to draw over 200 demonstrators to rally outside, protest organizers said.

Michigan voters have overwhelmingly rejected Republicans in the seven years since Trump won the state. Democrats control the statewide offices of governor, attorney general and secretary of state in addition to holding majorities in the Legislature.

With full control of the Statehouse for the first time in 40 years, Michigan Democrats have prioritized further protecting reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights that are being rolled back in Republican-led states across the nation.

On Wednesday, Whitmer signed legislation outside of Detroit repealing a 1931 abortion ban after voters in November enshrined rights to the procedure in their constitution. She called out Florida and other Republican-led states for taking steps to pass "un-American, anti-free and, frankly, sickening," abortion laws.

"To all the women and girls and allies in states who don’t value you or your rights, maybe you should come to Michigan," Whitmer said Wednesday.

Often saying that "bigotry is bad for business," the Michigan governor said the state’s liberal measures will help attract socially-conscious businesses and new talent. Last month, Michigan became the first state in nearly 60 years to repeal a union-restricting law known as "right-to-work."

Business advocates disagree, saying that Florida proves otherwise. Florida, one of the first states to implement a "right-to-work" law that allows employees to opt out of paying union dues and fees, began advancing legislation last week that would ban automatic paycheck deductions for members.

Michigan has the 35th highest percent change in job growth over the past year at 2.1% while Florida was tied for second at 4.6%. Florida saw the largest population increase of any state from 2021 to 2022 — at 1.9% — while Michigan’s population slightly decreased over the same period.

Brad Hershbein, a senior economist at the nonpartisan W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, said "most of these movements reflect long-term trends that are tied to climate and economics more than politics."

"Florida has been growing over decades, no matter which party controlled the governor’s office, mostly because of its climate and zero income tax," Hershbein said.

Gun legislation, an increasingly polarizing issue following multiple school shootings to start the year, has also differed greatly in Michigan and Florida.

DeSantis and Republicans have begun rolling back restrictions that were implemented after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland. DeSantis signed a bill Monday that will allow carrying concealed guns without a permit. He has said he wants to allow people to openly carry guns.

"You don’t need a permission slip from the government to be able to exercise your Second Amendment rights," DeSantis said at a Georgia gun store on March 30.

In Michigan, Democrats are close to passing an 11-bill gun safety package that Whitmer has said she will sign, including red flag laws and safe storage requirements. A Michigan State University shooting in February was the state’s second school shooting in 15 months.