Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) may still be months away from announcing a 2024 presidential bid, but multiple outside groups are putting in the work in the meantime to make sure he can hit the ground running.
Three different super PACs have emerged in recent months backing DeSantis as a 2024 candidate. The goal, according to the people behind the efforts, is to build up volunteers and infrastructure so an eventual DeSantis campaign isn’t at a disadvantage if and when he officially launches his campaign.
That could prove especially critical for DeSantis, who as Florida governor is one of the only potential 2024 candidates whose travel and involvement in early primary states is limited by his day job.
“He’s kind of handicapped by the fact he’s got a legislative session that’s going to last a couple months here,” said Ed Rollins, chief strategist for the “Ready for Ron” super PAC and a veteran of numerous Republican campaigns.
“One of the dilemmas is he had a tremendous victory but can’t announce [for president] the day after he got elected,” Rollins added, referencing DeSantis’s reelection romp in November. “Trump’s making his efforts. Others will get in before then. We want to be helpful early on and try to reach some financial supporters that want to help and put together a mechanism that can help now and in six months.”
Rollins’s group, “Ready for Ron,” officially launched last May as a committee to encourage DeSantis to run for president. Rollins described the organization as a grassroots effort that is focused on identifying voters and organizing in states that will be pivotal in the 2024 cycle.
The group filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission last month declaring its intent to spend more than $3 million on television advertising and phone, mail and digital promotion through late June.
Another group backing DeSantis for president is “Ron to the Rescue,” which was started after the midterm elections by GOP consultant John Thomas.
Thomas’s group had staff at the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting late last month, where volunteers and former state officials rallied support for the Florida governor in the state where the first Republican primary of the 2024 cycle will be held.
Thomas said the group received a positive response, including from self-identified Trump supporters who indicated they were open to making a change in 2024.
Both Rollins and Thomas noted in interviews that they previously supported Trump, and that they believe DeSantis is the would-be candidate who gives Republicans the best chance of retaking the White House in the next election.
According to Fox News, however, DeSantis’s team circulated a memo last year distancing the governor from the group. A source told the news outlet that the group “doesn’t help Ron DeSantis. It’s a grift — plain and simple.”
Most recently, Puck News reported this week that a pair of longtime GOP consultants — Phil Cox and Liesl Hickey — have been recruiting staffers for a new super PAC that could eventually be the one officially associated with a DeSantis 2024 campaign.
The purpose of the super PACs is to identify possible donors, activists, volunteers and voters who would back a DeSantis bid. The idea in the case of Thomas’s group, for example, is to build up a ground game in early voting states like New Hampshire so there’s a built-in infrastructure of support if and when DeSantis declares his candidacy and he can hit the ground running.
Recent polls have shown DeSantis and former President Donald Trump as the top two choices among Republican voters in a hypothetical primary. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday showed both men at 33 percent support among GOP and GOP-leaning voters.
Florida will be in legislative session into May, and DeSantis is not expected to announce a bid before then, potentially limiting his ability to get in front of voters outside the state in the meantime in the way other declared candidates would.
Trump, the only declared candidate in the field, has also held few events, but recently spoke to party leaders in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Nikki Haley, who is expected to declare her candidacy next week, will follow up that announcement with visits to Iowa and New Hampshire, states she has visited before for party events.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, another prospective 2024 candidate, has made frequent trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the first three states on the GOP primary calendar.
Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign, said there are pros and cons for someone like DeSantis having a full-time job even as he weighs a presidential bid.
“The con is that running for president is a full-time job, and if you have to take care of official business, that will take time away from campaigning,” Conant said.
“On the other hand, having an official role guarantees you a platform that somebody who’s out of office doesn’t have,” he added. “And you’re seeing that now with DeSantis and how he’s using his legislative agenda to gain a lot of really positive national conservative attention.”