TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to jump into the presidential race as soon as mid-May, four Republican operatives familiar with the talks told NBC News.
One of the sources emphasized that it would be more of an exploratory committee, with the official launch soon after.
Some of his supporters are urging him to declare as early as May 11, in an effort to counter the growing national narrative that former President Donald Trump is the overwhelming favorite for the 2024 Republican nomination. Others in the governor’s orbit, however , have argued that date would be too soon, according to two of those sources. They all emphasized, however, that mid-May is the goal.
DeSantis has long been viewed as the strongest Republican challenger to Trump in 2024, and he has traveled far beyond Florida in recent weeks to raise his profile. But some of DeSantis’s allies have begun to question his preparation as his poll numbers have lagged and he has endured a series of self-inflicted injuries.
An imminent release would help alleviate fans’ mounting anxiety that DeSantis is taking too long to jump into the fray and risks missing his momentum.
In a clear sign of movement on the campaign front, national political vendors poured into Tallahassee this week, vying to work on DeSantis’ next campaign.
“There has been an influx of national firms in the city in the last few days,” said one of the Florida Republicans familiar with the meetings. “It feels like a team that is increasing staff, not downsizing.”
A second operative said they signal a likely presidential launch sooner than some are expecting, even as DeSantis has faced increasing headwinds and fledgling poll numbers in recent months.
“Large campaigns require internal planning and this has been ‘vendors: assemble’ week in Tallahassee,” said a third source familiar with the meetings.
The meetings come at a precarious national time for DeSantis. He quickly rose through the national conservative ranks by taking a transfer approach to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and placing Florida at the forefront of conservatives’ largest culture war fights. However, he has seen his political rise bogged down in recent weeks, as Trump has hit him with near-daily attacks, most of which DeSantis has not responded to.
DeSantis’ political team did not respond to a request for comment.
A mid-May release would help ease mounting frustrations among would-be supporters who fear DeSantis will squander the momentum he built that made him so attractive as a Trump alternative in the first place.
“A good politician knows when his moment is and seizes the opportunity; there is no question the door is open against DeSantis,” said Dennis Lennox, a Michigan-based Republican strategist who wants to support DeSantis in 2024. “Gov. DeSantis is the only Republican who can beat Trump. He is the only Republican who can beat Joe Biden. But he’s starting to look like Scott Walker in 2015, Newt Gingrich in 2012 and Fred Thompson in 2008, maybe even Chris Christie, who ended up not making the race.»
With little response, Trump’s attacks have helped redefine DeSantis with Trump’s intense political base, which DeSantis will have to erode to be viable in the 2024 Republican presidential primaries. Morning Consultation Survey On Tuesday, Trump led DeSantis by 37 percentage points, his largest margin to date. That’s a reversal of fortune for DeSantis, who for the past year has generally been competitive with Trump in one-to-one Republican primary polls.
DeSantis has dismissed questions about his 2024 aspirations, often awkwardly, amplifying the idea that he might not be ready for the presidential spotlight.
The most recent was during an international trade mission in Japan this week. Reporters asked DeSantis about his trailing numbers in the polls. at a time that went viralbecause DeSantis was visibly taken aback by the questions and seemed unable to respond in a way that seemed prepared.
“I’m not a candidate, so we’ll see if and when that changes,” DeSantis said, openly annoyed by the question.
It also comes amid his ongoing fight with Walt Disney World, one of the state’s largest employers that angered the governor last year by issuing a statement against legislation that was intended to ban discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms up to third grade. Opponents called the bill «Don’t Say Gay.»
A DeSantis-appointed board voted to void a favorable Disney deal during a board meeting Wednesday, a move that prompted Walt Disney World to file a federal lawsuit alleging the DeSantis administration has engaged in «a targeted campaign of relationship governmental».
The move has puzzled even some of DeSantis’ closest Republican supporters, who say that focusing on things like Walt Disney World is hurting him in the polls and with supporter outlook. Notably, Trump has amassed more than 50 congressional endorsements, including 11 from the Florida delegation, to DeSantis’ three.
“Trump is fighting the Democrats, DeSantis is fighting a mouse,” said a Florida Republican Party state executive committee member who supports DeSantis’ run for president. «Members of Congress and voters choose the fight they think is most important.»