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DeSantis edges closer to 2024 decision

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is on the cusp of making a final decision on a 2024 presidential run.

Several Republicans familiar with the deliberations say that DeSantis is almost certain to seek the GOP’s presidential nomination. His advisers have begun reaching out to and interviewing potential hires for a campaign and are gaming out the best time to announce his intentions.

A formal campaign launch is still months away, they say, and won’t likely come until after the state legislature wraps up its regular session in May. Two sources familiar with the plans said that the Florida governor could announce his presidential bid as early as late May or early June.

“I think his mind is pretty much made up at this point,” one Republican operative said. “My read on it is: Let’s get through session, get some stuff done and see where things stand. But unless something changes drastically between now and then, I’d say he’s a go.”

DeSantis has said little about his 2024 ambitions, but his growing stature within the GOP is clear. Early polling shows him tied with or beating former President Trump, his onetime political benefactor, in a head-to-head primary match-up, and conservatives are increasingly naming him as a top choice for the party’s presidential nod.

Momentum is there for Ron DeSantis to seize

Behind the scenes, DeSantis’s advisers have also begun actively laying the groundwork for a national campaign, reaching out to potential hires as they look to staff up his political operation. Among those involved in the preparations are Phil Cox and Generra Peck, two veteran DeSantis campaign aides.

Another Republican with ties to DeSantis said that “this is his moment.” While the Florida governor has been floated as a potential presidential hopeful for years, he gained even more momentum after scoring a staggering 19-point win in his November reelection bid — a margin that hasn’t been seen in a Florida gubernatorial race in four decades.

“He needs to seize the opportunity now because who knows what things will look like down the road,” the person said. “He has the momentum now.”

When will DeSantis launch his campaign?

Another Republican source said that while DeSantis is leaning heavily toward a presidential bid, there’s little certainty about the timing, noting that he could wait until August or even September — after the “summer campaign lull” — to announce his plans. 

DeSantis’s gubernatorial campaign did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on his potential 2024 plans.

Republican groups try to lure DeSantis

Nevertheless, there’s already a robust outside effort to lure DeSantis into the 2024 race. 

One group, Ready for Ron, 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 — an effort that could help DeSantis fill a campaign gap between now and a potential announcement.

On Monday, David McIntosh, the president of the conservative Club for Growth, told reporters that the group had invited DeSantis to its annual donor retreat and was hoping to feature him as a keynote speaker.

DeSantis wasn’t the only 2024 prospect to land an invite to the gathering. The Club also extended invitations to former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Trump was notably left off that list.

But for the time being, DeSantis is best positioned to break through in the primary, McIntosh said, adding that while Trump has universal name ID among voters, the Florida governor “still has room to grow.”

“What the club believes the Republican Party should do is make sure whoever we nominate will actually win,” McIntosh said. “The party should be open to looking at a different candidate. DeSantis is in the strongest position.”

DeSantis’s rivalry with Trump

The speculation around DeSantis’s plans has put him directly in the sights of Trump, the only major declared candidate in the race so far. The former president sees himself as largely responsible for DeSantis’s political success and has complained both publicly and privately about the Florida governor’s growing stature.

In the past week or so alone, Trump has accused DeSantis of “trying to rewrite history” when it comes to his response to the COVID-19 pandemic and dubbed him a “RINO GLOBALIST,” using an acronym for “Republican in name only.”

For his part, DeSantis has largely ignored Trump. Asked about the former president’s criticism during a news conference on Wednesday, DeSantis said that he was more focused on confronting President Biden than on engaging in fights with fellow Republicans.

“I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida, and fighting against Joe Biden, that’s how I spend my time. I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans,” he said.

Are Trump’s attacks against DeSantis working?

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist, said that Trump’s attacks on DeSantis have so far fallen flat, adding that they have come off more as a desperate attempt to preserve his hold on the GOP.

“Trump is obviously lashing out at DeSantis, but it’s not getting much notice and it sure isn’t sticking,” Heye said. “It looks desperate.” 

To be sure, the first nominating contests of the 2024 presidential race are still about a year away, and DeSantis remains relatively untested on the national stage. And there are still lingering questions about exactly what kind of lane DeSantis tries to carve out for himself in a potentially crowded primary field.

“We have to see how he campaigns,” Heye said. “Does he campaign trying to take on Trump or use rhetoric that we’ve heard similar to Nikki Haley and even [Arkansas Gov. Sarah] Huckabee about new generations and hitting his culture war issues?”

Challengers await, but many say DeSantis in best position

Haley, a former South Carolina governor who served as Trump’s U.N. envoy for nearly two years, has been preparing for a 2024 bid and is expected to launch a campaign as soon as next week. Others, like Pence and Pompeo, are also believed to be readying their own White House bids.

But DeSantis’s allies say he’s in a unique position — one that could help him bridge the gap between Trump’s brand of right-wing populism and Republicans ready to move on from the former president. 

“He’s forged such a unique brand and such a bold leadership strategy and record of results in Florida,” Stephen Lawson, a Georgia-based strategist who served as communications director for DeSantis’s successful 2018 gubernatorial run. “He’s got a strong story to tell.”

Al Weaver contributed.


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