Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has cemented himself as the face of GOP opposition to anti-Covid-19 mandates, and that controversial stance is winning over not only rank-and-file voters ahead of the 2024 presidential primaries, but also some of the Republican Party’s wealthiest donors.
How the race shapes up will first and foremost be determined by whether former Donald Trump decides to run. But many donors are investing early in potential candidates like DeSantis, whom polling shows to be the leading Trump alternative in the prospective presidential field. The 2024 buzz around DeSantis accelerated in late February, after he finished second to Trump in a poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — held on friendly Florida turf — and was by far the top choice in a hypothetical field that excluded Trump. DeSantis’ large donations, particularly from out of state, ramped up.
Writing a check now is a low-risk way to get into DeSantis’ circle early, an investment if he runs for president and wins the nomination. Unlike the potential presidential candidates who serve in Congress and can accept only relatively small donations, DeSantis is allowed to get unlimited checks from donors under Florida law. Campaign finance records covering the first seven months of this year showed that prominent contributors, including many beyond Florida, are investing in his 2022 re-election campaign — which could further solidify his prospects.
Ken Griffin, the GOP megadonor and billionaire founder of the hedge fund Citadel, donated $5 million to DeSantis’ campaign in April — the largest donation he has received this year. DeSantis also raked in $500,000 in May from WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, $250,000 in March from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and $250,000 in February from former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who moved to Florida after he lost re-election. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, an ambassador in the Trump administration, also donated.
Ron Desantis really needs to rework that, “Make America Florida” slogan for 2024. https://t.co/yxjvH6ktZ9
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) August 25, 2021
Other Trump administration officials got in on the action, too: Former ambassadors Jamie McCourt and Kelly Craft and ex-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross donated $10,000 to $50,000. Nick Iarossi, a Tallahassee lobbyist and DeSantis fundraiser, said DeSantis is also raising plenty of small-dollar donations from across the country. Among DeSantis’ other top donors are St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, UFC President Dana White, Jimmy John’s founder Jimmy John Liautaud, Jack Link’s CEO Troy Link, and disgraced Papa John’s founder John Schnatter. Each has donated $5,000 to $100,000 this year.
There should be daily calls—from all quarters—for the immediate resignation or impeachment of Govs. Ron DeSantis (FL) and Greg Abbott (TX).
Deliberately killing children to goose a 2024 POTUS run is an impeachable offense.
You'd have to *really* hate kids to disagree with this. pic.twitter.com/cydpnqH3Jf
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) August 26, 2021
But first, DeSantis has to win a second term as governor. Already, two prominent Democrats — Rep. Charlie Crist, who previously served as governor as a Republican, and state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — have launched challenges. And recent statewide polling has shown that with Covid-19 surging in the state as a result of the highly contagious delta variant, DeSantis risks being known as the anti-masked crusader. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found DeSantis’ overall job approval rating at 47 percent, a plurality, but 51 percent disapproved of his handling of the pandemic. A plurality, 48 percent, said he should be re-elected, but 59 percent said they don’t want him to run for president in 2024.
While Florida continues to report record COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, DeSantis is prioritizing fundraising for his 2024 Presidential campaign. #RonBeGone
— RonBeGone (@ron_begone) August 26, 2021
Other questions found growing dissatisfaction with DeSantis over pandemic measures: 61 percent said the recent surge in Covid cases was preventable. And 69 percent said DeSantis’ threat to withhold salaries from local school officials who mandate masks was a bad idea.