Politics

Desantis Tops $100 Million For Florida Reelection Race — And Sends Signal To 2024 Republican Field

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has raised more than $100 million for his reelection effort, the first gubernatorial candidate in the Sunshine State – and perhaps the entire country – to reach the nine-figure milestone solely through donations.

The staggering sum not only gives DeSantis an unprecedented leg up on the Democrats attempting to unseat him this November, it also sends an indisputable message to the potential field of 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls that there is already a promising contender with deep support from major donors and grassroots voters alike.

It’s the kind of fundraising chops that “catapults him into the top tier of potential GOP candidates,” said Scott Reed, a veteran GOP operative and former top strategist for the US Chamber of Commerce.

“He’s been asking for big licks – $5 million and $10 million per fundraiser – and he’s getting them and that’s a warning sign,” Reed said. “DeSantis is the talk of every Republican cocktail party and every organizational meeting. His support spans the money class and the movement conservatives. And that’s a strong combination early in the game.”

The latest fundraising numbers for DeSantis won’t become official until Monday, the state’s deadline to report March totals. However, a CNN review of contributions posted to the website of his political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, showed a March haul of $6.1 million. His campaign and political committee, which are separate entities both working toward his reelection, had previously reported raising a combined $96 million this cycle through February.

While the proliferation of political committees and differences in campaign finance laws makes it difficult to compare fundraising numbers across state boundaries, it appears DeSantis is the first candidate in any state to eclipse $100 million entirely on donations. According to data maintained by the campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets, the two past gubernatorial candidates who amassed $100 million campaigns – former business executive and 2010 GOP nominee for California governor Meg Whitman and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, whose family owns Hyatt Hotels – funded their campaigns almost entirely with their own money.

DeSantis, though, is not independently wealthy. Prior to becoming governor in 2019, DeSantis served less than three terms in Congress. Before that, he was a lawyer in the Navy. His net worth is $348,000, according to his most recent financial disclosure form.

Instead, DeSantis has broken fundraising records by relying on a mix of sources. He has received significant contributions from the state and national parties and has crisscrossed the country to raise money from wealthy GOP donors. His political committee has collected large checks from influential Florida businesses and small donations from all 50 states.

DeSantis has also tapped into former President Donald Trump’s donor network, including Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, WeatherTech CEO David MacNeil and shipping magnate Richard Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth. All have given six-figure sums to DeSantis’ political committee.

Because the money was raised for a state race, it is unlikely it can be used to assist DeSantis in a federal campaign, should he run in the future. But former President George W. Bush demonstrated how a relentless fundraising blitz in a state race can boost a prospective presidential bid.

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Like DeSantis, Bush in 1998 was a Republican incumbent widely seen as a serious contender for the next presidential race. Bush signaled he would be a formidable candidate for the White House by putting up gaudy fundraising numbers en route to a historic margin of victory in the Lonestar State.

“I’ve seen a lot of people raise that kind of money before. It doesn’t always mean success,” said Charlie Black, who worked on Bush’s presidential campaign. “Bush was successful with that strategy. The biggest thing DeSantis has to do is keep his eye on the ball and make sure he gets reelected.”

Other potential 2024 contenders are noticing DeSantis’ fundraising prowess – including Trump. The former President has closely monitored which former donors have opened up their checkbooks to the Florida governor, people close to Trump previously told CNN.

Trump reiterated to The Washington Post this week his belief that he “made” DeSantis when he endorsed the underfunded and lesser-known congressman in the 2018 GOP primary for Florida governor. He added that he doesn’t believe DeSantis – or any other ally – will run in 2024 if the former President is in the race.

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“If I ran, I can’t imagine they’d want to run,” Trump said. “Some out of loyalty would have had a hard time running.”

One adviser to a potential presidential candidate acknowledged that important Republican donors likely see in DeSantis “an opportunity to get in on the ground floor” of a future presidential campaign – one featuring the only candidate who comes close to rivaling Trump’s support in early 2024 polling. But the adviser added that there is more for DeSantis to prove than being a successful fundraiser.

“Despite all the attention he’s getting, DeSantis is largely untested,” the adviser said. “When you look at the potential 2024 field, he stands out as the person who has never faced a monumental challenge and that’s bound to happen over the next year and a half. It’s going to be a pivotal moment for him.”

Other 2024 hopefuls may have to tiptoe around Trump and raise money through political action committees with vague mission statements about helping elect Republicans. But as a candidate running for reelection in a high-profile state, DeSantis doesn’t have to make excuses to have an audience with big-name Republican donors.

The list of donors to his gubernatorial campaign is a who’s who of the GOP money class: businessman John Childs, hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones, ex-private equity financier and former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, San Francisco Giants owner Charles Johnson and beef jerky mogul Troy Link, among others.

It’s a mix of past backers to presidential campaigns, Trump allies and some people, such as hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and Interactive Brokers Group chairman Thomas Peterffy, who are looking beyond Trump in 2024. Peterffy told Bloomberg News last year that he would prefer to see DeSantis as the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 because he is less impulsive than Trump. Griffin ruled out backing Trump if he runs again.

Rob Stutzman, a California-based GOP consultant, said DeSantis’ fundraising to date “certainly confirms convention… (Read more)

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