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Ron DeSantis reportedly planning first steps of campaign launch for mid-May

Florida governor is seen as only real competition to Trump for GOP nomination

John Bowden
Washington DC
Thursday 27 April 2023 16:39 BST
Donald Trump takes aim at Ron DeSantis over Russia comments

Ron DeSantis is slowly working his way towards a presidential campaign, and plans to launch an official exploratory committee in the upcoming months, according to those around him.

GOP operatives with knowledge of the governor’s plans told NBC News on Wednesday that the DeSantis campaign will take its first real steps towards reality in May with the launch of an exploratory committee — a small group designed to gauge support within the party for the governor’s eventual run. His campaign manager is likely to be Generra Peck, his top political adviser, according to those sources.

Such a move puts him far behind the campaigns of other Republican 2024 hopefuls like Donald Trump, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott, who are all at various stages of building up support in early primary states.

But Mr DeSantis has one advantage that is unique to him and Donald Trump — a comfortable polling lead that places him firmly in second place, regardless of the status of his campaign. The Florida governor has consistently been the only Republican to register double-digit levels of support when matched up against Mr Trump, though he still trails the former president by a large margin.

Mr DeSantis has dipped in the polls since Mr Trump’s indictment in Manhattan by grand jury investigation, however, and a flurry of media reports in recent days have trended against the governor’s favour. Mr DeSantis traveled this month to Washington DC, where he met with potential supporters in Congress including members of the Florida delegation, only to find a number of those same Republicans coming out with their official 2024 endorsements backing Mr Trump after his departure.

A number of Republicans have cited his personal demeanour as an obstacle, claiming that the governor does not enjoy talking to people and is often cloistered off from potential allies. Republican Congressman Greg Steube of Florida was one of those people, telling reporters that the governor did not call to check up on him after he was seriously injured after a fall, while Mr Trump had done so.

Another GOP ally to spurn Mr DeSantis this week was billionaire GOP megadonor John Catsimatidis, a New Yorker who told reporters that he had decided specifically against backing the Florida governor after he and his advisers had been unable to secure a phone call or sit-down conversation with the governor.

Still, Mr DeSantis would enter the presidential race unencumbered by the numerous legal fights dogging the former president, which continue to grow in both cost and gravity. Mr Trump is expected to learn this summer whether he or his legal team will face criminal charges for their efforts to interfere with Georgia’s 2020 election results, and he continues to face a host of other challenges including a slow-burning investigation into January 6 and the effort to block Joe Biden’s election victory certification by Congress headed up by the Department of Justice.

And the Florida governor would also begin his candidacy on the back of a comfortable reelection victory in 2022 which saw him coast back into the governor’s mansion by a margin of nearly 20 points. That’s compared to the dismal showing by Republicans nationwide, including many hand-selected by the former president for his support, in the midterm elections which saw their party drop further into the minority in the Senate while barely eking out a majority in the House of Representatives. Much of that poor display has been blamed on the hard-right nature of many of the candidates selected by Mr Trump (or equally seeking his voters), embodied by refusals to accept the lawful results of the 2020 election and other far-right stances on issues like abortion.

The ex-president has been on the defensive on that issue since last November, and has angrily denied responsibility for the defeat of his chosen candidates such as Kari Lake, Blake Masters, Dr Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker.

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