The external campaign grows for a DeSantis 2024 bid

Although the Florida governor has stayed quiet on 2024, his supporters have not.

February 2, 2023, 2:06 PM

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has not made any significant public movements toward a presidential run, but his supporters are gearing up for one.

While former President Donald Trump is so far the most prominent candidate to have announced a 2024 campaign for the White House, much attention has also been on DeSantis. At the same time, DeSantis has begun to build the foundation to explore a potential presidential run, according to recent reports.

And as DeSantis' profile continues to grow, and even as he has played down the constant questions about his political ambitions, committees and organizations are coming together to urge him to run.

One of the groups already doing that is Ready for Ron, a draft committee created in May of 2022 to encourage DeSantis to run for president.

Gabriel Llanes, the committee's executive director, told ABC News that this year the organization is doing several grassroots events in several states to raise DeSantis' national profile. Recently, the group announced that it plans to spend millions through television, phone, mail and digital promotion.

"We think that our efforts have kind of helped propel him to be that person to generate that chatter across the country," Llanes said.

Incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at an election night party after winning his race for reelection, Nov. 8, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP, FILE

Llanes attributed DeSantis' popularity among conservatives to his actions as governor of Florida and his "ambitious legislative session" last year, where he signed into law the controversial Parental Rights in Education Bill, which critics call "Don't Say Gay," and took on the Walt Disney Corporation by eliminating its special district which allowed it to self-govern.

Ready for Ron has attracted different groups of people energized by the possibility of DeSantis' launching a presidential campaign, including Bob Carey, part of Vets for Ron. The committee approached Carey, a retired Navy officer, to help on the veteran side.

Carey told ABC News that part of the reason he supports DeSantis' is his ability to get things done, which he sees as a reflection of the veteran and military mentality. DeSantis is also a former Navy officer.

"I think that the veteran community finds in Gov. DeSantis a kindred spirit to whom they can relate and to whom they can believe in," Carey said.

Dan Backer, counsel at Ready for Ron, told ABC News that in addition to DeSantis' broad appeal is the importance of winning for the Republican Party.

"It is clear to us I think, and more and more people, that Ron DeSantis has the best chance to beat Joe Biden [in 2024] and turn this country around," Backer said.

The possibility of DeSantis' presidential run has spurred excitement in Republican circles, even having some of Trump's supporters switch over to support the Florida governor, believing he can help the party regain power throughout the country.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during the New Hampshire Republican State Committee 2023 annual meeting, Jan. 28, 2023, in Salem, N.H.
Reba Saldanha/AP, FILE

Ed Rollins, a prominent Republican adviser, left his position as chairman of the Great American PAC, which supported Trump's candidacy, to be the chief political strategist at Ready for Ron. Following Republicans' surprisingly lackluster results in the 2022 midterm elections -- in many parts of the country except Florida -- Rollins has publicly said that he believes DeSantis is the "complete package" and can win the White House.

This sentiment seems to be shared by other groups supporting the Florida governor, with many believing that the Republican Party can't win a major election cycle if Trump is at the helm. Since the 2018 elections, the GOP has faced tough losses. The party lost the House in 2018, lost the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2020 and although they retook the House in 2022, it was by a slim number of seats and the Senate was retained by Democrats.

John Thomas, the chief political strategist at Ron to the Rescue, a federal super PAC, told ABC News that while Trump was heavily involved in the 2022 midterms, it did not "make the winning difference" for the party.

"What struck me was after the midterm elections, when we were promised a red wave, [was] at best we got a red mist and in large part I think what we saw was a lot of the Donald Trump-endorsed candidates failed," Thomas said.

Republicans did see the red wave they were hoping for in Florida, where DeSantis won reelection by nearly 20 points -- changing Florida's status from a longtime swing state to a ruby red one.

"I think there's this thirst for a MAGA agenda that has become so popular in the Republican Party, but they're ready for Donald Trump to move from a party leader to a party elder," Thomas said.

And while Trump remains a hugely popular figure in the Republican Party, it's clear that DeSantis is gaining momentum ahead of 2024. A recent University of New Hampshire poll showed that DeSantis led Trump among likely voters in the state's 2024 Republican presidential primary 42%-30%.

Incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives to speak to supporters at an election night party after winning his race for reelection in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 8, 2022.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP, FILE

Last week, the New Hampshire GOP held its annual meeting, where Trump served as the keynote speaker, kicking off his presidential campaign events. At the meeting, Ron to the Rescue had a presence there, talking to voters about DeSantis and they were pleased with the conversations they had with attendees at the meeting.

"Everybody was cordial and polite, but throughout the whole day, even self-identified Trump supporters that would come up were all saying essentially the same thing: 'We're supporting President Trump, [but] we really like Ron DeSantis, and we'll see how the primary plays out. Maybe we change our mind,'" Thomas said.

"That's not where you want your base to be if you're former President Trump, so that actually was really great."

Earlier this week, DeSantis seemingly swiped at Trump for criticizing his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, invoking how, unlike the former president, he won reelection.

"You take a crisis situation like COVID -- you know, the good thing about it is when you're an elected executive, you have to make all kinds of decisions, you got to steer that ship," DeSantis said during a press conference on education. "And the good thing is is that the people are able to render a judgment on that, whether they reelect you or not."

"I'm happy to say, you know, in my case, not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has in the history of the state of Florida."

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