DeSantis Preps 2024 Bid Behind Scenes While Waiting to Declare

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(Bloomberg) -- Governor Ron DeSantis is actively preparing a run for president in 2024, even as he delays a formal announcement to keep Republican voters’ attention on his aggressively conservative record in Florida, according to people familiar with the plans.

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Behind the scenes, DeSantis and his tight-knit team of advisers are interviewing national consultants to work on a presidential campaign. A retreat for roughly 150 donors, GOP leaders and lawmakers is planned for the final weekend in February at a hotel in Palm Beach, where DeSantis will tout his record as governor.

Aides are speaking to and vetting operatives in early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, who could oversee on-the-ground operations and ensure the campaign meets every requirement to qualify for the primaries, and his allies are starting to stand up a super-PAC to support his nascent candidacy, according to two people briefed on the plans.

Many of the core staffers who ran his 2022 gubernatorial race are expected to sign onto his presidential race. DeSantis’s press team didn’t respond to a request for comment.

With much of the Republican billionaire and millionaire set increasingly wary of Donald Trump, donors such as Ken Griffin of Citadel and Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group Inc. have indicated they won’t support the former president financially. The donors want a GOP candidate with many of the same policy prescriptions yet more discipline.

“There is no reason for DeSantis to get in right now. He’s got name ID and the ability to raise money,” said Mike DuHaime, the former top strategist for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s campaigns and former political director for the Republican National Committee. “It clearly drives Trump crazy because he needs someone to fight with.”

Trump has already started to attack his Florida rival. He has nicknamed him “Ron DeSanctimonious” and posted a photo of him to social media as young teacher at a private school surrounded by female students.

DeSantis was asked at the recent press conference whether Trump’s Truth Social posts of that photo could be defamatory. He said he’s faced “defamatory stuff every single day I’ve been governor” but that he has a platform to fight back.

Despite the increasing back-and-forth between the two, DeSantis isn’t expected to declare his candidacy until late spring or early summer once the state legislature session ends.

The Republican primary has gotten off to a slow start, with Trump as the only official candidate so far.

Former South Carolina Governor and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is expected to announce her run on Feb 15. Several other Republicans are trying to woo donors and gage voters’ interest, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Tim Scott, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem.

Polls show DeSantis and Trump as the clear frontrunners with no other potential candidates generating the same level of excitement. A new Monmouth University poll showed both Trump and DeSantis garnering 33% of Republican and GOP-leaning voters.

Early Edge

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, DeSantis out-polled Trump 53% to 40%, beating the former president among every sub-category of voters — including those considered evangelicals and strong or moderate Republicans — except those earning less than $50,000 a year and those 65 and older.

“Both Trump and DeSantis are well-liked by the party’s rank and file, but it’s likely that voter opinion of Trump is more firmly set than it is for DeSantis right now,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement. “The unknown factor is whether DeSantis can maintain this early edge if and when he gets on the campaign trail.”

Democrats argue DeSantis may wilt under the increased scrutiny that comes with running for president from the national media and from meeting thousands of voters across Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. While trying to paint DeSantis as yet another extreme Republican, they haven’t settled on the best line of attack.

But they worry publicly that his age — he’s 44 — and experience as governor would make him a formidable opponent for President Joe Biden, 80.

--With assistance from Mark Niquette.

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