DeSantis expected to enter the race as soon as next week

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Governor Ron DeSantis may enter the GOP primary race as soon as next week. When he does, watch out. He is going to outwork everyone in order to win the crucial first states of Iowa and New Hampshire. That’s the message coming from his camp. He has his work cut out for him, as Trump is still head and shoulders above him in all the polling data available to date.

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The super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down, is well-financed to give Team Trump pause. It is reported to have an operating budget of $100 million and is on a hiring spree in the first 19 states, according to a senior adviser who discussed plans on the condition of anonymity with The Messenger. There is an Iowa carveout of about $10M for field operations and up to 80 full and part-time staff. No one is willing to go on the record yet but one confident said the plan is for DeSantis to campaign as longtime Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley does – in all 99 counties. They call it the ‘Full Grassley.’

Supporters think it is crucial for DeSantis to win early states in order to knock away any feelings of inevitability in Trump’s candidacy. Wins in Iowa and New Hampshire are needed to pivot the race to essentially a two-man race. I think most Republican voters look at it as that already. The other candidates are all accomplished, worthy people but the truth is that 2023 is the year of the Trump-DeSantis face-off leading up to the beginning of primaries in 2024. Trump has all but ignored everyone but DeSantis and he has been going after DeSantis for months, almost as long as he has been a declared candidate.

“DeSantis is in it to win it,” said Bob Vander Plaats, an Iowa evangelical leader who is neutral in the race so far.

Vander Plaats dined with DeSantis and his wife, Casey DeSantis, on May 8 in Tallahassee at the Governor’s Mansion. And he got the impression that DeSantis would campaign as hard as Iowa’s iconic Republican Senator, Chuck Grassley, visiting every county.

“It will not surprise me if he does the ‘Full Grassley.’ It won’t surprise me if he does every Pizza Ranch stop in Iowa,” Vander Plaats told The Messenger.

In an example of DeSantis’s Iowa work ethic, Vander Plaats pointed out that the governor was in the state Saturday at two events across the state, but he added a third stop in Des Moines after Trump canceled a nearby rally in the city due to the threat of tornadoes. That left Trump grounded at home in Palm Beach, Florida, while DeSantis had Iowa to himself.

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Vander Plaats is an Iowan that Republican candidates court each presidential cycle. His endorsement has carried weight in past contests.

One interesting tidbit from a DeSantis confidant said that he will not bring up Trump’s age on the campaign trail, though Trump is almost Biden’s age. He won’t because Republican voters, especially Republican primary voters, are usually older voters. He won’t want to offend the very people he is trying to win away from Trump.

Trump is taking the challenge from DeSantis seriously. He has focused on Iowa for several months since he entered the race.

The Trump campaign has begun contacting more than 40,000 Trump voters it identified by combing through precinct data, political contributions and rally-goer information it collects from cell phones that attendees furnish the campaign to go to the events, a senior Trump adviser told The Messenger on condition of anonymity to discuss internal efforts.

About 200,000 people could turn out for the Iowa caucuses, meaning the 40,000 people the Trump campaign has already identified could make up 20 percent of his voters prepared to caucus already. With a crowded field, that would get him close to a winning margin. In 2016, during the multi-candidate Republican primary, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the caucuses with 28 percent of the vote when more than 180,000 people turned out.

Trump’s camp is sounding confident that he will stay out in front in the race. They say that DeSantis has potential problems with other non-Trump candidates like Senator Tim Scott, who is expected to announce his candidacy next week, too, and Vivek Ramaswamy. Perhaps. But, I think the demise of DeSantis has been vastly overblown. He shot up in popularity against Trump in earlier days and then came back down to earth as he concentrated on his duties as Governor of Florida. He has been making up for lost time in recent weeks, though, and the crowds are showing up. DeSantis is raising a lot of money for local and state Republican parties. That is important. It is a unifying move.

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He may file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission before a major fund-raising meeting on May 25. That meeting is meant to be a show of his financial force. He has to formally enter the race before he can solicit donations for his campaign.

In a phone call with top donors on Thursday afternoon that was hosted by the super PAC supporting Mr. DeSantis, Never Back Down, the governor painted himself in stark terms as the only person who could beat President Biden and took his most direct shots yet at Mr. Trump.

“You have basically three people at this point that are credible in this whole thing,” Mr. DeSantis told donors. “Biden, Trump and me, and I think of those three, two have a chance to get elected president — Biden and me, based on all the data in the swing states, which is not great for the former president and probably insurmountable because people aren’t going to change their view of him.”

It sounds like DeSantis is ready to rumble. We’ll know soon enough now.

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