Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has emerged as the leading voice of the GOP’s opposition to anti-Covid-19 mandates, and his stance has not only won over rank-and-file voters but also some of the wealthiest Republican donors. While former President Donald Trump’s decision to run will play a critical role in shaping the upcoming presidential race, many donors are investing early in potential candidates like DeSantis, who is leading the prospective presidential field.
DeSantis has the unique advantage of accepting unlimited checks from donors under Florida law, setting him apart from the potential presidential candidates who serve in Congress and can only accept relatively small donations. Thus, many prominent contributors, including those beyond Florida, have invested in his 2022 re-election campaign, which further solidifies his prospects.
The list of DeSantis’ top donors includes Ken Griffin, the GOP megadonor and billionaire founder of the hedge fund Citadel, who donated $5 million to DeSantis’ campaign in April, making it the largest donation he has received this year. Other donors include David MacNeil, the founder of WeatherTech, who donated $500,000 in May, and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who donated $250,000 in March, among others.
Nick Iarossi, a Tallahassee lobbyist and DeSantis fundraiser, says that DeSantis is raising plenty of small-dollar donations from across the country. “The country is very divided right now on how to approach Covid, on how to approach Afghanistan, on the border crisis and illegal immigration,” Iarossi said. “The only guy that’s really standing up to give that opposing view and give the other side a voice is Ron DeSantis.”
DeSantis’ strong showing in the Conservative Political Action Conference poll in February, where he finished second to Trump, further accelerated the buzz around his potential candidacy in 2024. His large donations, particularly from out of state, have also ramped up.
“The state of Florida is a bellwether of the nation, and political contributions are a statement of support,” said Helen Aguirre Ferré, the executive director of the state Republican Party and a former DeSantis aide.
As COVID-19 cases surge in Florida due to the highly contagious delta variant, Gov. Ron DeSantis has become the face of GOP opposition to anti-COVID-19 mandates. This stance has won over not only rank-and-file voters but also some of the Republican Party’s wealthiest donors, including Ken Griffin, the GOP megadonor and billionaire founder of the hedge fund Citadel, who donated $5 million to DeSantis’ campaign in April. Although DeSantis is polling as the leading Trump alternative in the prospective presidential field, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 51% disapprove of his handling of the pandemic, and 59% do not want him to run for president in 2024.
As Florida Governor Ron DeSantis seeks re-election, his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic remains a key issue. However, some Republicans have suggested that a bigger risk for DeSantis’ presidential aspirations could be COVID-19 fading from the news cycle, as it has overshadowed his other policies.
The spotlight gets brighter
Most of Ron DeSantis’ donors remain confident in his future as a politician, despite concerns over his trajectory in Florida. NBC News attempted to reach out to donors listed in DeSantis’ recent campaign finance reports, with few willing to discuss their support. Those who did speak out were positive, with some viewing DeSantis as a strong contender for the Republican Party’s future leadership. However, DeSantis’ growing popularity has also led to increased scrutiny, including a digital ad campaign targeting his donors. Despite this, DeSantis is downplaying his political ambitions and insisting on focusing on his current role as governor of Florida.