TALLAHASSEE — With President Donald Trump’s recent endorsement in his back pocket, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis on Friday will announce he’s entering the governor’s race, a move poised to inject national cash into a campaign already on the 2018 national radar.
“I’m excited about taking this first step towards a campaign for governor,” DeSantis told POLITICO. “As a former prosecutor, Iraq veteran and conservative leader who’s endorsed by President Trump, I’ve got the experience needed to win this race and build on Gov. [Rick] Scott’s strong legacy.”
DeSantis on Friday morning will file paperwork with state election officials creating both his official campaign and a political committee called Friends of Ron DeSantis. The committee can accept unlimited contributions.
In recent weeks, the three-term congressman began laying the groundwork for the long-anticipated announcement. The crown jewel in his GOP primary preparation was the Trump endorsement, which the president blasted out to his more than 46 million Twitter followers Dec. 22. It gave DeSantis an immediate injection of political momentum.
“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida,” Trump tweeted. “He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER.”
DeSantis, a 39-year-old who lives south of Jacksonville, is a little-known entity in Florida political circles, but that’s not where he expects to derive much of his financial support. Since entering Congress, DeSantis has taken positions that have endeared him to the conservative billionaire class attracted to hard-right politicians who don’t necessarily fall in line behind congressional leadership.
DeSantis has been critical of House Speaker Paul Ryan, been a vocal supporter of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and pushed back hard against the independent FBI federal investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.
Many of those national GOP rainmakers officially put their names behind DeSantis shortly after Trump gave him the Twitter nod. Those on his “Finance Leadership Team” include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, hedge fund heiress Rebekah Mercer and Foster Friess, a prominent investor and supporter of conservative causes.
That fundraising network has made no public pledges regarding levels of support for his gubernatorial campaign, but DeSantis is no stranger to national conservative money. A super PAC supporting his 2016 Senate race filled up with cash from conservative donors from across the country. He dropped out after Republican Sen. Marco Rubio opted at the eleventh hour to run for reelection instead of leaving the Senate.
DeSantis enters a Republican gubernatorial primary dominated to this point by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, 43, who has the support of much of the Florida Republican infrastructure. Putnam has so far raised nearly $23 million between his campaign and an affiliated political committee.
Putnam’s early campaign featured digital ads and emails attempting to tether himself to Trump, but he is largely viewed as being cut from a more traditional Republican cloth.
That difference between DeSantis and Putnam well help set the early contours of the race.
“If he brings the money with him, it basically comes down to DeSantis and Trump politics versus Putnam and the potential of a massive field army,” said one consultant not affiliated with any gubernatorial campaign.
Trump’s poll numbers have slipped nationally, but recent polling has more than 80 percent of Florida Republican primary voters supporting the president, a reason why GOP candidates are jockeying for his blessing.
DeSantis’ entrance into the race is seen by many as having the biggest impact on the potential campaign of state House Speaker Richard Corcoran. His political brand is much the same as DeSantis’, leaving both vying for the same voters. But the big-name money that the Trump support could bring DeSantis could be the difference.
Corcoran has openly flirted with the idea of running, but is not likely to announce publicly until after Florida’s 2018 legislative session ends in early March. Corcoran has one more year left leading the Florida House, which leaves him in a powerful position, but he remains an unknown entity to many primary voters.
His path is also complicated by the fact he can’t raise money during the state’s two-month legislative session, which begins next week.
One unaffiliated consultant summed up Corcoran’s prospects this way: “Corcoran, while a political savant, has a lot of ground to make up across the board.”