Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to officially enter the 2024 presidential race next week, as the Republican gathers top fundraisers in Miami, according to two people familiar with the plans.
The second-term governor, widely considered at present to be the most viable GOP challenger to former president Donald Trump, has been laying the groundwork for a campaign for months. In speeches around the country, he has touted his landslide reelection win last year and his sweeping legislative agenda in Florida — passed this spring by GOP supermajorities — and also implicitly pitched himself as a better bet than Trump in the general election.
Representatives for DeSantis’s political team declined to comment.
DeSantis is also expected to hold an event launching his candidacy in Dunedin, Fla., his hometown, according to one of the people familiar with the plans and another familiar with the kickoff gathering. That event is expected to take place after Memorial Day, according to the first person.
The people familiar with the plans spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe plans that had not been announced publicly. The Wall Street Journal first reported Wednesday evening that DeSantis plans to enter the race next week.
Doubts about DeSantis’s presidential prospects have grown in recent months as Trump has surged in national polls of the GOP race and attacked DeSantis, and as some donors have voiced concerns about the governor’s policy moves. But the governor has rebuilt some momentum over the past week, rolling out large slates of endorsements from state lawmakers in Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida.
DeSantis’s team is convening donors at a Four Seasons hotel in Miami from May 24 to 26 for a gathering expected to start raising money for a presidential campaign, people familiar with the event said. Fundraisers have already been meeting with the governor in small groups in Tallahassee in recent weeks and getting briefings from the DeSantis’s expected campaign team.
A super PAC supporting DeSantis has been running ads and organizing in key states. And DeSantis has traveled to early nominating states including Iowa, the first-in-the-nation GOP caucus state, where he spoke at several events on Saturday.
“Governing is not about building a brand or talking on social media and virtue signaling,” DeSantis said at a GOP picnic in a rural part of Iowa that went heavily for Trump in 2020. “It’s ultimately about winning and about producing results.”
Trump was set to hold a rally that same day in Des Moines but canceled shortly before he was expected to appear, citing a tornado watch. DeSantis capitalized on the situation by adding a surprise stop a restaurant in the same area, where he and his wife, Casey DeSantis, jumped up on a table to address supporters.
“It’s a beautiful night,” the governor said, in a seeming dig at Trump as allies of the governor questioned the former president’s decision to cancel.
Trump’s team has been rolling out its own endorsements recently and dealt DeSantis a blow last month by locking down the support of many members of Congress from Florida. DeSantis’s allies shot back on Wednesday with endorsements from 99 members of the Florida legislature, headlined by its Senate president and House majority leader.
The rollout came just before DeSantis is expected to weigh in on the budget passed by Florida lawmakers — a fact quickly noted by Trump allies and other Florida Republicans, who pointed out that the governor’s line-item veto powers give him enormous influence over lawmakers’ budget priorities.
Trump’s team is pitching the former president as the inevitable nominee, highlighting polling showing DeSantis and other candidates trailing well behind. Trump has repeatedly called DeSantis disloyal, pointing to his 2018 endorsement that helped the then-congressman win a tough gubernatorial primary against the establishment-backed candidate.
Trump has also latched on to persistent criticisms of DeSantis’s retail politics skills, suggesting last week that the governor needs a “personality transplant.”
DeSantis said recently that he doesn’t plan to rebut every broadside from Trump and expects to respond to the former president on policy, according to donors who met with him for dinners in Tallahassee. Attendees said he also fielded questions about moves that have drawn some opposition from supporters, including his battle with Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers.
Disney sued the governor last month, alleging political retaliation — and fueling further criticism of the governor’s moves to punish the company since it publicly opposed Republican-led legislation to restrict school discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity.
But the governor’s team believes Disney remains a “winning issue” for them, according to one donor who has spoken with them, and DeSantis has continued to highlight the issue on the trail as he criticizes what he calls “wokeness” in schools, companies and the news media. The donor spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private interactions.
DeSantis is headed back to New Hampshire this week ahead of his official launch.
A previous version of this story said the Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday evening DeSantis’s plans to enter the race next week. The report was on Wednesday evening.