DeSantis Is Set to Enter 2024 Presidential Race Next Week

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida all but declared his presidential candidacy on Thursday afternoon, telling donors and supporters on a call that only three “credible” candidates were in the race and that only he would be able to win both the Republican primary and the general election.

“You have basically three people at this point that are credible in this whole thing,” Mr. DeSantis told donors on the call, organized by the super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down. “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.”

The call, to which a New York Times reporter listened, came as the governor is expected to officially enter the presidential race next week, according to three people familiar with his intentions.

Mr. DeSantis is expected to file paperwork declaring his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission ahead of a major fund-raising meeting with donors in Miami on May 25 that is meant to act as a show of his financial force. He must formally enter the race before he can solicit donations for his presidential campaign.

Mr. DeSantis, who was a Navy officer during the Iraq war, noted that he would be the only veteran in the race. And he drew a distinction in another area of Mr. Trump’s record, one that harks back to Mr. DeSantis’s time as a congressman elected the cycle after the Tea Party wave of 2010, when the focus was on limiting government spending.

“Certainly in the Trump administration, there wasn’t the emphasis” on curtailing spending that there was during the Tea Party era, he said. The comment was notable given that a week earlier, Mr. Trump had argued at a CNN town-hall event for letting the country default on the debt ceiling. House Republicans and Mr. Biden have been in weekslong deadlock on whether to raise the debt limit.

At another point, Mr. DeSantis was blunt, saying, “I think the voters want to move on from Biden,” adding, “They just want a vehicle they can get behind” but “there’s just too many voters that don’t view Trump as that vehicle.”

Mr. DeSantis also talked about the release of his book, “The Courage to Be Free,” and his book tour, including that the book had been on the New York Times best-seller list for several weeks. He described himself as selling far more books than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did when they published memoirs before announcing their campaigns for the presidency.

The volume of his sales was “not normal for people in elected office” who write books, he said, adding, “For us to exceed both of those, I think, is really, really significant.”

Mr. DeSantis, however, was dealt a potential political blow on Thursday as Disney pulled out of a $1 billion office development project in Orlando that would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the region. The move highlighted the ongoing fallout of his targeting of Disney after the company’s chief executive at the time criticized Florida legislation to restrict instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

Mr. DeSantis did not mention the Disney battle or the education law on the call with donors, many of whom are business officials who don’t favor those moves of his. And Mr. DeSantis, who has made his political brand in part on fighting what he calls “woke” culture, spent little time on such issues on the call.

Mr. Trump is running roughly 30 percentage points ahead of Mr. DeSantis in national polling averages, but the Florida governor would be the strongest Republican challenger to join the field so far. Mr. DeSantis told the people on the call that he did not put much stock in those polls, saying that he had started as an underdog in past races and that the polls before his re-election in 2022 showed a much smaller margin of victory than he ended up with.

He is likely to start with more money in an outside group than any Republican primary candidate in history. He has more than $80 million expected to be transferred from his state account to his super PAC, which has also raised more than $30 million, in addition to having tens of millions more in donor commitments, according to people familiar with the fund-raising.

Mr. DeSantis also has a long series of conservative policy accomplishments that he shepherded through Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature after his landslide re-election last year. And he has gathered a large number of endorsements from state legislators in Iowa and New Hampshire, who can be influential in primary elections, as well as from those in his own state.

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