DeSantis Announces

Formally declaring his intention to run for President Wednesday evening on a technically flawed Twitter broadcast with Elon Musk, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis officially became a national candidate. How far he can go, however, remains to be seen.

While the New York Times ran an announcement preview story about the preparations of at least one of the Super PAC organizations supporting the DeSantis effort, the Never Back Down PAC, the article did not minimize the fact that the task of overtaking former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination is daunting.

Also released yesterday was a CNN poll (5/17-20; 1,227 US respondents, presumably self-identified or Independent leaning Republicans; live interview) that found Gov. DeSantis trailing former President Donald Trump 53-26% nationally, which, ironically, is one of the Floridian’s better recent showings in a national poll. No other GOP candidate or potential candidate was even breaking the 6% threshold.

Understanding that national polls are virtually meaningless in a nomination system where state votes determine the delegate count that ultimately crown a presidential candidate, the Times piece described the ground operation the DeSantis Super PAC is organizing in the key early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

According to lead NYT author Maggie Haberman, the DeSantis team is looking to hire 2,600 people to make four and perhaps five in-person visits to targeted voters in the key early states. One of those interviewed for the piece, the Never Back Down PAC’s chief executive Chris Jankowski, said, “no one has ever contemplated the scale of this organization or operation, let alone done it. This has just never even been dreamed up.”

Mr. Jankowski’s observation is wrong. Labor unions have traditionally run these types of encompassing precinct operations for Democratic candidates on a national scope, and the Bush 2004 re-election campaign also constructed a nationwide ground operation through their campaign apparatus and the Republican National Committee that easily involved more than this number.

The Never Back Down strategists, led by political veteran Jeff Roe, are on the right track with a major precinct organization strategy in order to help overcome Trump’s advantage and position Gov. DeSantis as his only major opponent. Recruiting this many people, however, when every private entity has trouble hiring paid workers and then unleashing them in tight, small communities within parochial states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, is an effort fraught with difficult challenges.

Additionally, it appeared clear from early in the election cycle that DeSantis was in the best position to score an upset against Trump when surveyed GOP voters perceived the race as being a contest between the two.

With the additional second tier candidates now entering, or about to enter, the race such as former Vice-President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), ex-UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, and ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a two-way race is no longer likely to materialize.

As we have said repeatedly, the crowded field again helps Donald Trump because he has the largest and most fervent base within the party. As in 2016, Trump should be in position to win a nomination against eight to ten opponents with a core vote of approximately 35% in each state. Like in ’16, these minimum numbers would probably be enough to carry him through to re-nomination.

Mr. Trump obviously sees this, too. This is why we haven’t seen him attacking Ms. Haley, Sen. Scott, and the others because he understands their presence in the race, even if they individually attract less than 10% of the vote, will ultimately help him. The former President has even lessened his attacks on Gov. DeSantis but expect him to re-engage now that the Florida Governor is an official opponent.

The first vote for the Republican candidates is February 5th in the Iowa Caucuses. Democrats have moved on from the state, but their schedule will become more of an issue in 2028 and beyond rather than in this election where President Biden is virtually unopposed for re-nomination. As often happens when a party has an incumbent president, expect many states to simply cancel their primaries and award their delegates to the President.

The other four early states on the Republican calendar, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and now Michigan, will then vote prior to Super Tuesday, which in the 2024 election is scheduled for March 5th. On that day a total of 15 states will hold primaries or caucuses that will house 837 combined delegate votes, or 34% of the total Republican delegate universe of 2,467 individuals. Therefore, on this early March date, just 10 months from now, the nomination could well be sealed.

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