Ron DeSantis ramps up in South Carolina, with a little help from his friends

He hasn’t even formally announced he’s running, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is already laying the groundwork for an eventual presidential bid, including by building a political operation in South Carolina.

It’s an important move considering DeSantis’ relative unfamiliarity in the Palmetto State and the presence of one of just two officially declared major candidates who calls South Carolina home — former Gov. Nikki Haley. The other, of course, is former President Donald Trump who will likely command plenty of attention.

DeSantis may also find himself contending on the GOP presidential stage against U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, also of South Carolina. 

That’s why it’s not surprising DeSantis is already reportedly courting South Carolina leaders. Polls show DeSantis trailing Trump by double digits in South Carolina. That Neighborhood Research and Media poll taken in mid-February showed Haley trailing in third place, an indication she and DeSantis may be splitting the anti-Trump contingency of South Carolina Republicans. 

Ostensibly building his political apparatus in South Carolina, DeSantis recently spoke on the phone with GOP state Sen. Josh Kimbrell, according to the Miami Herald, which cited two Republicans familiar with the call. Kimbrell represents the Republican-rich Spartanburg area. He joined the Never Back Down super PAC, which is encouraging DeSantis to run for President. 

State Sen. Danny Verdin has also encouraged DeSantis to run. He announced last week that he was joining Never Back Down, saying he was “incredibly excited to join the movement to draft Governor Ron DeSantis to run for President.”

And Never Back Down’s founder, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, has already been lobbying for DeSantis in South Carolina, including a lunch stop in Charleston and a new video promoting DeSantis in the state, both last week.

In the video, he describes DeSantis as “the best chief executive we’ve had in decades.”

The Miami Herald reported that GOP sources familiar with Never Back Down’s strategy said the group has been actively recruiting Republicans in South Carolina.

Never Back Down could play a huge role in any eventual DeSantis presidential bid. Already, the PAC has hired ace GOP advisor Jeff Roe, who worked for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on his 2016 presidential bid, the last Republican standing before Trump secured the party’s nomination, and for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Both are rumored to be potential candidates and Roe’s early allegiance to DeSantis shows Florida’s Governor has access to serious talent. 

The super PAC could also direct funding from DeSantis’ massive campaign haul from his hyper-successful gubernatorial re-election bid last year. DeSantis raised more than $100 million, far more than he needed to trounce Democratic opponent Charlie Crist. The only way he can use those excess funds for a presidential contest is to transfer them to a super PAC, which cannot officially coordinate with DeSantis’ hypothetical campaign, but can undertake campaign activities on his behalf. 

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