OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion
The Republican governor of Florida has raised more than $100 million for his re-election campaign, which makes him the first gubernatorial candidate in the state and possibly in the entire country to surpass the milestone.
Besides giving DeSantis a significant advantage over Democrats this November, this staggering sum also sends an unambiguous message to the field of possible Republicans running for president in 2024 that is already a promising contender with deep support from both major donors and grassroots voters alike.
He has the kind of fundraising skills that “catapults him into the top tier of potential GOP candidates,” said Scott Reed, former president of the US Chamber of Commerce and a veteran GOP strategist.
“He’s been asking for big licks — $5 million and $10 million per fundraiser — and he’s getting them and that’s a warning sign,” Reed added. “DeSantis is the talk of every Republican cocktail party and every organizational meeting. His support spans the money class and the movement conservatives. And that’s a strong combination early in the game.”
According to the state, March’s fundraising figures won’t be released until Monday, the state’s deadline for reporting March’s numbers. On the other hand, a review of donations posted to the website of his campaign committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, indicates that he raised $6.1 million in March.
Both his campaign and political committee have raised a combined $96 million this cycle through February, which is completely independent of one another.
Although it is difficult to analyze fundraising numbers across state lines due to the abundance of political committees and different campaign finance laws, it looks like DeSantis is the first candidate in any state to surpass $100 million entirely through contributions.
Based on data provided by the campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets, the two past gubernatorial candidates who accumulated $100 million campaigns – Meg Whitman, the 2010 GOP candidate for governor of California, and JB Pritzker, who owns Hyatt Hotels. Both financed their campaigns almost entirely with their own money.
DeSantis isn’t rich, though. He spent less than three years in Congress before becoming governor. He had previously served as a lawyer in the Navy. In his most recent financial disclosure form, he disclosed a net worth of $348,000.
Instead of relying just on one source of fundraising, DeSantis uses multiple sources. The state party and national party have contributed heavily to him and he has traveled the country seeking funding from wealthy Republicans. A number of influential Florida businesses have written checks to his political committee. He also has received small donations from every state.
Former President Donald Trump’s network of donors has also been used by DeSantis, including Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, WeatherTech CEO David MacNeil, and shipping tycoon Richard Uihlein and his wife Elizabeth. They have all given DeSantis’ political committee six-figure amounts.
Due to the fact that this was money raised for a state race, it would not be helpful for DeSantis if he decided to run for federal office in the future. However, George W. Bush showed that relentless fundraising blitzes in state races can boost a presidential campaign.
As with DeSantis, Bush was widely seen in 1998 as a serious contender for president. Bush clearly established his credentials as a presidential candidate by assembling a huge fundraising haul on his way to a historic victory in Texas.
“I’ve seen a lot of people raise that kind of money before. It doesn’t always mean success,” explained Charlie Black who worked on Bush’s campaign. “Bush was successful with that strategy. The biggest thing DeSantis has to do is keep his eye on the ball and make sure he gets reelected.”
The fundraising prowess of DeSantis is drawing the attention of other potential candidates for 2024, including Trump. A source close to Trump told reporters that he closely monitored which donors gave to the FL. governor.
Trump told reporters again last week that he believes he “made” DeSantis when he endorsed the less-known and underfunded congressman in the GOP primary for Florida governor. Trump said that if he runs in 2024, DeSantis and others eying the position won’t jump in the race.
“If I ran, I can’t imagine they’d want to run,” Trump stated. “Some out of loyalty would have had a hard time running.”
One DeSantis adviser said that Republican donors see “an opportunity to get in on the ground floor” of a presidential campaign – one featuring the only candidate likely to threaten Trump’s support in early 2024 polling. The adviser emphasized that DeSantis needs to prove more than just his fundraising success.
“Despite all the attention he’s getting, DeSantis is largely untested,” the advisor noted. “When you look at the potential 2024 field, he stands out as the person who has never faced a monumental challenge and that’s bound to happen over the next year and a half. It’s going to be a pivotal moment for him.”