Days after withholding his financial backing for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, billionaire GOP donor Thomas Peterffy is opening his wallet for Glenn Youngkin, the Virginia governor some in the party still hope will run for president.
Peterffy on Thursday wired a $1 million check to Youngkin’s political action committee, Spirit of Virginia, according to a person familiar with the transaction. The move comes less than a week after Peterffy told the Financial Times that he had put his support for DeSantis “on hold” because of the governor’s controversial positions on abortion and book bans, which have alienated some of those in the donor community and the mainstream wing of the party.
Peterffy’s abandonment of DeSantis reflects a broader period of difficulty for the Florida governor, with much of the Republican congressional delegation choosing to endorse former President Donald Trump over DeSantis and polls showing his support waning. Peterffy — one of the richest people in Florida — gave nearly $600,000 to DeSantis’ 2018 and 2022 gubernatorial runs.
Youngkin had paused his consideration for a 2024 bid after spending much of the midterm campaign season crisscrossing the country for Republican candidates. But over the last few weeks he has drawn attention from major donors while fundraising for his PAC, which is planning to spend money in the upcoming Virginia state legislative elections.
Youngkin last Friday attended a lunch in Palm Beach, Fla., hosted by retired Smithfield Foods executive Joe Luter and his wife, Karin. That evening, he attended a reception at the Naples, Fla., residence of ex-GOP Rep. Francis Rooney, a former ambassador to the Holy See, which was attended by more than 50 people. On Thursday, Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym owner Bob Rowling hosted an event for Youngkin in Dallas.
Rooney said Youngkin did not bring up the 2024 race, nor did any of the attendees ask him about it.
“He stays on message. He talks a lot about what he’s doing in Virginia, and then he’ll mention that a lot of these same things apply anywhere and even nationally,” Rooney said.
It is far from certain whether Peterffy’s withdrawal signals a broader loss of financial support for DeSantis. A pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, has reported that it has already raised $30 million — a sum that has allowed the group to begin airing TV ads, sending mailers and set up field programs in key primary states. DeSantis’ state-based political organization has more than $85 million that is expected to be transferred to the super PAC, and he has drawn support from an array of major givers who would like to see the party move on from Trump.
The list of those Youngkin met with in Dallas included prominent GOP fundraiser Roy Bailey, who formerly chaired Trump’s finance committee but who is planning to support DeSantis should he run. Bailey praised Youngkin as a “red-hot, bright shining star for the future,” but said he got “the sense that he’s totally focused on the state of Virginia” rather than running for president.
“I kind of see him as a great athlete who knows he has the ability to do great things but is smart enough and patient enough to do it in the right way,” Bailey said.
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