DeSantis aides to donors: Trump’s current lead is a polling sugar high

MIAMI – Ron DeSantis’ top political advisers on Thursday detailed the path forward for the Florida governor in the Republican presidential primary – and brushed aside bad headlines surrounding his rocky campaign launch the night before.

Appearing before a private gathering of around 150 donors at the Four Seasons Hotel, three top DeSantis lieutenants — Ryan Tyson, Sam Cooper and Jason Johnson — argued that the governor remained poised throughout a malfunction-plagued appearance on Twitter Spaces, where he unveiled his candidacy in a conversation with billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.

They said DeSantis had a clear path to defeat former President Donald Trump, and added their belief that Florida would emerge as a key state that could help to determine the outcome of the nomination contest, according to two people present for the presentation.

The group of DeSantis advisers also walked through polling in four early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — and made the case that the governor was viewed more favorably than Trump in each.

They made the case that Trump’s current polling lead was being inflated by sympathy from Republican voters over his indictment in New York over a case involving hush money payments to a pornstar and would diminish over time. They conceded that the former president would likely not go below roughly 35 percent support in a primary but that such a floor allowed for DeSantis, his strongest rival, to take a larger share of the remaining 65 percent of the vote.

According to those two people present, the DeSantis team pointed out that Florida was a winner take-all-state, with its large share of delegates being solely distributed to whoever finishes first in the primary. Depending on the state’s outcome, there could be a clear primary winner or a contested convention where candidates had to engage in a delegate fight.

They contended that DeSantis’ fundraising strength — a super PAC supporting his candidacy has already boasted raising some $30 million — would ensure that the governor would have the financial wherewithal to remain in the race through the early nomination states and into later delegate-rich contests, such as Florida.

Should DeSantis make it to Florida, it could set the stage for a dramatic showdown with Trump, a fellow resident of the state.

The three-day retreat — which kicked off Wednesday, just hours before DeSantis launched his campaign — is being dubbed by organizers as “Ron-o-Rama.” The event has drawn an array of Republican Party bundlers, who spent much of Thursday reaching out by phone to fellow donors to ask for contributions. It is also being attended by some of the governor’s closest allies, including former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is helping to oversee the pro-DeSantis super PAC.

Attendees on Wednesday huddled together in the hotel to listen to DeSantis’ Twitter event with Musk and David Sacks, a Silicon Valley investor and supporter of the governor. Many of them were spotted in the hallways sporting “DeSantis for President” swag.

The governor made a personal appearance at the retreat on Thursday, hanging out with donors and making calls himself.

DeSantis’ team has tried to deflect attention from the Twitter snafu by highlighting the roughly $1 million in donations they say they received in the hour following his launch. In the days to come, his team hopes to announce a substantial fundraising haul, with some of the money raised from the Miami dialing-for-dollars gathering.

Organizers are using the event to spotlight the governor’s support from former Trump backers. Among the attendees is Hossein Khorram, a major Trump donor who helped to lead the former president’s finance efforts during the 2020 campaign.

Khorram, a Washington State-based real estate developer, said he had dined with DeSantis recently and came away impressed. He said he had made the “difficult” decision to defect to the governor after concluding that he would have an easier path to victory in a general election.

“I’m heartbroken,” he said, “to walk away from President Trump.”

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