Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to enter the 2024 GOP presidential race next week, two Republicans familiar with the matter told CNN, initiating his much-anticipated bid to wrestle the future of the party from former President Donald Trump.
DeSantis will file paperwork declaring his candidacy next week with the Federal Election Commission, one Republican said, with a formal announcement expected the following week in his Florida hometown of Dunedin. DeSantis is likely to soft-launch the campaign as early as Wednesday to coincide with the filing of the paperwork, according to a Republican consultant close to the governor’s political team.
However, another source cautioned that the planning remains a moving target, and DeSantis is known to surprise even his closest allies and advisers with last-minute changes. DeSantis, who often boasts that he runs an operation free of leaks, may be further motivated to throw out the script to vex the media outlets who have preempted his announcement, the source said.
“With him, it’s always a possibility,” the source added.
But the machinery for a launch is already in motion as dozens of his top fundraisers and donors have been summoned to South Florida under the assumption they will be asked to begin building up a war chest for a DeSantis presidential campaign. By officially submitting his paperwork, his supporters can begin soliciting donations on his behalf.
About 100 hotel rooms have been reserved at the Four Seasons in Miami, which will host receptions for donors, briefings with DeSantis’ political team and sessions where attendees will dial for dollars, according to two sources familiar with the details. The goal is for each fundraiser to bring in between $100,000 and $150,000.
A spokesman for DeSantis’ political operation did not respond to a request for comment.
An announcement around the Memorial Day weekend is on the earlier side of the timeline that the governor’s political operation had targeted six months ago when it eyed a launch after Florida’s legislative session. This suggests DeSantis is responding to donors and supporters anxious to see him get in the race and more directly challenge Trump. Polling shows the former president remains firmly in the lead while DeSantis has lost some momentum during the belabored rollout of his expected campaign, which has included a book release and tour, a dozen appearances at local GOP fundraisers, an international trip, the creation of a super PAC, a donor retreat near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and a blitz through conservative media.
Along the way, DeSantis has stumbled at times, drawing poor reviews for his oscillating takes on the Russia-Ukraine war, prolonging his clash with Disney into a second year and getting caught flat-footed as Trump unveiled endorsements from Florida Republicans in Congress just before the governor visited Washington to build support.
However, DeSantis’ allies believe the trajectory of the race will change significantly once he is officially a candidate and responds to Trump’s broadsides and more vigorously shares his vision for the country.
According to The New York Times, DeSantis told donors and supporters during a call Thursday that there were only three credible candidates in the race – himself, President Joe Biden and Trump – and that only he and Biden had a chance of winning the general election.
DeSantis said on the call, which was organized by Never Back Down, a super PAC closely aligned with the governor, that data from swing states was “not great for the former president and probably insurmountable because people aren’t going to change their view of him,” the Times reported.
DeSantis has spent the last couple of weeks tying up loose ends – rapidly signing dozens of bills that have reached his desk, meeting with donors in Tallahassee and South Florida, and shoring up endorsements to boost his launch. He spent Saturday in Iowa, where he appeared to one-up Trump, making an unannounced visit to a BBQ joint in Des Moines – minutes from where the former president had canceled a rally due to threat of weather. While in the state, DeSantis laid the framework for his case against Trump.
“If we make 2024 a referendum on Joe Biden and his failures and we provide a positive alternative for the future of this country, Republicans will win across the board,” DeSantis told Iowa caucus voters in Sioux Center. “If we do not do that, if we get distracted, if we focus on the election in the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again, and I think it will be very difficult to recover from that defeat.”
On Friday, DeSantis will travel to another early nominating state, New Hampshire, to meet with state lawmakers – many of whom endorsed him earlier this week – for a policy round table, according to three sources familiar with the planning.
Never Back Down has in recent weeks rolled out dozens of key endorsements for the governor in Iowa and New Hampshire. On Wednesday, the super PAC also announced endorsements from 99 Florida lawmakers – a show of force from the rank-and-file Republicans who helped push DeSantis’ agenda through the state legislature this spring.
“Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida legislature have worked together to achieve historic results and produce conservative victories for the people of Florida – turning the state into a beacon of freedom and the fastest growing state in the nation,” Never Back Down spokeswoman Erin Perrine said.
Trump’s campaign dismissed the Florida endorsements as politically motivated, noting that DeSantis had not yet signed the state budget, for which he has line-item veto power over the pet projects of state lawmakers.
“There are some brave legislators who have stood up to DeSantis’ Swamp-like behavior and resisted his intimidation tactics in order to do what is right for Florida and the country,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said. “Those who he can’t control – including almost the entirety of the Florida federal congressional delegation – have endorsed President Trump because he’s the only candidate who can beat Joe Biden and take back the White House.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this report.