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Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is sharply cutting the size of his presidential campaign staff, reducing by more than one-third a payroll that had swelled to more than 90 people in his first two months as a candidate, according to four people with knowledge of the decision.
The DeSantis campaign has now made two rounds of cutbacks in the past week, and has eliminated the jobs of 38 aides this month, a figure that is nearly the size of former President Donald J. Trump’s entire 2024 campaign staff. Politico first reported on the latest reduction.
Mr. DeSantis has struggled to gain traction in his early months as a candidate, losing ground to Mr. Trump in the polls as allies and donors have raised questions about the long-term strength of his candidacy.
Those worries came to a head after the first public glimpse of his campaign’s finances this month. It showed that Mr. DeSantis’s payroll was roughly double the size of Mr. Trump’s and that he was burning through 40 percent of the $20 million he had raised from April through June. Mr. DeSantis’s heavy use of private planes and his decision to rent luxury venues for some fund-raising events, including a Utah donor retreat last weekend, drew added scrutiny.
Mr. DeSantis entered July with just $9 million to spend on the primary race from his initial haul. A significant portion came from donors who gave the maximum amount possible, meaning they cannot contribute again.
The cutbacks are seen internally as a recognition not just that spending must be reined in but also that fund-raising is expected to be harder in the coming months. Many bigger donors are now spooked by Mr. DeSantis’s sliding poll numbers and may be less inclined to risk getting on the wrong side of Mr. Trump than they were a few months ago, when Mr. DeSantis looked more competitive.
One DeSantis donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid, said that he expected the next quarter of fund-raising to be an extremely tough slog and that donor interest in Mr. DeSantis has dried up considerably.
In a statement, Mr. DeSantis’s campaign manager, Generra Peck, said the changes followed “a top-to-bottom review of our organization.”
“We have taken additional, aggressive steps to streamline operations and put Ron DeSantis in the strongest position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden,” she said.
There have been some shifts inside the leadership of the campaign, which is based in Tallahassee: Ethan Eilon, who had served as digital director, is now deputy campaign manager. Carl Sceusa, who had overseen the campaign’s technology, is now the chief financial officer.
On Tuesday, Mr. DeSantis was on a three-stop fund-raising swing through Tennessee when his four-car motorcade had a pileup after traffic suddenly slowed. One campaign aide was lightly injured, but the governor was unharmed.
On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis is set to return to Iowa for two days of events and his first bus trip in the state. But in a cost-cutting move, his campaign is not putting together the tour. His main super PAC is doing so instead, inviting Mr. DeSantis as a “special guest.”
The payroll reduction came on the heels of a donor retreat in Park City, Utah, where Mr. DeSantis convened about 70 top supporters. They enjoyed s’mores on the deck and cocktails as campaign officials and super PAC advisers made presentations about the state of the race.
Two people at the donor event said that despite the fact that the alarming campaign filing had dominated coverage of Mr. DeSantis heading into the weekend, there was very little talk of it by campaign officials in formal sessions. Instead, they focused on the notion that they were steadying the ship, making adjustments and trying to find ways to help Mr. DeSantis spread his message.
Mr. DeSantis himself held one interactive session with donors, who tossed out suggested zingers for next month’s debate. Among the Republicans who were seen at the retreat was Phil Cox, who was a top adviser on Mr. DeSantis’s 2022 campaign and had initially been in line for a top role on his 2024 super PAC. Instead, Mr. Cox is helping the campaign itself with fund-raising and some informal support.
Nick Iarossi, a lobbyist in Tallahassee and DeSantis supporter who attended the retreat, said the weekend had gone well.
“Campaign manager Generra Peck and the team assured the donors of a new insurgency campaign style,” Mr. Iarossi said before the latest round of cutbacks was announced. “It’s going to be a lean, efficient and tactical campaign moving forward that’s going to focus on return on investment. They are going to cut things quickly that aren’t producing results.”
In Utah, Ms. Peck’s leadership was a focus of some of the donors in private conversations among themselves, according to people familiar with the discussions. But the weekend ended with Ms. Peck, who has made herself indispensable to both Mr. DeSantis and his wife, Casey, still in charge.
Posted on 25 Jul 2023 21:29 link