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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Tallahassee on March 7, 2023.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Tallahassee on March 7.Phil Sears / AP file

As DeSantis heads to Georgia, his super PAC allies release a poll showing strength there

The pro-DeSantis Never Back Down PAC is ramping up its efforts to promote the Florida governor as a Trump alternative.


With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis set to visit Georgia on Thursday, a super PAC pushing him to run for president has released polling that shows him leading Donald Trump in a one-on-one Republican primary there and tied with the former president atop a larger GOP field.

DeSantis, who has been trailing Trump in national polls, leads 48% to 38% in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup against the former president, according to a polling memo shared exclusively with NBC News by Never Back Down, the pro-DeSantis group.

WPA Intelligence, which surveyed 629 likely GOP primary voters across Georgia, also found DeSantis at 37% and Trump at 36% when the field was expanded to include six other potential Republican hopefuls, all of whom registered in the single digits. 

The poll was conducted by live telephone interviews and text messages on March 28 and 29, and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. It “finds strong support and momentum for Gov. Ron DeSantis should he decide to enter the race for president,” WPA’s Chris Wilson writes in the memo.

The super PAC polling comes as some of the governor’s donors and allies worry about his performance against Trump in national polls, his response to attacks by Trump and his shifting answers to questions about U.S. intervention in Ukraine. A Fox News poll of Republican voters nationwide this week, for example, found Trump opening up a massive lead over DeSantis — 54% to 24% — in a crowded primary field.

DeSantis is not expected to announce his plans until May or June, following the legislative session in Florida. Trump, for his part, continues to treat DeSantis as his biggest obstacle to winning a third straight Republican nomination for president. On Wednesday, he released a group of social media videos in quick succession, each one hammering DeSantis. 

In the WPA polling, DeSantis holds leads over Trump with Georgia Republicans who describe themselves as “somewhat conservative,” “traditional GOP” and “Christian conservative” according to Wilson’s memo. Among the latter group, DeSantis leads Trump 55% to 42% in a two-way race and 48% to 40% in a fuller eight-candidate race.

While the polling memo doesn't identify Trump's strengths, he has typically performed better with more conservative voters.

An emerging battleground in national elections, Georgia has bedeviled Trump in recent years. After losing the state in his 2020 re-election bid, he claimed voter fraud without evidence and  pressured Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — fellow Republicans — to overturn the results in his favor. Trump then failed in his efforts to defeat them in GOP primaries last year after they refused. Meanwhile, a grand jury in Fulton County is investigating Trump’s conduct around the 2020 election there.

After DeSantis and Trump in the larger primary field, WPA’s poll found former Rep. Liz Cheney — the Wyoming Republican who had a prominent role in the House committee that investigated Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — in a distant third place, at 8%.

Cheney was followed by Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of neighboring South Carolina, at 4%, and former Vice President Mike Pence at 3%. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and biopharmaceutical entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy each registered at 1%, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo picked by fewer than 1% of respondents. Another 6% said they were undecided; 3% preferred “someone else.”

Of those GOP prospects, only Trump, Haley and Ramaswamy have officially declared themselves candidates.

The polling arrives as Never Back Down ramps up its efforts to promote DeSantis ahead of his expected clash with Trump and other Republicans in the 2024 campaign. The super PAC has hired Jeff Roe, the architect of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, as a top strategist. Other veterans of Cruz’s campaigns and Roe’s political consulting firm have joined the group, as well, including Wilson, the pollster.

DeSantis, who is traveling the country to promote a recently published political memoir and meet with Republican groups in key states, is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon in Smyrna, Georgia, at Adventure Outdoors, which bills itself online as “The Actual Largest Gun Store in the World.”