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2 Republicans on DeSantis' N.H. endorsement list say they still back Trump

The Florida governor rolled out a list of more than 50 endorsements from New Hampshire GOP state legislators ahead of his expected presidential bid.
 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Manchester, N.H., on April 14, 2023.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is summoning his top donors to a meeting in Miami on May 24 and 25 in conjunction with the expected launch of his presidential campaign.Scott Eisen / Getty Images file

In late April, Juliet Harvey-Bolia, a Republican New Hampshire state representative, was one of dozens of elected officials whose endorsements former President Donald Trump announced at a packed rally in Manchester.

On Tuesday, officials at Never Back Down, the super PAC backing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said Harvey-Bolia is throwing her support to their guy. She is one of four New Hampshire legislators — the others are Reps. Brian Cole, Lisa Smart and Debra DiSimone — whom Never Back Down identified as flipping from Trump to DeSantis as it rolled out endorsements from 51 lawmakers in the state who signed a pledge to back DeSantis.

But that’s not how Harvey-Bolia sees it.

“I’m endorsing both,” she said in a telephone interview. “DeSantis has a lot of promise for the future, and Trump is great now.”

Smart, one of the other three legislators, said Tuesday that she remains with Trump — dropping DeSantis' total to 50 state lawmakers.

"I was so incredibly proud to join many of my colleagues in endorsing President Donald J. Trump last month and my support for him has not changed," Smart said in a statement provided to NBC News by the Trump campaign. "I'm dismayed by the games being played by Never Back Down and I will NOT be participating in any activities with Ron DeSantis."

The unusual dual endorsement and Smart's reiteration of her support for Trump added intriguing twists to DeSantis' efforts to show momentum as he nears making his bid official. Last week, his super PAC revealed endorsements from 37 Iowa legislators just before he launched a three-city tour of the state.

And NBC News confirmed Tuesday that he has summoned his top donors to meetings in Miami on May 25 in conjunction with his expected campaign launch.

DeSantis’ team expects more than 100 donors and other supporters to attend a briefing with him and his senior team, said a person familiar with the plans.

But the drama surrounding Harvey-Bolia and Smart also points to an intense behind-the-scenes battle for endorsements — and the immense pressure on lawmakers to avoid making an enemy in the eventual nominee — as Trump and DeSantis jockey for position. The two other New Hampshire Republicans who endorsed Trump in April and DeSantis on Tuesday didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Smart did not reply to NBC News' request for comment Monday on her apparent backing for DeSantis, or phone and text messages sent Tuesday about her decision to restate her support for Trump. But Never Back Down shared her pledge to support DeSantis, which was signed on May 9.

Still, DeSantis’ allies say there’s excitement for him in the early-voting states and those that hold primaries later on next year’s calendar. Iowa and New Hampshire are of outsize importance in the Republican nominating fight because their caucuses and primary are the first two contests.

“I think you get a sense from what you saw in Iowa over the weekend that those legislative endorsements are indicative of what we’re seeing and feeling on the ground,” said a Never Back Down strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss political machinations. “And I think what you’re seeing and feeling on the ground in New Hampshire is going to be very similar.”

DeSantis, whose poll numbers have flatlined in recent months, has an uphill battle to supplant Trump, the two-time GOP nominee, as the party’s standard-bearer. In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Trump stands at 55% and DeSantis at 21%. Public surveys of Iowa caucus-goers and New Hampshire voters show Trump in the lead in each state.

DeSantis allies say the endorsements in Iowa and New Hampshire are just the beginning of their effort to close the gap and win the nomination.

“This is about building a movement,” the Never Back Down strategist said. “This is about building an organization to win. And so this is just one step in the process. It’s not the end game.”