Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political operation has started calling Republican members of the Florida congressional delegation to consolidate support after four members publicly backed Donald Trump in his 2024 presidential bid.
Sources with four of the six members contacted by DeSantis' team shared the outreach with NBC News; each requested anonymity to confirm the calls.
As Trump continues to lead in the polls for the GOP presidential nomination, DeSantis is trying to stop defections in his own backyard ahead of his expected run. DeSantis has no endorsements from the 20 Republicans in the state congressional delegation.
The efforts started after Trump picked up the backing of Rep. Byron Donalds, who has been a DeSantis ally. The three earlier endorsements were from Reps. Anna Paulina Luna, Matt Gaetz and Cory Mills, who are vocal Trump boosters and whose support wasn't surprising.
Since Donalds came out for Trump, DeSantis' team has called at least six members of Florida’s congressional delegation, asking that they hold off on making any endorsements in the near future. They are: Reps. Aaron Bean, Vern Buchanan, Kat Cammack, Mario Diaz-Balart, Laurel Lee and Greg Steube.
Ryan Tyson, a longtime GOP pollster and mainstay in DeSantis’ political orbit, has led the effort. Tyson has initiated the calls, reaching out to schedule later calls between the members of Congress and DeSantis himself.
“There is clearly some angst from the DeSantis camp that so many members of the state’s congressional delegation are throwing their support behind Trump,” said a GOP consultant for one of the members contacted by DeSantis’ team. “Gaetz going with Trump is one thing, but Byron’s endorsement of the former president undoubtedly rattled some cages.”
Trump vs. DeSantis: GOP political rivalry heating upMarch 23, 202301:46
DeSantis' political team did not reply to a request for comment.
There was a general concern among the members about being stuck in the middle of what’s expected to be a bruising 2024 primary battle between Trump and DeSantis, who is expected to announce his bid for the White House in May or June.
“They’re both great Republicans, and we’ll see what develops down the road,” said Max Goodman, a Buchanan adviser.
A Cammack adviser said she has not yet decided on an endorsement or when that will come.
“She not only has great relationships with all of the leading candidates but plans to continue to speak with all of them at some point about endorsements during the process,” the person said. “Once she’s in, she will be all in for her candidate.”
A top adviser to another Florida congressional Republican contacted by DeSantis’ team said, “Calls have been made.”
Donalds' endorsement was seen as more significant than previous congressional endorsements for a handful of reasons. DeSantis’ administration poured billions of dollars into southwest Florida, which Donalds represents, after Hurricane Ian, which hit the region in September and was the most expensive storm in state history. DeSantis has also been a supporter of an effort led by Donalds’ wife, Erika, to elect conservative members to local school boards.
Last year, DeSantis endorsed several of her candidates in school board races, which governors generally have not gotten involved in. He also appointed her to the board of trustees for Florida Gulf Coast University in March 2022.
On election night in November, Donalds himself introduced DeSantis at the victory night party in Tampa. He notably referred to DeSantis as “America’s governor.”
Donalds said in an interview Wednesday that he was supporting Trump because the country needed someone "ready for prime time" and that he thought Trump was that person. It echoed his statement last week backing Trump.
“There is only one leader at this time in our nation’s history who can seize the moment and deliver what we need,” Donalds said in his statement at the time. “That is why I’m honored to endorse Present Donald J. Trump for President in 2024, and I ask my fellow Americans to join me.”
DeSantis won re-election in the 2022 midterms by nearly 20 percentage points, helped along by a state Legislature with Republican majorities.
In recent months, however, DeSantis has faced new political headwinds as Trump has gone on the attack against him. He has also suffered some self-inflicted wounds, including having to walk back his comments calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute” and stumbling over how to respond to Trump’s legal woes.
The wave of Florida congressional endorsements for Trump comes as he faces a 34-count indictment from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. The charges have given him a surge of momentum with Republican primary voters, many of whom see Bragg’s work as political.
CORRECTION (April 13, 2023, 9 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the jurisdiction of the 34-count indictment against Trump. It is a New York state indictment, not a federal one.