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Ron DeSantis allies press for a campaign shake-up

There’s particular scrutiny around campaign manager Generra Peck and whether she’ll hang on to her position.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been struggling to close the gap with former President Donald Trump.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The long knives are out for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign manager amid a cash crunch and flagging poll numbers. 

Generra Peck, DeSantis’ top aide, is “hanging by a thread,” said a DeSantis donor who is close to the campaign.

Some allies communicated themselves or through proxies that they want DeSantis to fire Peck or “layer” her — a less public demotion in which she would have to report to a new boss — according to two more DeSantis allies familiar with discussions around the campaign’s struggles.

“It is the chatter among donors, and it extends beyond the first rung of the bundler class. Money people are losing confidence quickly,” a DeSantis money-bundler said. “It’s time for that kind of change. It’s time for a shake-up at the top.” 

The idea that DeSantis needs a shake-up is widely held among Republicans, according to conversations NBC News had with roughly a dozen strategists and donors, both affiliated with the campaign and not. 

But a DeSantis-aligned Republican directly familiar with the governor and his wife’s thinking predicted that Peck will stick around — at least for now. 

“Governor DeSantis and Casey very much support her. I wouldn’t say it’s never going to happen, but right now her job is safe,” the DeSantis ally said. 

Campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo responded to a request for comment about Peck’s status and DeSantis’ level of confidence in her by criticizing the media.

“The media has tried to destroy Ron DeSantis’ campaign since day one because they are scared to death he will beat Joe Biden,” Romeo wrote. “The governor has never cowed to false media narratives and he isn’t about to start now. We won’t be deterred and are going to win the nomination.”

Peck did not respond to a request for comment. Romeo declined to make her available to comment.

Over the weekend, DeSantis dismissed roughly a dozen lower-level aides, and two top advisers — Dave Abrams and Tucker Obenshain — left the campaign last week to work for an outside group supporting his bid.

At the same time, Phil Cox, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association and a longtime adviser to DeSantis, returned to the inner circle this month.

Peck, who guided DeSantis’ successful run for a second term as governor last year, has no experience as a presidential campaign manager and has overseen a widely criticized launch that has led some donors to pause giving money to the operation and its sister super PAC, Never Back Down. 

The bundler said some people raising money for DeSantis are in a “holding pattern” in planning events — one of which has already been delayed — so they can assess whether DeSantis is capable of reversing his fortunes. But it is also because recruiting attendees has been a problem, the bundler added. 

Another donor, however, disputed that, citing a recent successful swing through the Midwest. 

“Time for a change. You get one shot at a reboot, and now is the time,” said a separate DeSantis donor, who spoke of believing it was time for Peck to go. 

The person said one reboot is fine, while two is a “death spiral.”

On Saturday, the campaign disclosed second-quarter fundraising numbers that put its solvency in question. While DeSantis raised a field-leading $20.1 million in the second quarter of the year — during just six weeks as a candidate through June 30 — nearly 70% of his money came from maxed-out donors who cannot give again. DeSantis had also spent about 40% of his cash.

He also has struggled to expand his fundraising footprint across the country. At least one-third of his cash — $6.8 million — came from his home state, according to an NBC News analysis of DeSantis’ filing with the Federal Election Commission. 

When campaign officials reviewed spending, they found what a source described as excesses, among them the number of people sometimes accompanying the DeSantises on trips.

This source, who has knowledge of the inner workings of the campaign, suggested that part of the overall problem, including stagnation in polling numbers, was inexperience at the top of the campaign. 

“There’s not enough gray hair in the room,” the source said. “They finally figured that out.”

DeSantis’ stumbles could open up an opportunity for the rest of the field. So far, none of the other candidates has been able to consolidate enough support to challenge him for the second-place position he has held throughout the campaign.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, however, has been getting a second look from some DeSantis supporters, as the campaign itself acknowledged in a confidential memo. He has started to inch into third place in every Iowa survey in FiveThirtyEight’s polling database for the last month. 

One question DeSantis will have to sort out if he makes a change is whether it makes more sense to fire Peck or demote her. 

“Some are making the argument he wants that headline, like when Trump started over,” a DeSantis-aligned Republican consultant said.

DeSantis has begun to adjust in recent days as Republicans who want a nominee other than former President Donald Trump fret about his shaky start. In addition to staff changes, DeSantis is opening up to more interviews with media outlets that his campaign had shunned for most of the year. On Tuesday afternoon, he appeared on CNN.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, who holds a wide lead over DeSantis, mocked the governor’s effort to move his campaign in a better direction.

“The real story here is that the DeSantis campaign doesn’t know how to turn things around with their current candidate,” Miller said in a statement sent to reporters.

Bob Grand, a donor who helped organize a DeSantis event in Indianapolis last week during a Midwestern campaign swing, threw skepticism on sources who would not be named and said he would go on the record with a very different point of view. 

“He was very well received. People are enthusiastic. They sent me notes afterward saying they were impressed,” Grand said. “It’s a month and a half in — if he’s struggling so much, why does the Trump campaign attack him every day? Why is he doing that if he’s doing so miserably? People are reacting positively to him.”