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Ron DeSantis sets $1 million goal for donor events as 2024 campaign nears

The Florida governor is in such high demand that donors are lining up to give him money, allowing him to set a target at the level of a sitting president or vice president.
Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 24.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

It's going to cost a lot to get Ron DeSantis to show up in person to collect political checks: about $1 million.

That's the aggressive goal set to draw the Florida governor and likely 2024 presidential candidate to travel out of his way for fundraising events, according to three Republicans involved in efforts to raise cash for DeSantis during the shadow primary period.

"If they’re going to already be in town, they’ll do it for $500,000," said one GOP operative who attributed the target figures to a longtime financier of DeSantis' political campaigns. "If you want him to go out there independently, it’s about $1 million."

Organizers of a spring fundraising event for DeSantis in a mid-size city have been told to collect $1 million, according to a person familiar with the planning.

The figures may be less consequential than the political truth they represent. DeSantis is in such high demand that donors are lining up to give him money rather than waiting for him to beg for it, allowing him to set a bar at the level of a sitting president or vice president.

"For a nongeneral election candidate and a nonincumbent, those are steep numbers — but not for DeSantis, because I wouldn't be surprised if he had in his first month a couple hundred million already done," said Robert Wolf, who organized fundraising events President Barack Obama.

While DeSantis is capturing the attention of many Republican donors and has clearly established himself in second place in national polls, four recent surveys have shown him trailing former President Donald Trump by as many as 30 percentage points and as few as eight percentage points.

Still, DeSantis, who held a donor retreat last weekend in Palm Beach, has the look of a fundraising juggernaut at this early stage in the process.

DeSantis is in “tall cotton,” said one longtime GOP fundraiser, referencing the governor's success so far. The fundraiser recalled that the goal for Mike Pence, another prospective 2024 candidate, was $500,000 when he was vice president. This fundraiser confirmed the figures and noted that the specific peg for Florida-based DeSantis events is a half-million dollars.

There’s no hard price tag, said a person familiar with DeSantis’ fundraising operation.

"The governor's fundraising activity has generated everything from $10 to $10 million," this person said. "It's demonstrably false to assert that there are required thresholds for the governor's participation."

Longtime political operatives say that such targets are seldom set in stone because it's hard to ensure that everyone who promises to make a contribution actually shows up and writes a check. In practical terms, that means that event organizers try to demonstrate to a politician's aides that they can deliver — usually through their own track records and those of the prospective donors — in order to get on the schedule.

"It's a dance between the finance staff and the event host," said Pia Carusone, a veteran Democratic strategist who has served in senior roles in House and Senate campaigns.

As governor, and as a congressman before that, DeSantis has appeared at fundraising events for far less than a half-million dollars.

His statewide Friends of Ron DeSantis Committee has taken in millions of dollars in recent weeks — including five contributions ranging between $1 million and $2.5 million from individual donors — but it has not been holding fundraising events.

Allies insist that DeSantis is focused on governing Florida, not plotting a presidential campaign.

At the same time, DeSantis is hitting the television circuit and traveling the country to promote his book, which was published Tuesday. A new tax-exempt group popped up last week to sponsor his speeches to police groups in New York and the suburbs of Philadelphia and Chicago. And Republican money-bundlers are trying to organize fundraising events around the country for him.

Brendan Steinhauser, a Texas-based GOP consultant, said it was unusual for a potential presidential candidate to command such high-dollar amounts this early. But he pointed to grassroots movement toward DeSantis as well as polling that has consistently put DeSantis closer within striking distance of Trump than the rest of the field.

"If you're more of a transactional donor, you're kind of looking at it like, 'I want to get in early on somebody I think is going to win,'" Steinhauser said. "That's the most telling thing. They're investing in this guy who they think can win the primary and the general. They think he can beat Trump — in some cases they want him to beat Trump — so they're not hedging."