Never Back Down, the Super PAC behemoth backing Ron DeSantis, is scaling back its ambitions for later-state operations and drilling down in the early voting states, the group confirmed to Semafor.
The Super PAC originally launched a massive field operation spanning 18 states and had prepared to spend around $100 million. Field operations have since been suspended in Texas, North Carolina, Nevada, and California, Semafor confirmed. NBC News first reported the change.
The move, which was implemented shortly after the first Republican debate in August, was described to Semafor by one source with direct knowledge of the situation as a strategy shift. The Super PAC noted that they plan to hold an additional training class in Iowa next week as they seek to focus more on the early state. They also plan to double down in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
“[It’s] mainly sort of focusing your firepower and knocking something out that you know for a fact that you need to get,” the person with knowledge of the situation said, adding that they expect some of these states will be revisited down the line. “No matter what, unless you are Trump, every single person who wants to be president has to win Iowa and New Hampshire, at the very least.”
Erin Perrine, the communications director at the PAC, told Semafor that the lack of a “fair process” surrounding the Nevada and California Republican races was a factor in pulling out of those states. She called the situation in Nevada, where the state GOP is in a fight to prevent a state-run primary instead of a caucus, “unstable,” and in California, where the party approved a plan that changes how delegates are allotted, a “Trump-inspired rigging.”
“The first three [states] are going to set the conditions for the March states,” Perrine added.
Team DeSantis clearly sees an opportunity in Iowa in particular: The campaign has touted internal polling in the state showing the Florida governor almost tied in a two-way matchup with Trump since the debate, albeit still a distant second in the overall race.
But DeSantis also faces plenty of competition: Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio says their surveys have Nikki Haley moving up in Iowa after the debate, while Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C. who has deep pockets and has run ads centered on his faith, has gained some traction in recent weeks.
Still, there’s precedent for a trailing candidate downsizing operations and choosing to focus on critical early states instead: John McCain won the nomination in 2008 after a major reset centered on New Hampshire.
Room for Disagreement
There’s a risk that donors will see the pivot away from later states as more confirmation of the campaign’s money problems and early strategic missteps. It also raises the stakes for the early contests: If DeSantis does not perform well in Iowa — or even fails to look competitive in the months leading up to the contest — it could be hard to maintain his campaign.