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Ron DeSantis Endorsements Keep Coming
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Ron DeSantis Endorsements Keep Coming

The increase in support for the GOP contender doesn’t match polls showing a campaign in decline.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on October 5, 2023, in Tampa, Florida, with Florida sheriffs after receiving endorsements from 60 bipartisan Florida law enforcement officers. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Something curious is happening with Ron DeSantis’ supposedly flailing presidential campaign: The Florida governor keeps accruing prominent endorsements and growing his coalition of conservative activists.

Since Labor Day, as DeSantis watched his support in the Republican primary dwindle, public backing for his 2024 bid has piled up, from both prominent officials and organizations.

On Wednesday, the DeSantis campaign unveiled its national coalition of military veterans. That followed Monday’s announcement from Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis’ campaign, that 26 county sheriffs across Iowa had endorsed the governor. That announcement was preceded on October 5 by endorsements from 60 county sheriffs in Florida. And that announcement was preceded on October 4 with Never Back Down unveiling a coalition of Iowa farmers for DeSantis, claiming more than 100 members statewide and listing, by name, 17 coalition leaders. 

Additionally:

  • October 3: The DeSantis campaign publicized a 13-member grassroots leadership team in Washington state.
  • September 28: The DeSantis campaign announced that membership in the governor’s “faith and family coalition,” unveiled 14 days prior, surpasses “over 100 pastors, faith leaders, and pro-life advocates from across the country, including over 55 in Iowa.”
  • September 21: Never Back Down announced DeSantis endorsements from “nearly 70” grassroots conservatives in Nevada.
  • September 20: Never Back Down announced endorsements for DeSantis from a coalition of South Carolina “faith leaders.”
  • September 14: Terry Lathan, a former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, joined the DeSantis campaign as leader of its effort to win the state’s primary. 
  • September 12: The DeSantis campaign announced a team of grassroots leaders in Maine.
  • September 6: Never Back Down announced a coalition of Iowa parents concerned about public school curriculum. The reveal came 24 hours after a similar coalition was announced in South Carolina. 

Fresh additions to DeSantis’ coalition belie the image of an embattled candidate whose campaign is on the verge of collapse. But his campaign’s decline in the polls is undeniable.

When DeSantis launched his campaign in late May, he was running second to frontrunner Donald Trump and had enough support to be considered the putative consensus alternative to the former president among Republican voters. The bevy of prominent endorsements he was receiving then was consistent with a candidate on the rise. 

DeSantis’ poll numbers have since tumbled. On September 5, DeSantis was garnering 14.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls gauging whom Republicans want leading their ticket next year against President Joe Biden. That number has slipped to 13.1 percent as of Thursday. Support for the governor has also dropped in Iowa, from 18.3 percent to 17.3 percent, and in New Hampshire, from 11.7 percent to 10.4 percent. 

And Trump? His numbers have climbed even higher.

The former president now leads DeSantis by more than 45 percentage points nationally and more than 30 points in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Trump leads DeSantis by just under 30 points. But the governor has additional problems in the Granite State. Since the first Republican presidential debate in late August, Nikki Haley has climbed ahead of DeSantis there, taking firm control of second place, although well behind Trump. 

Yet rather than support for DeSantis drying up, the endorsements keep rolling in—more so, for example, than for Haley, a candidate who has lately demonstrated more traction than the governor.

That many of DeSantis’ string of endorsements are materializing in Iowa, host of the January 15 caucuses—the first contest on the GOP primary calendar—isn’t insignificant. Republican operatives in the Hawkeye State active on behalf of the governor tell The Dispatch they are not surprised, saying the response to him they see on the ground runs counter to the doom-and-gloom narrative surrounding his campaign. Some unaffiliated Republican strategists say there is a more nuanced explanation.

“The Iowa caucus is disproportionately composed of ancestral Republicans, and those are exactly the kinds of voters more likely to be shopping for an alternative to Trump,” said Brad Todd, a GOP consultant in Washington. “DeSantis isn’t gaining those endorsements because of who he is or what his campaign is doing, but because of who he is not.”

Some Republican insiders believe all of this is an indication that, despite appearances, Trump does not have Iowa, nor the rest of the primary, quite sewn up. DeSantis supporters are especially heartened. 

But skeptics abound. Some Republican operatives credit the personal connections and grassroots activism of the DeSantis campaign and Never Back Down’s staffs for the ongoing stream of endorsements. Never Back Down is strong organizationally, and the DeSantis campaign and the super PAC are staffed by GOP operatives who have years of experience in Iowa politics. They have deep relationships with prominent GOP activists and elected officials in the state.

“The fact that Gov. DeSantis continues getting endorsements despite no clear path to the nomination demonstrates that there is a fraction of the party seeking an alternative to the former president,” said a GOP operative in Iowa who is neutral in the caucuses and requested anonymity to speak candidly. “The operatives can show organizational strength. But only the candidate can win it.”

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.