Skip to content
Another Ron DeSantis Campaign Reset
Go to my account

Another Ron DeSantis Campaign Reset

Plus: Abortion-rights activists notch another win, this time in Ohio.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to guests at Ashley's BBQ Bash hosted by Rep. Ashley Hinson on August 6, 2023 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday! At least one of your Dispatch Politics writers is addicted to GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley’s #cornwatch updates. We implore you to watch the Iowa senator’s latest.

Up to Speed

  • Former Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that he has qualified for the first Republican presidential debate this month in Milwaukee. He will join fellow qualifying candidates Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in what’s shaping up to be a crowded debate stage. Former President Donald Trump has also qualified for the debate under the Republican National Committee’s donor and polling rules but has not yet committed to attending the event, which will air on Fox News. 
  • Meanwhile, Politico reports that Fox Business will host the second GOP debate, along with Spanish-language network Univision and with Rumble, a right-wing video-hosting site that competes with YouTube. The exact date for next month’s debate has not been set, but it will be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California.
  • White House communications director Ben LaBolt said Tuesday that President Joe Biden will tape an interview with the Weather Channel at the Grand Canyon to discuss “his plan to combat climate change, addressing the threat posed by extreme weather and to promote resilience.” Reporter sit-down interviews with Biden are rare. As New York Times reporter Michael Shear put it back in April: “In the 100 years since Calvin Coolidge took office, only Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan held as few news conferences each year as the current occupant of the Oval Office.”
  • GOP Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi sailed to victory in Tuesday’s Republican gubernatorial primary with roughly 75 percent of the vote, early vote totals show. Reeves will face uncontested Democrat Brandon Presley, cousin of the late singer Elvis Presley, in November’s general election.

DeSantis Reboot Reset ‘Reload’ Catches Staff Off Guard

Campaign staffers for Ron DeSantis were surprised to learn Tuesday morning that Generra Peck, the Florida governor’s loyal campaign manager, was being replaced. 

Not long after learning the news internally, staffers saw The Messenger first report that DeSantis’ chief of staff in the governor’s office, James Uthmeier, would be taking the reins from Peck, who is remaining with the campaign in an advisory role. David Polyansky, a senior adviser at the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, is also joining as deputy campaign manager. The moves were just the latest in what has become a weeks-long reshuffling of the Republican’s presidential campaign that included firing 38 staffers, shifting its media strategy, and scheduling more events for DeSantis to attend.

But what was once seen as a necessary, if late, change for DeSantis as he struggled to challenge frontrunner Donald Trump is now causing Republicans to wonder how many more resets—or “reloads,” as The Messenger reports the campaign is calling this latest move—the candidate can make. It’s also unclear what substantive change Uthmeier, perceived as an ally of Peck, will bring to the DeSantis campaign.

“Not that big a reboot in practice, the players are largely the same,” one Republican strategist in Florida tells The Dispatch. “Generra has been replaced in name … but Uthmeier had been nodding in agreement with her since the start, so there are no real changes in strategy.”

But the suddenness of the announcement, particularly after staff were expressing optimism that they had made it through the layoffs and restructuring last month, underscore a sense that the campaign is stumbling through this current rough patch.

“The hardest part of a moment like this inside a campaign is how it affects morale, among both paid staff and volunteers,” says Kevin Madden, an adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012. “Campaigns require long hours spent on unglamorous tasks. It’s hard to get motivated when there are big changes like this if they’re not communicated well.”

The ongoing drip of changes DeSantis has made has dominated coverage of his campaign in recent weeks, leaving some Republicans scratching their heads about why the changes weren’t made in one fell swoop. 

“Very very bad they didn’t do this three weeks ago, all at once, to eliminate the long term issues. The stories were like four stages of some dire disease, moving through each phase,” says the Florida-based Republican strategist.

Officially, the DeSantis campaign says the change in leadership reflects a consistency of purpose. “James Uthmeier has been one of Governor DeSantis’ top advisors for years and he is needed where it matters most: working hand in hand with Generra Peck and the rest of the team to put the governor in the best possible position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden. David Polyansky will also be a critical addition to the team given his presidential campaign experience in Iowa and work at Never Back Down,” communications director Andrew Romano tells The Dispatch. “We are excited about these additions as we continue to spread the governor’s message across the country.”

And even with this campaign reset, DeSantis has still found himself dogged by distracting questions on the trail. Late last month, for instance, the governor was pressed about the new K-12 social studies curriculum in Florida, which includes instruction for students in sixth through eighth grade on how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” GOP rivals, including Sen. Tim Scott, who is black, took the opportunity to ding DeSantis for his defense of the state’s curriculum.

There may be a silver lining in all the news coverage of DeSantis’ latest personnel changes, says the Republican strategist: “No one is talking about the positive effects slavery had on job skills this morning.”

For Pro-Life Republicans, the Losses Just Keep on Comin’

In what amounts to yet another victory for pro-choice advocacy groups nationwide, Ohio voters on Tuesday flatly rejected Issue 1, a Republican-proposed ballot measure to raise the threshold for amending the state constitution from a simple majority to 60 percent. Current vote totals project the ballot initiative failed 57 to 43 percent, with an impressive 3 million voters turning out to the polls.

That double-digit defeat is a major warning sign for pro-life activists, who had spearheaded last night’s special election in hopes that the initiative’s passage could serve as a defensive hurdle ahead of a separate ballot initiative to codify abortion rights in the Ohio constitution this fall. Last night’s results suggest the abortion pendulum in Ohio is already swinging in abortion-rights activists’ favor ahead of that November 7 vote. 

After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion-rights activists have spent millions on grassroots mobilization efforts and ad campaigns across the country to expand abortion access at the state level. In Wisconsin earlier this year, for example, liberal advocacy groups vastly outspent Republicans in an off-cycle state Supreme Court election on behalf of a pro-choice candidate who won by 11 points and tilted the balance of power in favor of Democrats. And in deep-red Kansas last summer, Democrats handily defeated a Republican-proposed ballot measure to remove abortion rights from the state constitution by an 18-point margin. Similar pro-life constitutional amendments also failed last cycle in Montana and Kentucky.

Pro-choice activists are going on offense in Ohio this fall, securing enough signatures to put abortion-rights related constitutional amendment on the ballot in November amid ongoing court challenges involving a 2019 fetal heartbeat law that restricts most abortions in the state. (That fetal heartbeat bill is currently blocked by a preliminary injunction.) If passed, the proposed abortion-rights amendment would prohibit the state from interfering with an individual’s right to “make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions” before fetal viability.

Here’s today’s Morning Dispatch with a helpful explainer about the lead-up to this effort:

To make these activists’ jobs more challenging, the Republican-led state legislature passed a constitutional amendment of its own—but ironically, it needed to receive majority support when put to a public vote. Proponents framed Issue 1 as a bulwark against special interests bypassing the legislature to pursue their own agenda through ballot initiatives that often garner limited voter turnout. “Under Ohio’s current system, all that’s needed to amend our state’s governing document is to gather petitions to put an amendment on the statewide ballot, fund a dishonest ad campaign, and win a simple majority vote,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose—a Republican who recently announced a bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2024—wrote this week. “The point of Issue 1 is not to prevent citizens from amending their constitution, but to ensure that amendments are rare and reflect a durable statewide consensus.”

LaRose had campaigned heavily on Issue 1, which also sought to require petitioners to collect signatures from all 88 counties, up from 44, and to abolish the current 10-day ballot signature curing period. He and other pro-life activists had characterized Issue 1 as a check on out-of-state special interests.

But behind closed doors even LaRose conceded in the lead-up to last night’s vote that Issue 1 was really a proxy vote about abortion. “This is 100 percent about keeping a radical, pro-abortion amendment out of our constitution,” he told a group of local Republican activists back in May.

Noah Brandt, vice president of communications at the pro-life advocacy group Live Action, viewed Issue 1 as pro-life activists’ best shot of counteracting their political adversaries’ spending capabilities even in red-leaning states like Ohio, which has a Republican governor, state legislature, and went for Donald Trump by eight points in 2020.

“Ballot initiatives are driven so much by money, by advertisements,” says Brandt, who ahead of last night’s vote characterized Issue 1 as a must-needed check on pro-choice spending groups. “It’s a step in the right direction of ensuring that the law can be preserved and respected, and that out-of-state interests can’t just come and spend their way to 50 percent plus one and change the state constitution.”

Pro-choice activists predicted ahead of last night’s vote that voters would see right through this strategy. “Republicans know that they stand against the majority of the voters and their state, they’ll just move the goalposts,” Danni Wang of EMILY’s List, an advocacy group that helps elect pro-choice Democratic women to office, told The Dispatch in a Tuesday afternoon interview.

Last night’s special election presents even more evidence that Republicans ought to be concerned by how abortion plays at the ballot box, especially now that Democrats are all but certain to zero in on abortion messaging up and down the ballot in 2024. 

Meantime, how are pro-life advocacy groups reacting to the news?

“Millions of dollars and liberal dark money flooded Ohio to ensure they have a path to buy their extreme policies in a pro-life state,” the advocacy group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America wrote in a statement Tuesday evening. “So long as the Republicans and their supporters take the ostrich strategy and bury their heads in the sand, they will lose again and again.”

But supporters of the ballot initiative were also largely backed by money from outside of the state. “The coalition supporting the measure, called Protect Our Constitution, is funded almost entirely by billionaire Illinois business owner Richard Uihlein, who contributed $4 million of the campaign’s $4.8 million, according to campaign filings,” reports NBC affiliate WKYC.

Notable and Quotable

“I said two years ago, when we had not one but two impeachments, that once we go down this path it incentivizes the other side to do the same thing. … Impeachment ought to be rare.”

—Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking with the New York Times about potential House GOP impeachment inquiries into Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland, August 8

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.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.