CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) - Ron DeSantis Has visited each of Iowa's 99 counties. They have the support of the Governor and claim to have the largest get-out-the-vote operation in the state. And he predicts victory in Iowa's Jan. 15 caucuses.
But as Florida's governor works to show strength republican primary and cuts to former President Donald Trump great leadershipDeSantis's elaborate political machine faces new concerns about leadership churn, stagnant polling numbers and potential legal conflicts.
In particular, there has been concern among some within DeSantis's operation in recent weeks that interactions between his campaign and a network of outside groups are blurring the boundaries of what is legally acceptable.
Several people familiar with DeSantis' political network said he and his wife had expressed concerns about the messaging. never back downIn recent months, the largest super PACs supported the governor's campaign, as his Iowa polling numbers remained stable in the late summer and autumn.
The governor and his wife, Casey, who is widely considered his top political adviser, were particularly disappointed when the group removed a television ad last month that featured prominent Republican rival Nikki Haley while she was governor of South Carolina. Allowing a Chinese manufacturer was criticized.
DeSantis' team shared those messaging concerns with Never Back Down's board members, including a Florida-based member with close ties to the governor, according to multiple people briefed on the discussions. Some board members then congratulated the DeSantis team on the super PAC staff that was responsible for executing the strategy, the people said.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.
Federal law prohibits coordination between presidential campaigns and outside groups. There is no known lawsuit or federal complaint alleging that DeSantis' campaign broke the law. And in the super PAC era that began with the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, questionable relationships between campaigns and affiliated outside groups have become common.
Still, Ed Noti, legal director of the Campaign Legal Center, said the alleged communications between DeSantis' team and the super PAC "goes too far." Noti suggested that the communication could lead to an investigation by the Federal Election Commission, which is responsible for it. Enforcing campaign finance laws but has been hampered by internal divisions.
"Actually having a conversation about strategy with agents of the candidate and agents of the super PAC — there's no plausible argument that that's legal," Noti said. “This is not a gray area.”
DeSantis' campaign has strongly denied that the governor tried to influence the network of outside groups supporting him, given federal laws prohibiting coordination. Asked for comment, DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romo called the AP's reporting "more nonsense from unnamed sources with agendas."
Romo said, "While the media continues to be obsessed with attacking DeSantis with anonymous tabloid garbage to support a false story, we are committed to organizing in Iowa and helping the many Americans struggling this holiday season." Focusing on sharing our perspective about the method."
Ken Cuccinelli, founder of Never Back Down, dismissed questions about DeSantis's political operations as unimportant in the overall campaign, saying, "Not a single voter gives a flying rat's tail about personnel stuff."
"We're going to support the governor every step of the way on this matter," Cuccinelli said in an interview at the GOP debate in Alabama last Wednesday. "We're not going anywhere, and I fully expect to be there for the rest of it."
Cuccinelli, the former Virginia Attorney General, also clarified that he was talking about his personal experience when asked directly if he felt any pressure from DeSantis regarding the super PAC's strategy.
“No, not me. No, no, I don't play those games. "I don't play those games," Cuccinelli told The Associated Press. "I've met the governor, and I've met Casey at events, but I haven't had those conversations."
Five Never Back Down Even Senior Executives Have fired or quit Over the past two weeks, that includes two chief executives, the president and the communications director. The group has not publicly explained the departures. At the same time, DeSantis' Florida allies created a new super PAC, Fight Right, which quickly gained the public blessing of the DeSantis campaign.
DeSantis said he was unfamiliar with the Never Back Down ads when asked at an event in Cedar Rapids last week — an event sponsored by the super PAC that has hosted him at campaign stops across the state — how much he thought they were. Good representation.
"I don't know. Honestly, I don't watch them. I don't watch much TV. So, I don't know. I can't really speak to that," DeSantis said, pointing to his own campaign-financed ads. Told the reporters while praising him.
The governor of Florida is relying on super PACs more than any other major presidential candidate in the short history of outside groups, the importance of which increased after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010.
Never Back Down has spent about $43 million on paid advertising so far this year, according to media tracking firm AdImpact. In contrast, DeSantis's formal campaign, which he legally controls, has spent only $4.4 million.
In Iowa alone, Never Back Down has spent more than $16 million on advertising. That's more than any other political entity, campaign or super PAC in Iowa. The group aired several ads in November, some promoting DeSantis and others criticizing Haley.
Never Back Down is responsible for several of DeSantis' campaign efforts to stop and get out the vote.
DeSantis has visited all 99 of Iowa's counties, a traditional gesture some candidates make before the caucuses to demonstrate their commitment to Iowa. According to the group's schedule, Never Back Down hosted DeSantis at events in 92 counties.
Super PACs can accept unlimited donations, while campaigns have strict limits. The bigger problem: Groups like Never Back Down can't legally coordinate with formal campaigns to spend that money. And a candidate is barred from controlling a super PAC.
But as is the case with most candidate-focused super PACs in 2024, those who lead the outside groups are usually close to the candidate. Many of Never Back Down's original top staffers and executives, including most of those who left this month, did not have longstanding relationships with DeSantis. Late last week, Phil Cox, who managed DeSantis' 2022 re-election bid, was named senior adviser to the super PAC.
DeSantis on Friday praised Never Back Down, which boasts 26 paid staffers in Iowa and says it has collected written commitments from more than 30,000 Iowa Republicans for DeSantis' caucuses next month. This is a significant figure for a competition which had a record number of participants of 186,000 in 2016.
The Iowa caucuses traditionally reward well-organized campaigns. DeSantis' aides hope the months-long effort will help him overcome expectations that polls show Trump will prevail on Jan. 15.
"I think the idea was that they would really be able to focus on this organization," which covers all 99 counties, DeSantis said Friday on Iowa PBS's "Iowa Press." “So I think it was wise that they did that.”
Many voters who gathered last weekend to watch DeSantis in a crowded bar on Iowa's border with Nebraska said they were not aware of the apparent upset. And those who were said not to be particularly concerned.
“This happens with every campaign. it's early. "There's going to be a shakeup of people," said Sally Madsen, 57, of Council Bluffs.
Madsen, who previously supported Trump, has already decided to form a caucus for DeSantis. She said Trump lost their support in the final year of his presidency for how he handled the COVID-19 pandemic and his failure to help those he saw as the January 6 rioters. Declared "innocent", many of whom have been convicted and some sent to prison. ,
"He didn't do anything for them," Madsen said of Trump. “I don't know whether he'll be able to attract good people to work for him at this point.”
Associated Press writer Margery A. in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Beck and Bill Barrow in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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