Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has become the national face of opposition to COVID-19 mandates — a status that is attracting support from major GOP donors as he eyes a potential 2024 presidential bid.
Wealthy donors are "flocking" to DeSantis, who's generally considered the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination if former president Donald Trump opts not to run, based at least partly on his high-profile anti-mask, anti-lockdown policies, according to a new report from NBC News.
"Campaign finance records covering the first seven months of this year showed that prominent contributors, including many beyond Florida, are investing in his 2022 re-election campaign — which could further solidify his prospects," NBC News reported Wednesday. "Writing a check now is a low-risk way to get into DeSantis' circle early, an investment if he runs for president and wins the nomination. Unlike the potential presidential candidates who serve in Congress and can accept only relatively small donations, DeSantis is allowed to get unlimited checks from donors under Florida law."
Those who've contributed to DeSantis include Ken Griffin, the GOP megadonor and billionaire founder of the hedge fund Citadel, who donated $5 million, the governor's largest contribution this year. Griffin's support for DeSantis recently made news when it was revealed that Citadel is an investor in Regeneron, which makes a monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 that DeSantis has been touting heavily.
"DeSantis also raked in $500,000 in May from WeatherTech founder David MacNeil, $250,000 in March from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and $250,000 in February from former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who moved to Florida after he lost re-election. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, an ambassador in the Trump administration, also donated," NBC News reported.
Rauner's donation also made headlines, after the Miami Herald revealed that his wealthy gated community had early access to Covid vaccines.
Recent polls have suggested that DeSantis' handling of the pandemic — most notably his effort to bar school districts from enacting mask mandates — may be hurting him in his home state, which is experiencing a record COVID-19 wave.
While DeSantis "risks overplaying his hand as the anti-mandate standard-bearer," according to NBC News, "others have suggested that a bigger risk for the governor's national ambitions would be Covid-19's falling out of the news altogether."
"I think the longer that Covid politics play out, the better for him," a Republican aide said. "No one really knows anything about the rest of his policies or anything else."