Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the welcome segment of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida on February 26, 2021.
Joe Skipper | Reuters
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is planning a private fundraiser in Utah later this month that is expected to attract some of the country’s wealthiest Republican donors as he signals a possible run for president in 2024.
According to people familiar with the matter, DeSantis will travel to Utah for the private meeting the week of July 18. Many asked not to be named because the campaign is trying to keep the private event from getting too much publicity.
Though DeSantis is coming to Utah to raise money for his 2022 gubernatorial re-election campaign, fundraisers in far-flung states like Utah, which is more than 2,000 miles from his home state, often hint at national aspirations.
The state is known as a GOP stronghold; Voters in Utah have elected a Republican president in each of the last six elections. Former President Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by 20 percentage points in the state in 2020.
Utah Republican Party leader Carson Jorgensen said the state party is not co-hosting the event but will likely send someone to what is expected to include breakfast and lunch with DeSantis. He pointed out that the event was privately hosted and closed to the press.
“We just want to see more events across the state that support great candidates across the country,” Jorgensen said in a text message. He did not confirm a date for the gathering or who will be hosting DeSantis.
DeSantis spokeswoman Lindsey Curnutte declined to confirm details, saying the campaign “does not discuss private fundraisers with members of the press.”
DeSantis hasn’t declared his candidacy for president, but he hasn’t ruled it out either. In a recent interview on Fox News, he hasn’t dismissed the idea of running for president — even if it meant he had to bat first Trump in the Republican primary.
“Nice try, man,” DeSantis replied coyly in an interview with Fox News last month, declining to answer when asked if he’d get into a primary fight with Trump if he ran for the White House.
A person who helped organize the fundraiser this month said many donors from across the country have been invited and will be attending the Utah gathering, but they are trying to keep Trump from taking notice. Invitations were sent verbally instead of email to limit any paper trail, this person said. Donors have been told meetings with DeSantis in Utah are expected to begin in the early morning of July 19.
The other reason DeSantis is keeping the event under the radar, this person added, is to not look like he’s preparing to take on Trump in the 2024 Republican primary and provoke the former president’s wrath.
A poll conducted by Emerson College last month shows Trump as the clear favorite over all other possible contenders for the 2024 Republican nomination. The poll found he would have 55% of the voters’ support if he were to run for the Republican nomination, with DeSantis ranked a distant second with 20%.
DeSantis has become a fan favorite for most GOP mega-donors. Many of them helped him raise more than $100 million for his 2022 Florida re-election and sought alternatives to become their 2024 Republican presidential nominee. Axios reported that an outside group is collecting over 1 million names of DeSantis supporters in case Florida’s governor runs for president.
In a recent interview on Newsmax, Trump said he gets along with DeSantis and didn’t rule out Florida governor being his running mate should the former president run for the White House again in 2024. Trump has not ruled out running for president again after losing to Biden two years ago.
While Trump won Utah in 2020, DeSantis has allies in that state and had previously traveled there as governor.
DeSantis addressed the American Legislative Exchange Council in Utah last year. His comments included mocking the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which encouraged those vaccinated by Covid-19 to wear a mask in states where the coronavirus was spreading.
According to Florida state records, the DeSantis re-election campaign raised more than $25,000 from donors in Utah during the 2022 election cycle. Friends of Ron DeSantis, the political action committee supporting DeSantis, has raised over $430,000 from donors within the state.
Nomi Health is one of the supporters of DeSantis in Utah. The healthcare company donated $100,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC last year after reportedly receiving nearly $50 million in unsolicited Covid-related work from the governor’s office, according to campaign funding records.
Since then, another $50,000 has come from Nomi Health in June.
Nomi Health CEO Mark Newman and the company did not respond when asked if they would attend or co-host the DeSantis meeting in Utah.