Pro-DeSantis super PAC hires alumni from Trump, Youngkin, Cruz campaigns

Author: Aaron Navarro and Fin Gómez/ CBS
Published: Updated:
FILE – Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit on July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

A super PAC backing a 2024 run for Gov. Ron DeSantis has hired several Republican operatives who have worked on campaigns for former President Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

The “Never Back Down” PAC, led by former Trump-era Department of Homeland Security senior official Ken Cuccinelli, is expected to be the main outside group backing a potential 2024 DeSantis run, according to two people familiar with the governor’s planning.

The PAC will be able to accept donations of unlimited value and could receive transfers from DeSantis’ state political committee, “Friends of Ron DeSantis.” That committee has $82.4 million cash on hand as of March 1, according to the latest filing with Florida’s Division of Elections.

According to two GOP operatives with direct knowledge of the hires, the PAC has brought on Phil Cox, a senior adviser to DeSantis’ 2022 reelection campaign, as senior adviser to the group.

Kristin Davison, a top political adviser to Youngkin, will be its chief operating officer. David Polyansky, an adviser to Cruz’s 2016 campaign and his Senate chief of staff, will serve as a senior adviser to the PAC. Polyansky was also the senior adviser to former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s 2016 campaign and for the 2014 campaign of Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. Republican pollster Chris Wilson of WPA Intelligence will oversee the group’s data operations.

Former senior communications aides for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, Erin Perrine and Matt Wolking, were also hired by the PAC. Jeff Roe, a seasoned Republican operative who was the campaign manager for Cruz’s 2016 campaign, will be a senior adviser to the PAC.

“Winning back the White House will take a leader unlike any this nation has seen, and that leader is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Never Back Down is the movement to get him there, and the team we’ve assembled is strong, with a depth of political experience to make history. 2024 is not 2016– it’s a new day in the Republican Party,” said Chris Jankowski, the executive director of the PAC.

Davison and Roe ran Youngkin’s successful 2021 campaign in Virginia and are expected to continue advising him. Youngkin has not shown any clear signs on whether he will or will not run for president in 2024, but over the next few months, he is expected to ramp up his fundraising and campaign for Virginia state Republicans in their November elections.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has hired Trevor Naglieri to serve as New Hampshire state director, a GOP operative familiar with the move confirmed to CBS News. Naglieri previously worked on the 2016 presidential campaigns of both former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz.

Politico first reported the move.

DeSantis has not declared a run for president but has upcoming visits planned for New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, all early presidential primary states, as part of his book tour and speaking engagements. He was in Iowa to promote his book and “Freedom Blueprint” earlier this month and is expected to travel to Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and the Washington D.C. area for events in the coming weeks.

Should he decide to run for president, it is expected he will get into the race in the late spring or early summer after his state’s legislative session ends in early May.

Justin Sayfie, a veteran GOP lobbyist who was former senior adviser to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and has served in three different Republican presidential administrations, including the Trump administration, said the super PAC’s hires are a “signal DeSantis’ campaign infrastructure being put in place to fight the battle.”

“It’s notable that some of the members of the team have experienced being in a GOP presidential primary with Trump in it,” Sayfie said, referencing Polyansky’s and Roe’s experience with the Cruz 2016 campaign, which was successful in winning the Iowa caucus and won some crucial victories in the primaries but eventually fell short to Trump in winning the GOP nomination.

He added that $80 million potentially being transferred to the super PAC could discourage donors for “those non-Trump, non-DeSantis” campaigns.

“If you’re being solicited by one of the other presidential campaigns to help be a fundraiser, to raise money, and you see that Ron DeSantis is transferring 80 million into his super PAC, you’re gonna ask yourself, how long is it gonna take candidate X to raise $80 million dollars?” Sayfie said.

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