Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis began cutting campaign staff just months into his presidential bid as he struggled to gain traction in the Republican primary and lost ground in some public polls to former President Donald J. Trump.
The exact number of people left by the DeSantis team was unclear, but one campaign aide said it was less than 10. The development was previously reported by Politics.
The layoffs are an ominous sign for the campaign. It also underscores the challenges Mr. DeSantis faces with his fundraising and his spending at a time when some major donors who have expressed interest in him have become concerned about his performance.
An assistant, Andrew Romeo, described the circumstances of the campaign in an optimistic tone.
“Americans are rallying behind Ron DeSantis and his plan to reverse Joe Biden’s failures and restore sanity to our nation, and his momentum will only continue as voters see more of him in person, especially in Iowa,” he said in a statement. “Defeating Joe Biden and the $72 million behind him will require a nimble and candidate-driven campaign, and we’re building a movement to go the distance.”
The race is still in its early days, and past campaigns have changed in the months before voting begins. Former Senator John McCain blew up his campaign in the summer of 2007 before winning the Republican nomination. Mr. Trump went through three iterations in his successful bid, although none came during the primary races. Several top DeSantis fundraisers said the Florida governor is in it for the long haul, with a focus on the upcoming debates and contests that begin in January.
But Mr. DeSantis’ shuffling comes unusually early. And the fundraising numbers – presented Saturday – show a campaign that will have to make several adjustments, including travel schedule and staff size, if it plans to make up for lost momentum that began to fade months before Mr. DeSantis formally entered the. race
Mr. DeSantis’ struggles seem to be not only with the numbers, but also with the message of the campaign. Late last week, two of DeSantis’ top advisers, Dave Abrams and Tucker Obenshain, were announced as leaving to join an outside group supporting Mr. DeSantis.
Mr. DeSantis’ campaign finance disclosure with the Federal Election Commission shows he raised about $20 million but spent nearly $8 million, a so-called burn rate that leaves him with just $12 million in cash. Only about $9 million of that cash can be spent in the primary, with the rest counting toward the general election if he is the candidate.
The filing indicated a surprisingly large staff for a campaign so early in a candidacy, especially for one with a great PAC that has shown how much of a load it is prepared to handle. More than $1 million in expenses were listed as “salary” and payroll.
Mr. DeSantis’ major expenses included $1.3 million earmarked for travel, including private jet charter services. The campaign also spent more than $800,000 each on digital fundraising consulting, media placement and postage. The campaign also paid nearly $1 million to WinRed, the online donation processing company.
Recent Republican primary races have been littered with examples of candidates with an early bust followed by significant struggles. Scott Walker, who was the governor of Wisconsin, left the presidential race in September 2015 when he accumulated debt. Jeb Bush, one of Mr. DeSantis’ predecessors as governor of Florida and perhaps the biggest donor draw in the 2016 campaign, began spending a salary amid struggles as well, though much later in the race.
Still, Mr. DeSantis’ allies note that he is further ahead in polls in Iowa than Mr. Bush was in the fall of 2015 and that he has a more natural constituency in Iowa than other contenders. The caucuses will be held on January 15, 2024, and it is the state where candidates aiming to unseat Mr. Trump must do well.
Rachel Shorey contributed reporting.