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Donors still sticking with DeSantis despite campaign struggles

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(WASHINGTON) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign has gone through several internal and external challenges, but many of his donors say they are standing beside the “only candidate who can beat [former President Donald] Trump.”

Over the past month, DeSantis’ campaign has dealt with many struggles: a recent campaign manager change, cuts to more than one-third of the campaign staff, financial troubles and dips in the polls.

On top of that, DeSantis’ donor base is facing tumult. GOP billionaire Thomas Peterffy, for instance, paused his financial backing of the governor in April due to his stances on social issues.

But despite the challenges, some of the governor’s most ardent donors are continuing to supporting him, saying he is still the best person for the presidency. ABC News spoke with many prominent donors to learn why they are sticking with DeSantis.

Polls

Greg Cook, founder of doTerra, a marketing company that sells essential oils, told ABC News in an interview that he isn’t “the least bit concerned” about how DeSantis is polling nationally and in the early nominated states.

“It is early and Gov. DeSantis is proving to be the only conservative alternative to former President Donald Trump,” Cook said. “Republican voters will quickly understand like I have, that Gov. DeSantis can accomplish far more with two full remaining terms.”

Cook has supported the governor for a while, donating to his 2022 reelection campaign as Florida governor and most recently donating $6,600 to his presidential campaign and $50,000 to the DeSantis-aligned super PAC, Never Back Down.

Dan Eberhart, a DeSantis donor and CEO of Canary — a Denver, Colorado-based drilling-services company, has donated nearly $10,000 to the campaign, and shares the same sentiments as Cook: that he believes DeSantis is the best candidate to take on Trump.

“The national polls don’t matter at this point,” Eberhart said. “DeSantis is the only candidate who can beat Trump. No one else is close in the polling.”

Cash flow

Cook said he isn’t concerned about the DeSantis campaign’s spending — specifically that the campaign burned through nearly $8 million in the first six weeks of his campaign, according to financial filings.

“Every candidacy is a start-up venture. Now is the time to make adjustments where necessary. The campaign team owned up to strategically trying a number of different approaches and have made some changes based on the data. The team is becoming more focused and efficient on what will give Gov. DeSantis the best opportunity to introduce himself to the early nominating states and the nation,” he said.

DeSantis’ campaign spending was more of a concern for Eberhart, but he said they are working to limit overspending. In the past month, DeSantis let go more than one-third of his staff to address spending concerns.

“There’s no perfect formula, but DeSantis is working to get it right,” Eberhart said. “I’m still supporting and still think he wins.”

Beating Trump

Hal Lambert, a GOP megadonor and CEO of investment-management firm Point Bridge Capital, is a former Trump backer who is now supporting DeSantis for president. Lambert pushed back against “the narrative that the donors are pulling away from the [governor].”

“Many donors, they follow politics … but they’re susceptible just like the general public to watching these polls and you have poll after poll after poll now coming out showing DeSantis isn’t gaining ground against Trump,” Lambert said.

It’s tough to trust the polls this early, Lambert said, adding that no matter what the polls say, he thinks DeSantis is the best candidate to defeat Trump.

“He is the only candidate that can beat Trump in the primary and if Trump is the nominee, we will lose the general election in a landslide,” Lambert said.

Although Trump continues his strong lead in the GOP primary, DeSantis is second, trailing the president 52.7% to 14%, according to FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average.

Retail politics

Another criticism DeSantis has received since hitting the campaign trail is not being able to do retail politics — intimate events in rural towns. But for some donors, that is not crucial.

A Florida-based donor, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told ABC News that it’s not important to him if the governor does not get better at retail politics, saying that DeSantis’ record speaks for itself.

“Even if he doesn’t [improve at retail politics], that shouldn’t disqualify [him]. I mean, I want my president to be pleasant, don’t get me wrong. But mostly, what I want in the president are the things that Ron displayed during COVID and I don’t believe any of that was calculated. I believe it was just leadership,” the donor said.

Another high-dollar donor to the DeSantis-aligned super PAC, Never Back Down, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ABC News that he looks for the best person he believes can deliver on the economy, and for him that is DeSantis.

“I think this is a very well-educated man… He’s does an exceptionally good job with Florida. He can do an exceptionally good job for the country and I think for the world,” said the donor, who identified himself as “politically agnostic.” “I think his will is strong. I think economically, he’ll help the country.”

While that anonymous Florida donor supported DeSantis’ leadership in Florida, he has drawn criticism for many decisions under his tenure including the state’s new controversial educational guidelines concerning Black history, the insurance crisis in the state and a ban on teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in some K-12 classrooms.

When asked for a comment, DeSantis’ campaign communication director, Andrew Romeo, thanked donors who have backed the campaign.

“Our campaign is grateful for the tens of thousands of grassroots supporters — and major donors — who have made it possible for us to build an unmatched organization in the early nominating states with the ability to compete for the long haul,” Romeo said.

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