Skip to content

DeSantis Competing With Trump For Top GOP Donors As The Florida Governor Trails In The Polls

GOP donors are looking for an alternative to Trump As DeSantis dines with the widow of Sheldon Adelson.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may be trailing former President Donald Trump in opinion polls, but he appears to be striking a chord with people who put millions of dollars into election campaigns.

During his recent visit to Israel last week, DeSantis dined with late billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s widow Miriam Adelson, Trump’s top financial backer in 2020, Axios reported, citing sources.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives remarks at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on April 21, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland. During his remarks DeSantis spoke on policy and social issues his administration has taken on in the state of Florida including education in schools, funding law enforcement, and gun legislation. ANNA MONEYMAKER/BENZINGA

The governor visited Israel as part of a four-nation tour in a bid to boost his foreign policy credentials. The dinner held at the Museum of Tolerance was hosted by Denver-based business executive Larry Mizel, who founded the museum. DeSantis was the guest of honor at the dinner, which was attended by Israeli President Isaac Herzog and GOP donor Lee Samson, the report noted.

The Florida governor’s speech at the dinner focused on the U.S.-Israel relationship but steered clear of discussing his political plans or potential presidential bid.

President Joe Biden’s relationship with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has deteriorated due to his disagree with Israel’s change in judicial law. Biden is not planning to invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House. 

Adelson reportedly told several Republican candidates last year that she would stay neutral during the 2024 election. The Adelsons previously backed DeSantis during the 2018 gubernatorial elections, contributing at least $500,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC.

“You’re seeing (some Trump donors) be more public about that transition of support and I just think it speaks to the continued slow but gradual shift away from the former president towards Ron,” said Stephen Lawson, who was a political strategist for DeSantis in 2018 gubernatorial election..

Mizel, who hosted the dinner, has been one of the biggest donors to Trump and Republican groups in Colorado, according to Axios. Samson, meanwhile, held a fundraiser for Trump in 2019 at his Beverly Hills home, the publication added.

DeSantis is expected to launch an exploratory committee after he signs a Florida legislation bill that would allow the Florida governor to run for federal office without resigning from his position. The Florida law currently does not permit the governor seeking a run for the White House while in office.

The Florida governor’s political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, had received over 1,000 donations nearing $900,000 since the November election. 

As of December, the committee has more than $60 million in hand.

A few donors who contributed to DeSantis’ PAC have traditionally been backers for former President Donald Trump, who is currently in the race and leading the polls including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of New York hedger manager Robert Mercer and the founder of Parler, has traditionally donated to Trump. Trish Duggan, top donor to Scientology and a Pinellas County resident, had also backed Trump and had given $500,000 to DeSantis’ re-election campaign. 

“If you look at where the money is coming from, it’s indicative of Gov. DeSantis being seen by national donors as the de facto frontrunner for president,” said Slater Bayliss, a Florida Republican lobbyist who’s supporting DeSantis.

Other donors have included, Robert Bigelow, Kenneth Griffin, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Walter Buckley Jr., and David MacNeil, all who have donated $17.35 million combined to his political action committee.

Produced in association with Benzinga

“What’s the latest with Florida Man?”

Get news, handpicked just for you, in your box.

Check out our free email newsletters

Recommended from our partners