The clock is about to begin ticking down on Ron DeSantis’ presidential announcement.
On Monday, the Florida governor’s political operation is set to move into its new base of operations, which will trigger disclosure requirements with federal officials.
The DeSantis political operation is currently housed in downtown Tallahassee, but staffers are set to make a short move to a new downtown location that will serve as a more official campaign home, according to a source familiar with the campaign’s plans, as well as another person knowledgeable about the move.
That move will require the not-yet-filed campaign to spend more than $5,000 and, under Federal Election Commission guidelines, when someone running for federal office spends more than $5,000, they are required to register, file financial reports and designate a principal campaign committee.
Functionally, the office move will require DeSantis to file paperwork with federal election officials within 15 days, thus acknowledging publicly for the first time that he is running for president.
“The DeSantis team has been housed at the Florida GOP building since the re-elect,” said a veteran Republican consultant. “They are gearing up to move out soon. In moving, they would be spending funds and [it] most likely would force them to file a ‘Form 1‘ with the FEC, which would force an announcement sooner rather than later.”
“This move kicks off the countdown,” according to a source close to DeSantis’ political operation. “Hard to see how you turn back after that.”
A DeSantis spokesperson declined to comment.
The move and the forthcoming filing represent the most concrete steps of what has long been a behind-the-scenes effort to slowly build up a DeSantis political operation that, in his first years in office, has been notoriously small.
A DeSantis-aligned super PAC called Never Back Down has raised tens of millions of dollars and served as the attack dog against former President Trump, whose regular swipes against DeSantis have so far largely been ignored by the governor. The organization is also airing pro-DeSantis TV ads and building out staff in key states across the country to have presidential-level infrastructure in place for a formal launch. DeSantis advisers told NBC News in April that they were plotting out a long-haul delegate strategy that would involve a lengthy battle with Trump.
DeSantis and his wife, Casey, have also started to hold dinners with small groups of donors in the Florida governor’s mansion to try and build out an already substantial fundraising base. According to a source familiar with the operation, DeSantis has hosted eight dinners over the last two weeks. Each one has had between 15 and 20 of the “biggest and the best” donors from around the country.
“The people that were at these dinners were very carefully selected major raisers,” the source said.
The source, who attended one of the dinners, said that prior to the meal the guests had the opportunity to attend a briefing with the senior staff, who answered questions and addressed any concerns from the donors. The person added that, in their experience, this kind of transparency from staff members with donors was unprecedented.
Among those who attended the donor dinners were Scott Wagner, a Miami attorney and longtime DeSantis supporter who served as a co-chair of the governor’s 2022 transition team, and Texas businessman and major Republican fundraiser Roy Bailey, who served as the national finance co-chair of Trump’s campaigns.
Bailey told NBC News he came away “chomping at the bit” and hoping DeSantis runs.
DeSantis told those in attendance he would not always hit back at Trump’s attacks, but when he does it will be on “policy,” according to another source.
DeSantis also discussed his plans for going after the bureaucracy in Washington, including the idea of canceling the plan for new headquarters for the FBI, which is looking to move out of his deteriorating building in downtown Washington, D.C. He floated moving more federal agencies out of Washington in order to make civil servants quit — something that Trump did as well as president.
DeSantis additionally leaned into the idea he could have two terms in the White House to push conservative change, rather than just the one Trump would be constitutionally eligible for.
“One of his arguments to us in the room is look, ‘I understand the machinery of government and if I have eight years I can make a profound conservative impact on this,’” the attendee said. “Like, Trump doesn’t understand how to use the state or … what he’s fighting against and how to beat it.”
DeSantis raised the highest amount of money of any governor in U.S. history during his 2022 re-election and is already set to have more outside money behind him than any other presidential primary candidate ever.
In recent weeks, however, some big money donors have expressed concern about DeSantis’ potential candidacy with Trump’s quick rise in the polls and seeming continued stranglehold over the Republican base. Most recently, Bloomberg reported that billionaire Steve Schwarzman, chief executive of private equity firm Blackstone Group, is holding off on giving to DeSantis after meeting with him in Tallahassee.
Trump’s status as the GOP front-runner was amplified Wednesday night during a CNN’s town hall event at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. Trump’s performance, though replete with lies and mistruths, put on full display the man who took over and remade the Republican Party.
Trump also brushed back at DeSantis during the event.
“I think he ought to just relax and take it easy and think about the future, because right now his future is not looking good,” Trump said.
Never Back Down, the pro-DeSantis super PAC, shot back.
“On the same day Ron DeSantis was assailing Joe Biden’s border crisis, Donald Trump was on CNN attacking DeSantis and lying about finishing the border wall,” Erin Perrine, the group’s communications director, said in a statement. “The CNN town hall was, as expected, over an hour of nonsense that proved Trump is stuck in the past.”
When asked about the formidable challenge posed by Trump, Bailey — the former Trump-turned-DeSantis backer — told NBC News: “Trump has a base as solid as the rock of Gibraltar, but that rock is just one rock. You also have the rest of the party. DeSantis hasn’t even put on his cleats yet to run the race.”