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Major GOP donor’s commitment to DeSantis murkier than thought

Nearly six months ago, big Republican donor and hedge fund executive Kenneth Griffin appeared poised to be a strong financial backer of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential bid.

Mr. Griffin, who has given $5 million to Mr. DeSantis’ re-election effort, told Politico that while Mr. DeSantis is not yet a White House candidate, “his record as governor of Florida has been outstanding, and our country’s It would be nice to have him as president.”

Mr. Griffin has been hiding his cards these days, and his intentions are harder to discern. A person familiar with his thinking noted that Mr. DeSantis has not formally entered the race, saying that Mr. Griffin is still assessing the unfolding Republican primary.

The financier and DeSantis met in Florida over the past two weeks, when Griffin took issue with some of DeSantis’ policy moves and statements in private conversations, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mr. Griffin, in particular, was deeply impressed by Mr. DeSantis’ statement that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a “territorial dispute” – a statement he later sought to clarify – and that the war was not a vital U.S. interest, the two said. feel uneasy.

Griffin, who has made it clear he wants to take over the job from former President Donald J. Trump, is also interested in DeSantis’ recent six-term signing from Florida, according to a person familiar with the matter. Zhou’s abortion ban was disturbed. Think, who insists on discussing private conversations anonymously. Last year, Mr. Griffin moved his hedge fund, Citadel, from Chicago to Miami because of concerns about crime.

The meeting between the governor and Mr. Griffin was largely one-on-one, without staff, and it was one of the few direct interactions they had, a person familiar with the matter said. For some people close to Griffin, it was difficult to decipher Mr. Griffin’s intentions after the meeting.

The financier could still make a donation to DeSantis once he officially becomes a candidate, which could happen as early as next month, one person predicted. But Mr. Griffin may also donate to other candidates who appear to be able to defeat Mr. Trump, the person said.

In a statement, Mr. Griffin’s spokesman, Zia Ahmed, cited Mr. DeSantis’ “many accomplishments,” citing job creation, “increasing quality school choices,” and numbers and prioritizing the safety of our communities.”

He continued, “Ken may not agree with all of the Governor’s policies, but he appreciates everything the Governor has done to make Florida one of the best states in America to live and work in.”

But Ahmed declined to say what Griffin thinks about the presidential race. A spokesman for DeSantis declined to comment.

Mr. Griffin’s actions have come under scrutiny after news broke that he was displeased with Mr. DeSantis’ behavior earlier this year.

DeSantis supporters say there remains broad appetite among donor circles and potential voters for a viable Republican replacement for Trump.

“The money has gone,” said Roy Bailey, a Dallas businessman and longtime Republican fundraiser for Mr. Trump. “Based on the conversations I’ve had with a lot of people across the country, it’s been transferred to DeSantis. It’s a cold hard truth.”

Mr. Bailey disputed the notion that momentum has shifted away from Mr. DeSantis recently.

During the first two weeks of May, Mr. DeSantis will host a series of small events at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee with major donors and supporters from around the country, according to two people with knowledge of DeSantis’ plans. dinner party.

If Mr. DeSantis enters the presidential race as expected, he will have a well-funded super PAC Never Back Down, which this month said it raised $30 million in its first weeks of fundraising.

Two-thirds of that, or $20 million, came from a single donor, Nevada hotel tycoon Robert Bigelow, Time magazine reported.

In private conversations, associates of Mr. DeSantis said they committed $100 million to the super PAC, and about $82 million from the Florida state commission, funds that could be diverted to Never Back Down.

Still, some donors who had hoped Mr. DeSantis would stop Mr. Trump have cooled their enthusiasm.

Thomas Peterffy, a prominent conservative donor, also cited Florida’s abortion laws to explain why he is not supporting Mr. DeSantis for now. Mr. Peterffy, who has supported Mr. DeSantis on his state campaign, was at Mr. DeSantis’ home early in his first term as governor, according to a person familiar with the matter. received him. But Mr Peterffy told the Financial Times this month that he, like some friends, was holding out.

Some donors have also raised concerns about Mr. DeSantis’ pre-election tactics. When his allies made it clear this year that he wouldn’t be running before the end of Florida’s legislative session, DeSantis effectively gave Trump three months to define him — and mock him — before becoming candidate.

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