Nearly six months ago, Kenneth Griffin, the Republican mega-donor and hedge fund manager, seemed poised to become a powerful backer of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his anticipated run for president.
Mr. Griffin had given $5 million to Mr. DeSantis’ re-election effort, and he told Politico that while Mr. DeSantis was not yet a White House candidate, “he has an amazing record as governor of Florida, and our country would do well.” served by him as president.”
These days, Mr. Griffin keeps his cards closer to the vest and his intentions are harder to discern. One person familiar with his mindset, noting that Mr. DeSantis had not yet made his run official, said Mr. Griffin was still evaluating the Republican primary race as it unfolded.
The financier and Mr. DeSantis have been meeting in Florida for the past two weeks, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting, which occurred as Mr. Griffin addressed some of Mr. DeSantis’ policy changes and statements in private conversations. In particular, the two people said, Mr. Griffin was deeply disturbed by Mr. DeSantis’ statements that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a “territorial dispute” – a comment he later tried to clarify – and that the war was not vital interest of the US.
Mr. Griffin, who has made it clear that he wants to leave former President Donald J. Trump, was also disturbed by a six-week Florida abortion ban that Mr. DeSantis recently signed, according to those familiar with Mr. Griffin’s thinking, who insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations. Last year, Mr. Griffin moved his hedge fund, Citadel, from Chicago to Miami, citing crime concerns.
The meeting between the governor and Mr. Griffin was largely one-on-one, with no staff members, one of the people briefed said, and it was one of their few direct interactions. Reading Mr. Griffin’s intentions after the meeting was difficult for some people close to him.
One person predicted that the funder would probably still donate to Mr. DeSantis once he officially submitted his candidacy, which could happen as early as next month. But the person said Mr. Griffin might also give money to other candidates who seemed capable of beating Mr. Trump.
In a statement, Zia Ahmed, a spokesman for Mr Griffin, ticked off Mr DeSantis’ “many accomplishments” and cited job creation, “increasing the number of quality school options 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 most attractive states to live and work in in America.”
But Mr Ahmed declined to comment on what Mr Griffin thought about the presidential race. A spokesperson for Mr. DeSantis declined to comment.
What Mr. Griffin does is under close scrutiny, after his dissatisfaction was spread over how Mr. DeSantis had behaved earlier this year.
Mr. DeSantis’ supporters say there is still a widespread hunger — in the donor community and among potential voters — for a viable Republican alternative to Mr. Trump.
“The money has come in,” said Roy Bailey, a Dallas businessman and longtime Republican fundraiser for Mr. Trump. “From my conversations with a lot of people across the country, it moved to DeSantis. It’s a cold, hard fact.”
Mr. Bailey challenged the idea that momentum had recently shifted away from Mr. DeSantis.
In the first two weeks of May, Mr. DeSantis will host a series of small dinners with major donors and supporters from around the country at the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, according to two people familiar with his plans.
If Mr. DeSantis enters the presidential race as expected, he’ll be armed with a well-funded super-PAC, Never Back Down, which this month said it had raised $30 million in its first few weeks of fundraising.
Two-thirds of that money, $20 million, came from a single donor, Nevada hotel magnate Robert Bigelow, Time magazine reported.
In private conversations, Mr. DeSantis’ associates have indicated they have $100 million in pledges to the super PAC, along with about $82 million in a Florida commission that will likely be turned over to Never Back Down.
Still, some donors who had hoped Mr. DeSantis could stop Mr. Trump have cooled their enthusiasm.
Thomas Peterffy, a prominent conservative donor, also cited Florida’s abortion law to explain why he did not support Mr. DeSantis for now. Mr. Peterffy had supported Mr. DeSantis in his state campaigns, and according to a person familiar with the event, he hosted Mr. DeSantis at his home early in his first term as governor. But Mr Peterffy told The Financial Times this month that he was sitting still, as were some friends.
Some donors have also expressed concern about Mr. DeSantis’ pre-campaign strategy. When his allies made it clear this year that he would not be in the race for the end of Florida’s legislative session, Mr. DeSantis essentially gave Mr. Trump three months to define him — and taunt him — before running for office .