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The challenges that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign has been facing

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been widely considered one of the most viable opponents to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. In many polls, he's been second to the former president, albeit a far second. His campaign has struggled since the very beginning, and it hasn't gotten any smoother in recent weeks. NPR's Ashley Lopez reports.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign famously started kind of rough.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID SACKS: All right. Sorry about that. We've got so many people here that I think we are kind of melting the servers.

LOPEZ: That's from DeSantis' official campaign announcement during a Twitter live event earlier this year. It was, in short, a logistical disaster, and it kind of set the tone. Besides a lackluster debate performance, there have also been reports that his campaign staff has had a lot of turnover. Republican pollster Whit Ayres has worked on a lot of campaigns, and he says some of this comes from running on the national stage for the first time.

WHIT AYRES: Our first presidential candidate was fond of saying that going from a statewide race to a presidential contest was like going from eighth grade basketball to the NBA finals.

LOPEZ: The DeSantis campaign did not respond to multiple requests from NPR for comment. Ayres worked with DeSantis on his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. He says these issues might also stem from the fact that his whole team is new.

AYRES: Ron DeSantis has run five different campaigns - three for Congress, two for governor - and he has had five completely different campaign teams for those five races.

LOPEZ: Ayres says he didn't hire back some top talent from his team in 2018 or staff from his blowout win in 2022.

AYRES: That creates some real trust issues if you've never been through a political war with the people you're working with today, so it's tough. Politics at any level is a team sport, but it's especially a team sport at the presidential level.

LOPEZ: In the past two months, it's been reported that DeSantis replaced his campaign manager and laid off at least 10 staffers. Republican strategist Alex Conant says no successful presidential campaign has that much turnover in such a short period of time.

ALEX CONANT: I think, you know, successful campaigns have a team on Day 1 that has worked together, that has experience in national politics and who has the trust of the candidate.

LOPEZ: Conant, who worked with Senator Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential campaign, says a campaign that hits a reset button two or three or four times in the middle of the summer isn't doing that because things are going well.

CONANT: It's really hard to change the trajectory of a presidential campaign in the middle of a presidential campaign simply because you are constantly taking so much incoming fire. You know, when people smell blood in the water, it just attracts more sharks.

LOPEZ: Things could turn around, though, because there is still a big chunk of the Republican Party open to an alternative to Trump. So Conant says if DeSantis wants to get back to being a serious contender, he's going to have to prove he's a better candidate than his campaign.

Ashley Lopez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ashley Lopez
Ashley Lopez is a political correspondent for NPR based in Austin, Texas. She joined NPR in May 2022. Prior to NPR, Lopez spent more than six years as a health care and politics reporter for KUT, Austin's public radio station. Before that, she was a political reporter for NPR Member stations in Florida and Kentucky. Lopez is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Miami, Florida.