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Pro-DeSantis super PAC ramps up hiring into Super Tuesday

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The super PAC promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to have dozens of staff in place in the first 18 states on the Republican presidential primary calendar in the coming weeks, a move indicating that his expected 2024 announcement is drawing closer.

The plans, shared with The Associated Press, are part of the group Never Back Down’s strategy to begin political organizing for DeSantis all the way through Super Tuesday on March 5 and point to a novel approach the super PAC is attempting ahead of a likely DeSantis run.

In Iowa, where the leadoff GOP caucuses are expected to begin the 2024 voting, the group has placed about a half-dozen staff, including the former chief of staff to Gov. Kim Reynolds, as part of a broader strategy to handle on-the-ground organizing for DeSantis, a function typically done by a candidate’s campaign staff.

The concept has been tried in previous election cycles, though less ambitiously and with little success.

Ahead of the 2016 Republican presidential race, a super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush deployed organizing staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Bush, however, struggled to break through as an energizing figure in the crowded field, especially when Donald Trump began his unexpected ascent, and finished a disappointing fourth in both states before dropping out after the South Carolina primary.

The pro-DeSantis group hopes to have better luck. The super PAC spokesperson, Erin Perrine, says the moves put Never Back Down in a “dominant” position in the four early states.

“We are ahead of the game in expanding our operations outside of the first four primary states as the energy behind Governor Ron DeSantis to run for President and defeat Joe Biden in 2024 continues to grow,” Perrine said in a statement.

DeSantis, already considered Trump’s top GOP rival, could announce a 2024 presidential bid as soon as this week, now that the Florida state legislature has wrapped up its session. With Republican supermajorities, DeSantis was able to sign into law a six-week ban on abortion, efforts to shield students from lessons on LGBTQ+ issues, further crackdowns on immigrants in the country illegally, a prohibition on gender-affirming care for minors and allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons.

DeSantis has visited Iowa and other early voting states while promoting his new memoir and his tenure in Florida. He is expected back in Iowa on Saturday to meet influential activists and donors in the northwestern part of the state as the headliner for a picnic fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra. DeSantis is also appearing at a Iowa Republican Party fundraiser that evening in Cedar Rapids.

But DeSantis will have to share the political stage in Iowa on Saturday with Trump, who is scheduled to hold an organizing rally in Des Moines that evening.

The lack of limits on how much money a super PAC can raise from an individual make such groups tantalizing outlets for wealthy donors who want to exert influence. The prohibition from coordinating with a campaign can complicate an outside group’s ability to enhance the candidate’s own message.

Never Back Down has been airing ads since April in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Veteran Republican strategist Jeff Roe, who helped guide Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to winning the 2016 Iowa caucuses, is advising the leading PAC’s organizing effort.

The group said last month that it had raised $30 million.

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Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko in Washington contributed to this report.