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Desantis Overhauls His Campaign Team for 2024 Presidential Bid

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis overhauls campaign team for 2024 presidential bid, appointing James Uthmeier as new manager amid financial troubles. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)
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Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis is reshuffling his campaign team as the Florida governor seeks to reinvigorate his stagnant presidential campaign.

The Florida governor is appointing James Uthmeier, his chief of staff from his state office, as his campaign manager, succeeding Generra Peck, who spearheaded DeSantis’ reelection campaign last year before assuming the same role in his presidential bid.

Staff Restructuring

Peck will remain as a strategist.

The changes occur after DeSantis made two big staff cuts in the past few weeks, laying off about a third of his staff in late July as the campaign faced financial trouble.

“James Uthmeier has been one of Governor DeSantis’ top advisers for years, and he is needed where it matters most: working hand in hand with Generra Peck and the rest of the team to put the governor in the best possible position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden,” campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said in a statement.

Controversies and Appointments

Politico in October obtained text messages that showed Uthmeier was involved in Florida’s program to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last year.

NBC News reported in June that while Uthmeier remained in DeSantis’ government office, he was also working as a political fundraiser for the governor’s presidential campaign. The arrangement was unusual, and government watchdog groups said it raised ethical questions.

Before he worked for DeSantis, Uthmeier worked in the Trump administration for U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. His work on the efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census later became part of a congressional committee investigation.

Uthmeier will be on a leave of absence from the governor’s office. Florida’s Secretary of Commerce Alex Kelly will serve as acting chief of staff and work with senior adviser David Dewhirst, office spokesman Jeremy Redfern said.

New Additions to the Team

DeSantis is also hiring an operative who was working on a super PAC that had been supporting his campaign. David Polyansky, who had been advising Never Back Down, will join the campaign as a deputy campaign manager.

Romeo said Polyansky will be a critical addition to the team given his previous experience working in early voting Iowa, which has become a proving ground for the DeSantis campaign.

Polyansky worked on the presidential campaigns of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016 and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2012. In Iowa, he helped Joni Ernst win election to the U.S. Senate in 2014 and helped Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee win in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses in 2008.

Polyansky was traveling with DeSantis in Iowa to events sponsored by Never Back Down on Saturday. He also attended an event where DeSantis spoke on behalf of Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird on Saturday, as part of Never Back Down’s organizing presence apart from DeSantis’ official campaign.

Super PAC Influence

Campaigns have often relied on supplementary support from super PACs, which can receive unlimited sums from donors but are barred under federal rules from donating to candidates or coordinating with campaigns on how their money is spent. But Never Back Down’s work has been especially expansive, especially as DeSantis’ campaign has faced a cash crunch. The super PAC has been working to line up caucus supporters for DeSantis and hosting him as a “special guest” on a bus tour across Iowa — work that campaigns have typically taken on themselves.

Polyansky is listed as the chief strategy officer for Axiom Strategies, a political consulting firm whose founder, Jeff Roe, and other staffers are all working at Never Back Down.

Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer who has advised Republicans and Democrats, said it’s not unusual for a consulting firm to have employees advising both a super PAC and a campaign, but such a person typically takes a leave of absence or signs a document establishing a firewall against restricted coordination.

The DeSantis campaign did not respond to a message about whether Polyansky is staying at his firm or signing a firewall agreement.

The federal election rules barring coordination between a super PAC and a campaign do not prevent general communications but restrict things like coordinating where to run television ads or send people to knock on doors, Kappel said.

“It’s much narrower than people think it is,” he said. “And aside from that, it’s virtually never enforced.”

The staff shakeup was first reported by The Messenger on Tuesday.

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