© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a rally ahead of the midterm elections, in Hialeah, Florida, U.S., November 7, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello
By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will host an event for top donors and social-media influencers this weekend, the latest in a flurry of moves that suggest he’s ramping up to battle former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination.
About 150 guests are expected to attend the three-day event at the Four Seasons resort in Palm Beach, Florida, including wealthy Republican donors and conservative social-media influencers whom DeSantis’ camp has courted in recent months ahead of a widely expected presidential run, according to a source who asked not to be identified in order to share details.
The gathering will come on the heels of a fundraiser that Trump, who has already announced another White House bid, is expected to attend on Thursday at his Mar-a-Lago home in the same island town.
The Republican race to take on Democratic President Joe Biden next year has gotten off to a largely quiet start. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley joined Trump in the Republican field this month, but several other prospective candidates have yet to jump in.
Public opinion polls show DeSantis as the strongest threat to Trump for the nomination, though he continues to be cagey about whether he will challenge the former president.
DeSantis is not expected to make any overt statements about a presidential campaign at his Palm Beach event. The source with knowledge about the gathering downplayed its significance, saying it will be similar to past policy forums DeSantis has convened.
While he is unlikely to formally enter the presidential race until the session ends in early May, DeSantis has been accelerating efforts to build his national profile before then.
Earlier this week, he traveled to New York, Chicago and Philadelphia to speak to law enforcement groups on criminal justice matters. He also will headline Republican fundraisers in Alabama, California and Texas early next month.
DeSantis this week waded into foreign affairs by criticizing Biden’s Ukraine policies, saying on the Fox News Channel that Russia does not pose a threat to Europe and that Biden should be focusing more on China.
For the most part, DeSantis has resisted in engaging in a flame war with Trump, although holding his retreat a stone’s throw from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate likely won’t go unnoticed by the former president.
The fundraiser at Trump’s home on Thursday will be held by a new super PAC, MAGA Inc., set up late last year to support Trump’s political activities.
Trump has increased his attacks on his potential rival. He recently posted a series of slams on his social media account, suggesting, among other things, that DeSantis can’t take credit for Florida’s economic health – likely to be a key tenet of DeSantis’ sales pitch to voters.
In remarks at an event in West Palm Beach on Monday, Trump labeled DeSantis his “enemy.”
“I always say hit your enemy a little early,” Trump said. “Some people say don’t. But I say do.”