A spokesman for a super PAC backing Ron DeSantis acknowledged that the Florida governor and GOP presidential candidate is “way behind” in national polling and is “fighting uphill” to defeat former President Donald Trump in the 2024 primary.
“Right now, in national polling, we are way behind. I’ll be the first to admit that,” Steve Cortes, an ex-Trump adviser who is now a national spokesman for the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC, said during a Twitter Spaces event on Sunday. “I believe in being really blunt and really honest. It’s an uphill battle.”
DeSantis has been trailing Trump in polling for months, but Cortes’ admission was a moment of surprising candor from a top DeSantis operative. The former Trump ally said he remained optimistic about the Florida governor’s prospects, however.
“I don’t think it’s an unwinnable battle by any stretch,” Cortes said.
According to the latest CNN polling, 47% of Republicans and Republican-leaning registered voters said Trump is their first choice for the nomination, with support for DeSantis at 26%.
Cortes said the indictments against the former president, which DeSantis has condemned as political “weaponization,” have given Trump a comfortable lead.
“In the first four states – which matter tremendously – polls are a lot tighter. We’re clearly still down. We’re down in double digits. We have work to do. We have wood to chop,” Cortes said.
The group Never Back Down did not take steps to distance itself from Cortes’ remarks on Monday. When asked for comment, a spokeswoman copied Cortes to the message from CNN and he expanded upon his initial points.
“The former president has debated through two successive presidential cycles, so of course he possesses a lot of experience in that arena,” Cortes said in a message to CNN. “But I am convinced that Governor DeSantis will outperform expectations and inform large audiences about his amazing life, political record, and winning agenda for the presidency.”
During the Twitter Spaces event, Cortes said that, outside of Florida, many Americans are unfamiliar with DeSantis.
“I’m of the belief that once we really get his story out there – and thankfully, we have the resources to do that, he’s campaigning with just frenetic pace already – so I think once we get that out there, my view is that we’re going to close this gap. I’m of the firm view that this is a two-man race,” Cortes said.
“If we do not prevail, we will make President Trump better for having this kind of primary. I believe in competitive, well-fought primaries,” Cortes added.
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