Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley

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EXCLUSIVE: DeSantis super PAC dropped $2.3 million this month to attack Nikki Haley—as she climbs in polls

DeSantis’ team appears worried.

 

Katherine Huggins

Tech

Never Back Down, the super political action committee supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), has ramped up spending against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in recent weeks.

Up until last Thursday, Never Back Down had only filed one independent expenditure specifically targeting Haley—a $29,000 purchase made on April 28, a month before DeSantis officially launched his presidential bid.

But since Thursday, Never Back Down \ reported spending more than $2.3 million in independent expenditures targeting Haley, more than six times the amount it has spent in expenditures targeting former President Donald Trump (about $375,000) since April.

That’s based on Federal Election Commission filings stating which federal candidate was “opposed” by expenditures.

Haley and Trump are the only candidates Never Back Down has targeted. Most expenditures by Never Back Down were marked as supporting DeSantis, not opposing a different candidate.

Since Oct. 1, Never Back Down has spent a total of $11.5 million in independent expenditures.

That includes a $1.25 million spend opposing Haley as part of a bigger ad buy that ran on Sunday criticizing Haley for bringing Chinese businesses to South Carolina when she was governor.

“She gave them millions in tax breaks, subsidies, free land. A Communist party-owned high tech company got 200 acres five miles from an army base,” the ad’s narrator states, referencing a fiberglass company called China Sushi, which invested $300 million in 2016 to build its first U.S. plant in Columbia, South Carolina.

A Haley spokesperson said in a statement that ad was “more lies and hypocrisy from desperate and losing Ron DeSantis, who aggressively recruited Chinese companies to Florida, including a sanctioned Chinese military manufacturer. Nikki Haley took on the Chinese at the UN and she will as president.”

In response to the Haley campaign’s statement, Never Back Down chief operating officer Kristin Davison told Fox News that “Nikki Haley can’t defend her disastrous record on China, so she’s lying about Ron DeSantis. She has no evidence to support these wildly false claims.”

Never Back Down’s sudden shift to focus on targeting Haley comes as she has experienced a bump in the polls.

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Monday found DeSantis and Haley neck-and-neck at 12% and 11% respectively behind Trump in the battle for the Republican nomination.

On average, Haley trails DeSantis by about four points, according to polling data compiled by RealClearPolitics, a markedly smaller gap than at the beginning of July when DeSantis led her by an average of 18 points.

In Iowa, a key early-voting state, DeSantis leads Haley by an average of eight points. But in two other early voting states—New Hampshire and South Carolina, her home state—Haley holds a four-point edge over DeSantis.

Coinciding with Haley’s polling bump, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has experienced increased interest and support from GOP megadonors—some of whom were initially aligned with DeSantis.

Reuters reported in late September that some GOP donors were eyeing Haley as the possible best candidate to face Trump in the primary instead of DeSantis, following her performance at the first debate.

An unnamed donor who said he gave more than $1 million to DeSantis’ campaign told Reuters he is now open to supporting Haley, noting that “until the first debate I hadn’t seen her force of will and her presence.”

“There isn’t a mainstream megadonor now not looking at Nikki,” one donor told Politico.

Investor Keith Rabois, previously a self-described “significant” DeSantis supporter, pivoted to support Haley’s campaign. He gave her the maximum contribution about a week after the first debate and was reported in October to be hosting a $10,000-per-head fundraiser for her.

Ken Griffin, the Citadel CEO who was the third biggest political megadonor in 2022, has not yet financially backed a presidential candidate this cycle. He previously favored DeSantis but has since spoken positively about Haley, who he described as a “rockstar.”

As Haley has emerged as a more serious contender for the GOP nomination, it’s not just DeSantis’ team who is ramping up their attacks.

Following the second Republican debate, Trump’s campaign tried to link Haley to Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign also sent a birdcage to Haley, a reference to Trump’s “birdbrain” moniker for her.

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