Ron DeSantis ends presidential campaign before New Hampshire primary

(WASHINGTON) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was hailed for much of last year as a rising Republican star, is ending his presidential campaign after he failed to overtake rival Donald Trump in polling or in the early vote of the 2024 race.

DeSantis made his announcement in a four-and-a-half-minute video posted to X on Sunday with less than 48 hours until voting in New Hampshire’s primary, the second state in the nominating race.

“We don’t have a clear path to victory,” he said in the video, which he said was filmed in Florida.

His exit now leaves the primary battle as essentially a one-on-one contest between Trump and Trump’s former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who continues to trail Trump in polling and placed a distant third in the Iowa caucuses where DeSantis came in second (with 21%) to Trump’s first-place finish with 51%.

According to polls, Haley has her best chance at beating Trump in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

DeSantis on Sunday quickly endorsed Trump, a primary opponent whom he has increasingly criticized on the trail.

“It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance. … While I’ve had disagreements with Donald Trump, such as on the coronavirus pandemic and his elevation of [COVID-19 adviser] Anthony Fauci, Trump is superior to the current incumbent, Joe Biden. That is clear,” DeSantis said in his video. “I signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee and I will honor that pledge.”

DeSantis begins 2024 as a failed challenger to Trump, but he entered 2023 as the Republican seen as the most likely alternative to win the party’s presidential nomination.

After a dominant reelection to the Florida governor’s mansion in November 2022, winning by double digits in a famous swing state that had only barely elected him in 2018, DeSantis was buoyed through March 2023 by poll numbers that showed him less than 15 points behind Trump, according to 538.

DeSantis also often boasted of his track record of conservative victories in his state, where Republicans have increasingly won a number of local elections even as Trump-aligned candidates have struggled in high-profile races elsewhere in the country.

Among his achievements in Florida, he said, was his high-profile resistance to federal health authorities’ recommendations during the height of COVID-19 — which he likened to bureaucratic overreach — and his opposition to many K-12 students being instructed on LGBTQ issues, which he contended was often not age-appropriate.

The latter position, widely condemned as prejudiced by LGBTQ advocates, helped solidify DeSantis’ national profile as a Republican warrior but sparked a lengthy feud with The Walt Disney Company, ABC News’ parent company and one of the largest private employers in Florida.

Disney sued, claiming DeSantis and his allies retaliated against the company because it spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

As the battle wore on, DeSantis, who denied politically motivated retaliation, said the state had “basically moved on.” (Disney’s suit remains pending.)

In early 2023, before officially entering the presidential race, DeSantis used a new book — “The Courage to be Free” — to tout his wins in Florida while teasing that he would launch a White House bid after “the most productive legislative session” ever seen in his state.

But his official kickoff in May 2023, hosted by Elon Musk on X, formerly known as Twitter, was marred by glitches and soon evolved into a dense discussion on policy and culture war issues, the very things also came to define DeSantis’ campaign.

DeSantis’ stump speech on the trail was heavy with dense language like “indoctrination” and acronyms like “DEI,” or diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that many conservatives oppose as unnecessarily race-conscious.

During the summer months, DeSantis ran an insular operation, keeping his distance from the mainstream press — just as he often did while running for reelection as governor — and holding his fire on Trump, the front-runner, only taking Trump on directly when asked by reporters or voters.

The strategy led to some awkward moments, as in New Hampshire in June, when he responded to a voter who asked him about Jan. 6 by saying, “I wasn’t anywhere near Washington that day.”

In the closing days and weeks of his campaign, DeSantis vocally criticized Trump’s record but was unable to build up much momentum in polls of Republican voters.

DeSantis also repeatedly endured cycles of negative headlines over staffing layoffs, infighting with his allied super PAC, which organized much of his campaigning, and his high rate of spending that saw him burn through a significant amount of his huge fundraising.

By the time the governor appeared to find his footing on the trail in the fall, his earlier strength in the polls had badly erode and he was hearing Haley’s footsteps. The former South Carolina governor delivered multiple well-received debate performances in the summer and fall and saw a steady uptick in the polls, even surpassing DeSantis in many surveys by the winter months as both sought to pitch themselves as the stronger Trump alternative.

DeSantis, responding to Haley’s rise, labeled her as less conservative — needing to prop up her campaign with anti-Trump voters outside the GOP base.

Haley on Sunday responded to the end of DeSantis’ campaign by praising him.

“I want to say to Ron: He ran a great race, he’s been a good governor and we wish him well,” she said.

“Having said that,” she added, “it’s now one fella and one lady left. … May the best woman win.”

An intense campaign schedule, and a bet on Iowa

DeSantis pitched himself to voters as the hardest-working candidate, and often had the receipts to prove it.

In late summer, DeSantis began campaigning intensely across Iowa, ticking off counties big and small as he sought to visit all 99 by the time of January’s caucus (he accomplished the feat by early December).

The tours through Iowa were led primarily by Never Back Down, the deep-pocketed super PAC supporting the governor.

Staff from the group guided DeSantis through each crevice of the state in a red and blue bus with his name stamped on each side.

The stops ranged from meeting the owners of a meat locker in rural Wright County, near the Minnesota border, to rallying in front of hundreds of supporters near the banks of the Mississippi River.

Along the way, DeSantis consistently chided Trump for not exerting the same effort, accusing the former president of taking voters for granted.

The governor’s problem, though, was that voters didn’t seem to care.

His deficit in FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average, already severe, widened, as did his marks in polls of Republicans in the early voting states.

By the end of the fall, DeSantis’ chance at the nomination had shrunk to one scenario: notch a stellar result in Iowa, whose evangelical Republican base was more aligned with his conservative policies in Florida, and hope that it would shatter Trump’s aura of invincibility.

With the backing of the state’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, and the evangelical leader, Bob Vander Plaats, DeSantis was confident in his chances.

Several times, he pledged to win the state.

Abby Cruz, Nicholas Kerr, Mike Pappano, Rachel Scott and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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