Republican Ron DeSantis, in need of a momentum shift, ousts campaign chief

By Gram Slattery, Alexandra Ulmer and Tim Reid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ron DeSantis replaced his campaign manager on Tuesday as the Florida governor tries to reboot his flagging bid to overtake front-runner Donald Trump in the race for his party’s 2024 nomination.

Generra Peck, a longtime DeSantis aide who had served as campaign chief since the governor launched his candidacy in May, will be replaced by James Uthmeier, another close adviser, said Andrew Romeo, the campaign’s communications director.

The campaign had already made significant staff moves in July, firing almost 40 employees and reshuffling some middle- and upper-level positions.

Still, donors are anxious, and some remaining staff members are frustrated by a campaign they see as rudderless and lacking a clear vision on the trail, according to people close to the operation, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It was not yet clear whether the latest reshuffle would satisfy DeSantis allies.

Dan Eberhart, a prominent Republican donor, suggested that the move was still too tepid given that Peck and Uthmeier are both simply switching from one senior campaign position to another similar position. Peck is remaining on the campaign team as chief strategist.

“Governor DeSantis has to change the dynamics,” Eberhart said. “That much is clear. This is a realignment rather than a reset because both folks were already senior advisers.”

DeSantis is running second in the race for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 2024 election, but has been sinking in opinion polls for months. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll put his national support at just 13%, far behind former President Trump’s 47%.

Uthmeier, a staunch conservative, has relatively little experience with campaigns or electoral politics in general, and it is unclear if he will take a tack to the ideological middle, which some donors are advocating.

A former senior adviser for Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce under Trump, Uthmeier had served as general counsel for DeSantis and most recently as his chief of staff.

“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,” Romeo, the communications director, said in a statement.


Peck’s removal came four days after Robert Bigelow, the biggest individual donor to a group supporting the DeSantis candidacy, told Reuters he would not donate more money unless the governor changes his approach because “extremism isn’t going to get you elected.” Bigelow said he had told Peck, who he called “a very good campaign manager,” that DeSantis needed to be more moderate to have a chance.

Asked how Peck reacted, Bigelow said, laughing: “There was a long period of silence where I thought maybe she had passed out. But I think she took it all in.”

DeSantis faces a crucial moment on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee at the first Republican debate of the 2024 campaign. Trump has said he plans to skip the debate, which could make DeSantis the focus of attacks from other candidates.

Also joining the DeSantis campaign as a senior adviser will be David Polyansky, who had a key role at the main outside spending group supporting DeSantis, according to one person with knowledge of the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The latest shakeup fits into a historical pattern for DeSantis, said Whit Ayres, a Republican operative who was DeSantis’ pollster when he ran for Florida governor in 2018.

“This is par for the course for DeSantis’ campaigns,” Ayres said. “He’s run for Congress three times, and for governor twice. He had different campaign staff for all five campaigns. It is very difficult to run for president the first time if you have nobody around you who has presidential experience.”

It is relatively common for presidential campaign managers to get the boot during the summer before the election year when campaigns fail to take off. Republican Senator John McCain, for instance, fired almost all of his senior campaign staff in June 2007 before staging a comeback and ultimately clinching the 2008 Republican nomination.

Still, DeSantis faces historically long odds. Trump’s lead of 34 percentage points has little precedent in competitive presidential primary races.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Washington, Alexandra Ulmer in San Francisco and Tim Reid in Los Angeles; Editing by Ross Colvin and Will Dunham)