DeSantis group pulls down Iowa, N.H. ads amid spending shift
Never Back Down, the embattled super PAC supporting Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, has canceled all of its planned television advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire just weeks before voting begins in the first nominating states.
The move, first reported by AdImpact, a firm that tracks political campaign advertising, was later confirmed by Never Back Down.
In a statement, Scott Wagner, the super PAC’s chairman, characterized the decision as part of a shift that would allow Never Back Down to focus on a “core mission” of grass-roots activities in the early states while Fight Right, a newly created super PAC backing the Florida governor, airs television ads.
“We are thrilled to have Fight Right and others covering the air for Gov. DeSantis while we work the ground game in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond,” Wagner said.
Wagner’s statement did not provide additional information about what led to the cancellations.
The shift is a stunning turnabout for the once deep-pocketed pro-DeSantis operation, which spent heavily on television in the spring and summer on the assumption that it could raise more money from wealthy donors in the winter.
Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for Fight Right, said it will place more than $2.5 million in ads ahead of the Iowa caucuses.
The moves come as Never Back Down has struggled to support DeSantis as originally envisioned and as Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, has risen in the polls, threatening DeSantis’s status as the leading rival to former president Donald Trump.
Never Back Down was seeded with millions of unspent dollars DeSantis had raised for his gubernatorial reelection campaign in 2022. Although the organization is legally barred from directly coordinating with the campaign, it found ways to play an outsize role in boosting DeSantis on the campaign trail, paying for his travel, as well as an extensive door-knocking operation in Iowa.
But in recent weeks, the organization has begun to collapse.
On Saturday night, about four hours after a Washington Post story about its troubles was published online, Jeff Roe — a key architect of Never Back Down’s strategy — joined a string of departures, announcing that he was resigning, further deepening the group’s tumult.
He said he “cannot in good conscience stay affiliated with Never Back Down” after the super PAC sent statements to The Post suggesting that the group had fired executives connected to Roe’s consulting firm over “mismanagement and conduct issues.”
Haley’s campaign seized on Never Back Down’s ad cancellations Friday, claiming it was evidence of DeSantis’s diminishing presence in the race.
“This is now a two-person race between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump,” said Nachama Soloveichik, the communications director for Haley’s campaign. “Nikki is the only Trump alternative with the support, the organization and the resources to go the distance.”
Fenske, the Fight Right spokeswoman, said Soloveichik’s description of the race was “simply false.”
Fight Right is playing the role of “air force” while Never Back Down does the ground game for DeSantis, Fenske said. She said the $2.5 million of ads the group plans to place ahead of the Iowa caucuses include a $1.3 million cable and broadcast buy in the state.
One ad slated to start running Sunday focuses on Haley’s record on China, with the tag line, “We can’t trust tricky Nicky.”
Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the DeSantis campaign, also knocked Haley’s campaign Friday, claiming that the former South Carolina governor “has no path to the nomination and every dollar spent on her candidacy is an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.”
DeSantis campaign manager James Uthmeier signaled the strategy shift among super PACs in a Nov. 27 memo to donors, marked personal and confidential, that said it welcomed the “air support” from Fight Right.
The memo described Never Back Down, which at that point had spent more on ads in the presidential campaign than any other group or candidate, as a field operation.
Five other senior executives have left Never Back Down since late November. Three executives with Roe’s firm were fired; the board chairman and the founding chief executive both resigned amid internal concerns about legal compliance. And a verbal conflict inside the group’s Atlanta offices became public, as did DeSantis’s own misgivings about the outside group’s leadership.
Since Dec. 15, SFA Fund, an outside group supporting Nikki Haley, has spent $4.6 million on ads, compared to $1.7 million by Fight Right and virtually no spending by Never Back Down, according to AdImpact.
The Haley campaign also has been swamping the DeSantis operation in ad spending, with $1.4 million spent for her in comparison with $309,135 spent for DeSantis by his operation.
Through Sept. 30, Never Back Down spent $25.5 million on ads, according to AdImpact, in comparison with $11.9 million by SFA Fund. Haley’s campaign ran less than $120,000 of ads in that period, while DeSantis spent $1.6 million.