Trailing in the polls and with a sense of impending doom setting in among his supporters, Republican Ron DeSantis abruptly hired a new chairman of his struggling campaign for governor Wednesday.
DeSantis chose Susie Wiles, a lobbyist and seasoned Republican strategist who ran Donald Trump’s successful 2016 Florida effort and was a key adviser in Rick Scott’s first of two successful races for governor.
The sudden change of command is an acknowledgment that DeSantis’ campaign is in serious disarray less than six weeks before the election but with the hope that there is still time to right the ship and keep Republicans in control of the state’s most powerful office for four more years.
“I think Ron DeSantis can build on the legacy that Rick Scott has built for eight years in Florida,” Wiles told the Herald/Times. “It’s very important for our state. I want to do all I can to help him succeed.”
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Brad Herold, a GOP strategist, will remain as DeSantis’ campaign manager.
Wiles, a Jacksonville-area resident, is a lobbyist for Ballard Partners, the Tallahassee-based lobbying shop run by Brian Ballard, who has used his alliance with Trump to build a major lobbying presence in Washington.
In a statement, DeSantis said of Wiles: “She has the knowledge, expertise and acumen to carry our message to voters all across Florida. With her winning record, Susie is the ideal person to lead our campaign efforts and help us secure a big victory come November.”
Wiles, 61, is the daughter of the late Pat Summerall, a Lake City native and pro football star for the New York Giants who had a successful second career as a longtime play-by-play broadcaster for CBS, Fox and ESPN.
Wiles declined to directly address a growing anxiety among DeSantis supporters over his shaky performance since he won the Republican nomination on Aug. 28.
“Every campaign is a challenge,” Wiles said. “Every day there are ups and downs. But the work is important, and Ron is the best thing for Florida. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got to help him get to the finish line.”
It won’t be easy.
DeSantis is an untested candidate whose error-prone campaign has prompted serious talk that Florida Republicans will forfeit control of the governor’s mansion for the first time since Jeb Bush won in 1998.
That would be a catastrophic setback for the GOP heading into the 2020 presidential election, when Trump presumably would be seeking a second term and would desperately need a second Florida victory to stay in power.
In an interview on Fox News on Aug. 29, DeSantis said: “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge increases and bankrupting the state,” referring to his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, who is black. A New York Times headline described DeSantis’ remark as a “racist dog whistle” to many.
DeSantis has had verbal confrontations with two Florida political reporters. His campaign press operation has been unresponsive to routine media requests.
He has been on the defensive over his past appearances at national conferences at which speakers expressed extreme views toward Muslims and women.
In addition, DeSantis recently clashed with President Trump and took issue with the president’s dispute of the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria last year.
DeSantis, 40, a three-term member of Congress who recently resigned his Northeast Florida seat, is trailing in the polls against Gillum, the 39-year-old mayor of Tallahassee.
Fund-raising is not among DeSantis’ worries. He was expected to rake in at least $1.5 million at a fund-raiser Wednesday night at the Ponte Vedra Inn.