Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will face off against Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in the state’s gubernatorial general election race. As of Aug. 19, DeSantis’ political operation raised $172 million, more than 11 times the $15.3 million Crist’s political operation reported raising.
After serving three terms as a U.S. representative, DeSantis won the Florida governor’s seat in 2018. As governor, he ascended to national political stardom as the public face of lightning-rod policies including the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom from kindergarden through third grade.
Crist served as Florida’s governor more than a decade ago as a Republican but became a Democrat after his unsuccessful 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate as an independent, citing a shift in Republican party leadership.
During the 2010 Senate campaign, the conservative political group Club for Growth and now-Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) weaponized a photo of the then-governor embracing former President Barack Obama in 2009 – a hug that “killed” his career as a Republican, Crist wrote in a Time op-ed. After unsuccessfully running for Florida governor as a Democrat in 2014, Crist was elected to the U.S. House in 2016.
Running unopposed in the GOP primary, DeSantis’ campaign raised $27.5 million since 2020. His state-level PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis, raked in nearly $144.5 million since he first won the seat in 2018.
The incumbent governor already broke the record for gubernatorial fundraising without candidate self-financing and, as of the Friday before the primary, was only about $4.7 million away from the overall gubernatorial fundraising record.
Two billionaires self-funded their way to the top of the gubernatorial fundraising rankings in previous election cycles. The current record holder is Meg Whitman, a former eBay executive and Republican contender in California who gave her unsuccessful 2010 campaign $144.2 million of the $176.7 million raised. In second place is Illinois Gov. Jay “J.B.” Pritzker (D), heir to the fortune his family made from the Hyatt Hotel empire, who gave $171.5 million of the $176.4 million his campaign raised for his 2018 gubernatorial bid.
Crist reported raising nearly $15.3 million through Aug. 19, more money than the other three Democratic contenders combined. His campaign raised $8 million, while his PAC, Friends of Charlie Crist, reported raising nearly $7.3 million.
Endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), Crist received nearly 60% of the Democratic vote. His closest competitor was Florida Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried, a young progressive challenger who raised nearly $3.7 million ahead of the primary.
The former governor took aim at the incumbent governor in his acceptance speech Tuesday.
“[Floridians] want a governor who cares about them to solve real problems, who preserves our freedom, not a bully who divides us and takes our freedom away,” Crist said.
But Crist will have to overcome a major fundraising gap. Crist’s campaign reported nearly $827,000 on hand and his political action committee, Friends of Charlie Crist, reported just over $656,000 on hand as of Aug. 19. DeSantis’ political operation reported $132.5 million on hand – over $10 million with his campaign and $122.4 million in his PAC.
Crist will also have to overcome DeSantis’ rising star power, buoyed by a potential 2024 presidential bid – he’s currently the top pick for the GOP nomination, according to a quarterly analysis of polls conducted by the Washington Post.
DeSantis remains relatively popular with Floridians. Fifty percent of likely Florida primary voters approve of DeSantis, University of North Florida polling released last week found, down from 58% in February.
The Florida governor’s seat will likely go to the Republican, according to the Cook Political Report and POLITICO’s election forecast.
But anything short of a landslide could hinder his 2024 presidential ambitions, analysts told Bloomberg. On the flip side, DeSantis has already pulled in massive donations from conservative political groups and megadonors, and a decisive victory could keep the cash flowing.
Club for Growth gave $2 million to Friends of Ron DeSantis last week, a new OpenSecrets analysis of campaign finance disclosures found. The Seminole Tribe of Florida contributed $1 million to the PAC the first week of August.
GOP megadonors also poured millions of dollars into the Florida governor’s state-level PAC, as OpenSecrets previously reported. Robert Bigelow, owner of the Budget Suites hotel chain, contributed $10 million. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin gave $5 million. Richard Uihlein, founder of the supply company Uline, and his wife contributed about $1.2 million combined.
Former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who gave almost $95 million to his own 2014 and 2018 gubernatorial campaigns, also gave $660,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis this election cycle.
The Republican Governors Association gave nearly $17.4 million to DeSantis’ state-level PAC. The Republican Party of Florida contributed $1.7 million to the PAC and $7.3 million to the governor’s reelection campaign as “in kind” donations including campaign staff, consulting and research.
DeSantis’ campaign received $4.5 million from the state’s Matching Funds Program. The program matches campaign contributions from individuals giving $250 or less, but it caps candidate self-financing at $25,000 and contributions from “national, state, and county executive committees of a political party” at $250,000. “In kind” contributions from the Florida Republican Party to DeSantis’ campaign do not count toward those limits, a loophole in Florida’s campaign finance laws.
Aside from about $1.4 million from the Florida Matching Funds Program, neither Crist’s campaign nor his PAC have not reported any donations over $1 million. The American Federation of Teachers contributed $500,000, making it the largest non-individual donor to Crist’s campaign. Barbara Stiefel, a Democratic donor and Stiefel Medicinal Soap heiress, is the campaign’s largest individual donor with $303,000 given.