Top officials from the campaigns of Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and Tim Scott made their case Friday to major Republican donors, as they compete to position themselves as the most viable alternative to former President Donald Trump.
To a room of prospective top donors gathered in Texas, the DeSantis team argued that if Haley was out of the race, her ballot share would bounce around to candidates other than Trump, one attendee told CNN. But if DeSantis was no longer in the race, his campaign argued, his supporters would largely move to Trump, meaning the Florida governor’s presence in the race was a greater threat to Trump’s chances at the nomination.
DeSantis himself made that argument publicly while campaigning in New Hampshire on Friday, telling reporters, “If I wasn’t in the picture, most of those voters who are going to caucus for me would go to Trump, they would not go to Haley.”
“People can support who they want, but let’s just not kid ourselves that the nominee for the GOP is either going to be Donald Trump or it’s going to be me. There’s not a path for anybody else,” DeSantis added.
The DeSantis campaign also presented donors with Iowa polling that shows movement since the second debate.
“We are moving at the right time,” a DeSantis adviser told the group, according to a second attendee.
They also argued the best path to stopping Trump is in Iowa and said the DeSantis campaign is the one best positioned in the Hawkeye State, according to a person familiar with their pitch. The presentation also included an explanation about how their campaign is in better position financially than it was during the summer.
The campaign advisers for DeSantis and Haley were ushered in right before and out right after their respective presentations today, the second attendee added, so neither side could hear their rival’s specific argument.
A source familiar with the arguments from Haley’s camp said her team made the case that the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador is ahead of DeSantis in New Hampshire and South Carolina and tied in Iowa. “By every metric, Nikki is moving up and Ron is moving down,” the person said. “It is a two-person race: one man and one woman.”
Her camp also noted that Haley previously announced she ended the third quarter with $9 million in available cash for the primary, surpassing the $5 million in primary dollars that the DeSantis campaign said it had on hand. DeSantis has relied heavily on a super PAC to underwrite his advertising and campaign infrastructure.
Scott’s team also spoke to the donors meeting, according to a source familiar, with staff presenting data about his rising favorability ratings in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
They argued the South Carolina senator can compete in the lane pursuing evangelical voters, the source said, and maintained half of that group are not committed to former Trump, are still up for grabs and make up a significant portion of the GOP electorate in Iowa. They also pointed to Scott’s support of a 15-week national abortion ban as popular with the voters they need in the Hawkeye State.
The event was organized by the American Opportunity, a group whose members are among some of biggest names in Republican financial circles, including hedge fund billionaires Paul Singer and Ken Griffin, real-estate developer Harlan Crow and some members of the Ricketts family – whose patriarch, Joe Ricketts, founded the brokerage giant TD Ameritrade.
The meeting comes as some Republican donors voice growing concerns about Trump’s dominance over the rest of the Republican field and publicly fret he will lose the general election if the party nominates him next year.
This headline and story have been updated with additional reporting.