Pro-DeSantis super PAC cancels ads in Iowa and New Hampshire

Never Back Down, the super PAC backing Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, has canceled all of its planned television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire just weeks before voting in the first nominating states.

The move was first reported by political campaign advertising tracking firm AdImpact and later confirmed by Never Back Down.

In a statement, Scott Wagner, head of the super PAC newly formed Fight Right, characterized the decision as part of a shift to never back down to focus on the “core mission” of grassroots action in early states. The super PAC supports the Florida governor, airing television ads.

“We're excited to have Fight Rite and others cover the air for Gov. DeSantis as we play on the ground in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond,” Wagner said.

Wagner's statement did not provide additional information about what led to the cancellation.

Ron DeSantis wanted to change the way campaigns were financed. Then the fights started.

The shift is a stunning turnaround for the pro-DeSantis campaign, 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.

Darrin Fenske, a spokesman for Fight Right, said it will put more than $2.5 million in advertising ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

The moves come as Never Back Down has struggled to support DeSantis as originally intended, and DeSantis' status as former President Donald Trump's leading contender has been threatened as former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley has surged in the polls.

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Never Back Down did not spend the millions of dollars DeSantis raised for his gubernatorial re-election campaign in 2022. Although the organization was legally barred from directly coordinating with the campaign, it found ways to play a greater role in promoting DeSantis on the campaign trail. Money for his trip, as well as an extensive door-knocking in Iowa.

But in recent weeks that system has begun to collapse.

On Saturday night, about four hours after the Washington Post published a story about its troubles online, Jeff Roe — a key architect of the Never Back Down strategy — announced he was resigning, further deepening the group's confusion.

He said he “could not in good conscience be affiliated with Never Back Down” after the super PAC sent reports to The Post that the group had fired executives associated with Roe's consulting firm because of “mismanagement and behavioral issues.”

Haley's campaign seized on Never Back Down's ad cancellations Friday, evidence of DeSantis' waning race.

“It's now a two-person race between Nikki Haley and Donald Trump,” said Nachama Soloveitchik, communications director for Haley's campaign. “Nikki is the only Trump alternative with the support, organization and resources to go the distance.”

Fight Rite spokeswoman Fenske said the description of Soloveitchik's race was “simply false.”

Fight Rite plays the role of “air force,” while Never Back Down does the ground game for DeSantis, Fenske said. The $2.5 million in advertising the group plans to place before the Iowa caucuses includes $1.3 million in cable and broadcast buys in the state.

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An ad, which will begin running on Sunday, focuses on Haley's feat in China with the tag line, “We can't trust sneaky Nikki.”

DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo also hit out at Haley's campaign on Friday, saying the former South Carolina governor had “no path to candidacy and every dollar spent on her candidacy was an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign.”

DeSantis campaign manager James Uthmeier signaled the super PACs' strategic shift to donors on Nov. 27, marked private and confidential, saying it welcomed Fight Right's “wind support.”

The memo described Never Back Down as having spent more on ads in the presidential campaign than any other group or candidate at the time.

Five other senior executives have left Never Back Town since late November. Three executives at Roe's company were fired; Both the board chairman and founding chief executive resigned amid internal concerns about legal compliance. A verbal confrontation inside the group's Atlanta offices became publicAs did DeSantis' own misgivings about the leadership of the outside group.

Since Dec. 15, the SFA Fund, an outside group backing Nikki Haley, has spent $4.6 million on ads, compared to $1.7 million for Fight Rite, which never spent any money on Never Back Down, according to AdImpact.

The Haley campaign is outpacing the DeSantis campaign in advertising spending, with $1.4 million spent on her and $309,135 for DeSantis through her campaign.

Never Back Down spent $25.5 million on ads through Sept. 30, according to AdImpact, compared to $11.9 million for the SFA fund. Haley's campaign ran just under $120,000 in ads during that period, while DeSantis spent $1.6 million.

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