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Why is a potential Republican presidential candidate coming to Utah?

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Salt Lake City.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Salt Lake City on July 28, 2021. DeSantis is scheduled to be in Utah this month for a private fundraiser that is expected to attract wealthy Republican donors as he looks at a possible run for president in 2024.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to be in Utah this month for a private fundraiser that is expected to attract wealthy Republican donors as he looks at a possible run for president in 2024.

DeSantis will be in the state the week of July 18 for the gathering, according to people familiar with the situation, CNBC reported. Many asked not to be identified because the campaign is trying to keep the private event from getting too much public attention.

Though DeSantis is coming to Utah to raise money for his 2022 gubernatorial reelection campaign, fundraisers held far away from a candidate’s home state often suggest national aspirations, according to CNBC.

“I just know he is coming for a private function,” Utah Republican Party Chairman Carson Jorgensen said in a text message Thursday. “That’s really all the info I have.”

Jorgensen said he doesn’t know if it’s a fundraiser or just to meet people. But he said he wants to see more events done in the state “supporting great candidates across the country.”

DeSantis spokeswoman Lindsey Curnutte wouldn’t confirm any details, saying the campaign doesn’t “discuss private fundraising events with members of the press,” per CNBC.

DeSantis sounded like a presidential candidate in a speech to conservative state lawmakers from around the country at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Salt Lake City last July.

In the speech, he ridiculed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over COVID-19 masking guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans as the highly contagious delta variant raged across the country. He said people should be free to choose how they take care of themselves and not be consigned to live in a “Faucian dystopia” governed by the whims of bureaucrats.

While in Utah last summer, DeSantis was scheduled to have lunch with GOP Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson at the Davis County home of Scott and Karen Keller, who have held fundraisers for Republican candidates in the past.

DeSantis was at the center of Republican-led fights against pandemic lockdowns, racial justice protests and expanded ballot access.

The Florida governor feuded with Disney after signing the Parental Rights in Education law — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics — in March, which prohibits classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school classrooms. Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized the bill, saying it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.

DeSantis hasn’t declared his candidacy for president. But in a recent interview on Fox News, he didn’t dispel the idea — even if it means having to first beat former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary.

“Nice try, man,” DeSantis replied in an interview with Fox News last month, declining to answer when asked whether he would get into a primary fight with Trump in a run for the White House.

A person helping organize the fundraiser this month said many donors from across the country have been invited and will attend the gathering in Utahbut they are trying to keep Trump from taking notice, according to CNBC. Invites have been sent verbally, instead of by email, to limit any paper trail, the person said. Donors have been told that the meetings with DeSantis in Utah are likely to start early in the day on July 19.

The other reason DeSantis is keeping the event under the radar, the person added, is to avoid looking like he is preparing to take on Trump in the 2024 Republican primary and provoking the former president’s ire, CNBC reported.

A variety of polls show Trump with a large lead over DeSantis in a possible Republican presidential primary election.

Trump said in an interview on Newsmax last month that he gets along with DeSantis and did not rule out having him as his running mate if he runs for the White House again, The Hill reported. The former president, who has hinted at running in 2024, also took credit for DeSantis’ success, saying he “went up like a rocket ship” after he endorsed him.