Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the annual Feenstra Family Picnic at the Dean Family Classic Car Museum in Sioux Center, Iowa, on Saturday, May 13, 2023.
Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Leaked audio from FloridaPolitics.com revealed that donors were concerned about DeSantis’ abortion ban.
The DeSantis campaign shared talking points with fundraisers over how to discuss the issue.
They said it would be less important to voters than Biden’s age and predicted a recession.
The DeSantis 2024 campaign is banking that voters who decide general elections will care more about economic turmoil and President Joe Biden’s age during the general election, outweighing the issue of abortion rights, according to leaked audio obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.
The admission sheds light into the Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaign strategy as he kicks off his early state voting tour next week. DeSantis would be 45 when elected whereas Biden would be just shy of 82.
“If you are a voter in 2024 as we likely are in a historic recession and you are choosing between a young candidate — Ron DeSantis — versus an octogenarian, and if you are voting on the issue of abortion as one of the top two issues, our data suggests that person has a very high correlation with typical Democrat voting behavior,” Ryan Tyson, the DeSantis campaign’s pollster said.
He made the comments during a presentation from DeSantis campaign aides who shared talking points and polling with bundlers — a term in the political world that refers to people who solicit their contacts for numerous donations. The bundlers had gathered at the Four Seasons in Miami for a two-day marathon of calls.
Two bundlers raised concerns about how to talk about abortion rights when calling up donors for contributions to the campaign. One said he called donors whose “daughters and wives are upset” and another said he was calling donors who said they liked DeSantis “when he was more in the middle” but feared he had become too right-wing. That donor said he saw nods from other people in the room who were getting similar responses.
Tyson warned that Democrats would campaign on abortion “regardless of what your position is.” He argued that being anti-abortion was only a “kill shot if you’re a piss-poor candidate.” As evidence, he pointed to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who signed a six-week abortion ban into law and still solidly defeated his Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.
“What the 2022 general election proved is that if you’re a good candidate you can survive that,” Tyson said, though he didn’t mention that Kemp signed the bill before the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
Still, there are some signs that DeSantis’ anti-abortion record is seen as a vulnerability. DeSantis signed a nearly all-out abortion bill just before midnight last month, without a public ceremony, and put pressure on former President Donald Trump to say whether he would have signed the bill into law. The law bans abortion after six weeks into a pregnancy and will take effect if the state Supreme Court upholds the 15-week abortion ban that DeSantis signed into law last year.
On Monday night, DeSantis defended the six-week law as “the right thing to do” and intended “to protect an unborn child that has a detectable heartbeat,” referring to the time in a pregnancy when an embryo has cardiac activity.
But when Fox News’ Trey Gowdy asked him about his anti-abortion position as president, DeSantis suggested it should be decided by state legislators. Tyson highlighted the response in the donor meeting, though anti-abortion advocates criticized Trump when the Washington Post reported that he told his advisers privately that abortion rights should be decided by the states.
“While there are ways the federal government can preserve life, the best way to preserve abortion is at the state level,” Tyson said, articulating the governor’s position. “If the federal government starts getting involved with abortion, then it’s actually going to open up the door for Democrats to roll back pro-life reforms in many states across the country.”
Tyson said that the voters who like “middle” politicians belonged to 2024 candidates Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador, and Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas. Those voters were looking for someone “thoughtful,” and “sensitive,” he said in a singsong voice.
“They just don’t have enough math,” Tyson concluded, meaning that most of the GOP primary electorate is more conservative. “Got to win a primary in order to be in a general,” he added when pushed by a donor for talking points. Toward the end of the conversation, however, he acknowledged, “I totally understand how difficult that is when you’re talking to a pro-choice donor.”
Whether a strict ban is a general election or even presidential primary killer remains an open question, though the issue proved to hurt congressional Republicans during the 2022 midterms.
Adding to the talking points, someone in the room who Insider couldn’t identify from his voice falsely said that “abortions occur with Plan B,” urging donors to point out most people had access to contraception. Plan B is a preventive type of birth control known as “emergency contraception” and doesn’t trigger an abortion.
“I don’t think if you’re talking to a pro-choice voter you skip over it,” he said. “You have to point out this is a major step forward for the Republican party in terms of moving to the middle on abortion.” It wasn’t clear how the DeSantis team came to view a six-week ban as a middle ground, as polling shows most Americans support abortion for weeks past the six-week mark, but up to a point.