Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, is quietly assembling a senior staff for an expected 2024 presidential campaign that will be headed by his top political adviser, Generra Peck, and around seven other Republican operatives serving as top advisers, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The leadership roster remains subject to change since the campaign – which could launch as soon as the start of next month – does not yet technically exist and most salaries are being paid, for the moment, through the state Republican party.
But some of the senior staff have started to move in recent weeks to the campaign’s base in Tallahassee, the people said, as DeSantis prepares to announce his presidential ambitions as perhaps the closest challenger to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination.
The leadership roster, described to the Guardian, shows an initial team of advisers drawn from people who have previously worked for the governor, either from his time in Congress or his re-election campaign last year, as well as relative newcomers to his circle.
Yet the lack of presidential campaign experience among the senior staff and the wisdom of recruiting a team that appears conventional in nature to take on an unconventional candidate like Trump has emerged as an early concern among some of the governor’s allies.
DeSantis has recently taken curveballs from the Trump campaign, which cut a television ad mocking him for using his fingers to eat chocolate pudding, something he has denied, and slammed him as unelectable in a general election after he became the face of a six-week abortion ban in Florida.
The campaign manager is expected to be Peck, one of DeSantis’s most trusted advisers, who most recently shepherded his 2022 re-election effort for Florida governor, which saw him defeat the Democratic challenger and former governor Charlie Crist by almost 20 percentage points.
Peck is considered a highly adept political operator – notably including by Trump’s own team – who associates say earned the trust of DeSantis and his wife, Casey. At the governor’s inauguration, Peck was one of the people he thanked for his success.
The political director is expected to be Ryan Tyson, another top DeSantis adviser and one of the best-known Republican pollsters, who has been tasked with turning DeSantis’s legislative record in Florida into campaign policy that could work for a national audience.
Tyson has had a rocky start. This week, DeSantis made a special trip to Washington to meet with Republican members of Congress, only for them to mostly turn around and endorse Trump. The only endorsement for DeSantis came from Representative Laurel Lee, who served in his administration.
The policy team is expected to be headed by Dustin Carmack, DeSantis’s chief of staff when he was a member of Congress, from 2013 until 2018, before he ran for Florida governor. Carmack was also the chief of staff for the director of national intelligence during the Trump administration.
The communications team is expected to be headed by David Abrams, who came over from the Republican State Leadership Committee. Abrams previously worked for the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and the New Hampshire governor, Chris Sununu – both potential 2024 candidates.
Also a senior adviser for press is Christina Pushaw, responsible for rapid response. Pushaw came under scrutiny last year when the justice department directed her to retroactively register as a foreign agent for her work on behalf of the former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili from 2018 until 2020.
In a reflection of Casey DeSantis’s influence on her husband’s political career, her top aide, Melissa Peters, is also expected to serve as a senior adviser, with the title of chief financial officer overseeing operations, acting effectively as “the voice” of the would-be first lady on the campaign.
The chief technology officer is expected to be Carl Sceusa, who helped set up the WinRed platform, which generated more than $1bn in digital fundraising for Republican candidates in the 2020 election in only 15 months. He is expected to work with Ethan Eilon, who is heading the digital team.
DeSantis had discussed having Heather Barker run the finance operation, but last month, she joined Never Back Down Pac – the main fundraising vehicle for the DeSantis campaign. Barker’s deputy, Tucker Obenshain, is now expected to lead the advance team.
A spokesperson for DeSantis declined to comment on personnel moves.
The senior staff roster effectively outlines a leadership team of around eight people as DeSantis looks to finalize his campaign operation ahead of a 2024 announcement that could come as early as the first two weeks of May or as late as July, one of the people said.
That number could still expand, and some DeSantis allies have told associates that they believe other close aides to the governor could yet join the campaign. One name that has frequently been floated as an expected addition to the senior staff, for example, is the veteran national Republican operative Phil Cox.
The campaign’s ambition is to reach a headcount of around 80 people by the time DeSantis announces. That would rival the Trump campaign, which has been staffing up since November – but it is unclear whether DeSantis has a payroll system in place for such an expansion, the person said.