NEW YORK (AP) -- Republican presidential contender Ron DeSantis is cutting campaign staff as he struggles to catch former President Donald Trump in the GOP's crowded primary contest while facing unexpected financial pressure.
DeSantis, the Florida governor, let go fewer than 10 paid staffers late last week to help reduce operating expenses, according to a DeSantis aide granted anonymity to discuss internal campaign strategy. The staffers were involved in event planning and may soon join a pro-DeSantis super PAC.
The moves, first reported by Politico, come as DeSantis struggles to meet expectations that he represents the Republican Party's strongest alternative to Trump. The Florida governor's political organization has raised more money than the other Republicans seeking the 2024 nomination, but he has shown little movement in the polls amid fierce opposition from Trump and persistent questions about his far-right policies, his political skills and his readiness for the national stage.
DeSantis spokesman Andrew Romeo did not deny reports of staffing cuts, but offered an optimistic outlook about the campaign's road ahead.
"Americans are rallying behind Ron DeSantis and his plan to reverse Joe Biden's failures and restore sanity to our nation, and his momentum will only continue as voters see more of him in person, especially in Iowa," Romeo said. "Defeating Joe Biden and the $72 million behind him will require a nimble and candidate-driven campaign, and we are building a movement to go the distance."
Despite such optimism, some within DeSantis' team are privately acknowledging that the political playbook that led to a dominant reelection in Florida last fall may not work on the national stage. To that end, DeSantis will host a press conference and is scheduled to sit down with CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday, eschewing his yearslong practice of granting interviews almost exclusively to conservative media.
The staffing and strategy shakeup comes less than two months after DeSantis launched his presidential campaign.
"He's going down," Trump said of DeSantis during a Sunday interview on Fox News Channel. The former president also suggested he may not participate in next month's debate given his lead over DeSantis and the other Republicans running against him.
As the DeSantis campaign publicly refocuses on Iowa, some in his team are already privately acknowledging that he must win Iowa's Jan. 15 caucuses to have any realistic chance of denying Trump the GOP's presidential nomination. Without a clear victory in the GOP's opening primary contest, they fear that Trump would likely become an unstoppable force in the months-long primary march across the country, where momentum is often more consequential than money.
DeSantis sought to strengthen his connections in the state during a Saturday appearance. He described Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds as a potential running mate and dismissed Trump's recent complaints about her as "totally out of hand."
"Of course," DeSantis said when asked whether he would consider the second-term Republican as his vice president should he win the GOP nomination. "I mean, she's one of the top public servants in America."
And while DeSantis' political team is flush with cash compared to many other Republican rivals, Saturday's quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission revealed some cause for concern.
DeSantis raised more than $20 million over the first six weeks he was in the race, according to the federal report. While a massive sum, he also burned through nearly $8 million over the same period, leaving his campaign with $12.2 million at the end of June. And of that total, roughly $3 million is earmarked for general election and cannot be used in the GOP primary contest.
The report also revealed that the DeSantis campaign has dozens of paid staffers and is spending far more on payroll than others in the race.
For the first six weeks of his campaign, DeSantis spent more than $890,000 on payroll, including benefits, insurance, payroll taxes and processing fees, according to an AP analysis. The campaign also spent more than $845,000 on travel expenses, which included DeSantis regular use of private jets.
Still, a pro-DeSantis super PAC, which is legally barred from coordinating with the campaign, said it raised a stunning $130 million since the committee launched in March. More than half of that came from a state-level political committee once controlled by DeSantis.
The Never Back Down super PAC has been spending for months to build out pro-DeSantis infrastructure in the first four states on the presidential nominating calendar and even those in so-called "Super Tuesday" states that vote in early March.
Trump's MAGA movement was giddy about DeSantis' struggles.
"The more he shows himself, the less appealing he is," tweeted longtime Trump ally Roger stone. He added the hashtag, "DeLoser."