MIAMI — Fundraisers for Ron DeSantis began arriving at the ritzy Miami Four Seasons hotel on Wednesday afternoon to begin the work of raising the cash needed to fuel the start of the two-term Florida governor’s long-anticipated presidential campaign.
They set up shop at the hotel ahead of a Thursday meeting that is expected to be less about publicity and more about strategy — and tapping into their influential network of clients and donors to bolster DeSantis’ presidential bid.
DeSantis made his candidacy official on Wednesday afternoon after paperwork was filed with the Federal Election Commission. Later in the day, the group of at least 40 fundraisers met in a hotel ballroom just before DeSantis announced his plans at 6 p.m. during a live conversation with Elon Musk on Twitter. Some wore pins that said “RD24 Day 1,” swag that the DeSantis campaign distributed earlier in the day.
The Twitter announcement was beset by glitches for the first 25 minutes while DeSantis supporters were gathered waiting for the event to eventually happen.
But the main attraction of the gathering is on Thursday, when attendees will be briefed by campaign staff before making fundraising phone calls. The DeSantis team is not allowing reporters into any portion of the event. That gathering will begin in the morning, and DeSantis is expected to make an in-person appearance in the evening.
DeSantis’ early core of fundraisers will include real estate magnate David Horowitz, financier Hal Lambert, investor Jay Zeidman and Frank Mermoud, the president of Orpheus International, according to CNBC. Among the people spotted at the hotel were former U.S. Senate candidate from Nevada Adam Laxalt, an old friend and roommate of DeSantis’; former state Senate President Bill Galvano, and state Rep. Alex Rizo, the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Republican Party.
Wednesday afternoon, television camera crews dotted the sidewalks outside of the Brickell Avenue hotel and a billboard truck circled the block on the Miami waterfront with attack ads by the Democratic National Committee slamming DeSantis as an out-of-touch conservative. As the truck crept down Brickell Avenue, the screen showed a jumbo, grainy image of DeSantis under the heading: “Ron DeSantis’s extreme MAGA agenda.”
By 5 p.m., on the sidewalk across the street from the hotel, roughly 100 anti-DeSantis protesters chanted and held signs like “Fascism is not welcome here.” Right-wing activist and Trump supporter Laura Loomer also stood outside telling interviewers why she was against the governor.
The dimly lit lobby was abuzz with guests, which in the early morning included Boston Celtics players who kept their season alive by beating the Miami Heat the night before. Clad in business attire, hotel guests mingled by Fernando Botero’s Seated Woman bronze sculpture, velvet couches and modern chandeliers.
Inside the ritzy rooms, fully stocked mini bars included $110 bottles of Laurent-Perrier champagne and $23 gummy bears.
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The glamour of the venue did not go unnoticed. Allies of former President Donald Trump, DeSantis’ chief rival for the GOP presidential nomination, said the location was “one of the most out-of-touch campaign launches in modern history.”
“The only thing less relatable than a niche campaign launch on Twitter is DeSantis’ after party at the uber elite Four Seasons resort in Miami,” Make America Great Again Inc. spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said in a statement.
The statement did not mention Trump’s famous ride down the golden escalator at Trump Tower in Manhattan when he launched his first campaign for the presidency in June 2015.
The hotel lies in the heart of Miami’s waterfront Brickell neighborhood, the city’s financial district punctuated by skyscrapers filled with offices and condos for the wealthy. Beyond the specific locale, DeSantis’ choice of Miami-Dade was perhaps also a nod to Miami-Dade voting for him in 2022, the first time the county went red in decades.
Weena Fernandez, a 61-year-old from Miami, is among his supporters. She rushed to the hotel lobby during her lunch break on Wednesday in hopes of catching a glimpse of DeSantis in person.
She came close to tears when describing why she backs DeSantis, but Fernandez said she would still like to see Trump in the White House for another term before DeSantis.
“It would be 12 years of progress, with Trump for four years and DeSantis for eight years,” Fernandez said. “That would be the dream.”
This story will be updated.
Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.