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DeSantis replaces campaign manager, brings in chief of staff from governor’s office

Generra Peck will remain on DeSantis’ team; James Uthmeier is coming in as campaign manager.
 
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a fundraising event for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, on Sunday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. DeSantis has shaken up his campaign staff, and his new campaign manager is James Uthmeier.
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a fundraising event for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, on Sunday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. DeSantis has shaken up his campaign staff, and his new campaign manager is James Uthmeier. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]
Published Aug. 8, 2023|Updated Aug. 8, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is replacing his campaign manager with one of his most trusted advisers, his gubernatorial office Chief of Staff James Uthmeier, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Generra Peck, who managed DeSantis’ blowout 2022 reelection bid before being tapped to lead his presidential campaign, will remain on the governor’s team as chief strategist. David Polyansky, a veteran Republican operative who has been advising the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, is moving to the campaign as deputy campaign manager.

The staffing moves were first reported Tuesday by The Messenger.

The appointment of Uthmeier, who has no experience running campaigns, is the latest staffing shakeup for DeSantis’ campaign, which is just a few weeks into a revamp aimed at reversing the governor’s polling deficit and financial strains. Late last month, the campaign laid off 38 staffers in an effort to cut costs and streamline the operation.

A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found former President Donald Trump leading DeSantis 54% to 17% in the race for the GOP nomination. Even in Iowa, a state that DeSantis and his team see as a must-win, the governor trailed Trump by 24 percentage points.

In a statement, DeSantis’ communications director, Andrew Romeo, cast the reconfiguration at the top rungs of the campaign as a decision that would “put the governor in the best possible position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden.”

He noted that Uthmeier would work “hand in hand with” Peck in their new roles, while Polyanksy’s hire would give the campaign a critical leg-up in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. Polyansky has deep experience working on presidential operations in Iowa, helping U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz win the caucuses in the 2016 Republican primary.

Prior to leading DeSantis’ 2024 bid, Peck had never managed a national campaign. She earned the confidence of the governor, however, during his 2022 reelection effort, which saw DeSantis notch a staggering 19-point victory in a state where gubernatorial elections have long been decided by only a few percentage points or less.

As campaign manager, Peck kept a low-key profile, but saw her leadership come under scrutiny last month after DeSantis’ campaign finance disclosures revealed that his team had burned through roughly $8 million in a matter of weeks and had tapped out many large-dollar donors, who are barred from giving more money due to federal contribution limits.

Part of the problem was the campaign’s decision to hire about 90 staffers early on, saddling it with a massive payroll. While the campaign moved shortly after to lay off roughly one-third of its staff, some donors became wary of Peck and her strategic vision.

Some DeSantis allies and donors have called for weeks for Peck to be removed from the campaign manager role, citing early financial struggles, the campaign’s bloated staff and early strategic missteps under her leadership. One DeSantis fundraiser expressed confidence in Peck, but said that the campaign needed a “change in philosophy” after a couple of rough months on the trail.

His inexperience overseeing campaigns aside, Uthmeier has proven himself to be one of DeSantis’ most loyal advisers. He joined the governor’s office in 2019 as deputy legal counsel before ascending to chief legal counsel and, eventually, chief of staff in 2021, replacing Adrian Lukis, who left to take a job in lobbying.

Uthmeier, a native of the North Florida town of Destin, came to DeSantis from the Trump administration, where he served as a senior adviser and counsel to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Uthmeier played a key role in planning and executing Florida’s controversial migrant flight program, working with fellow Destin native Larry Keefe to coordinate the covert operation relocating migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Although the exercise has been popular among the GOP base, it also led to a criminal investigation and a separate U.S. Treasury Department probe. Uthmeier is also named in a class-action lawsuit filed against the governor on behalf of the migrants.

Replacing Uthmeier as DeSantis’ acting gubernatorial chief of staff is Florida Secretary of Commerce Alex Kelly, who previously served as DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, according to Jeremy Redfern, a spokesperson for the governor’s office.

Uthmeier isn’t the first staffer in DeSantis’ office to move over to the political side of things. The governor’s former Communications Director Teryn Fenske left his office in June to join Never Back Down, while Stephanie Kopelousos, who served as DeSantis’ director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs, is now working on the campaign as chief of staff for the governor’s wife, Casey DeSantis, according to a person familiar with the move.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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