But DeSantis’s campaign is doing everything it can to court the other side as well. The congressman sat down with the Chamber early in his campaign, a meeting both sides said was positive. And after rolling out an initial team of strategists from Jamestown Associates—a firm that drew the ire of the NRSC last cycle for working against Senate incumbents—he’s also bolstered his campaign with establishment-friendly hires.
Most notably, DeSantis brought on the Chamber’s pollster, Tony Fabrizio, as a senior adviser, and Herold, who ran the Senate campaign of Chamber-endorsee Mike McFadden in Minnesota last cycle and most recently was executive director of the Florida GOP.
While none of this guarantees DeSantis will have the Chamber’s support—or even that it will stay out of the race and not support his opponent—his moves reflect the new reality for the conservative movement this cycle.
“There’s a dramatic difference in the approach,” one Republican strategist said of the candidates’ establishment outreach. “In the past … these folks would file for office, run, and rail against the establishment.”
In Indiana’s race to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats, conservative groups quickly lined up behind Freedom Caucus member Marlin Stutzman. He met with the Chamber and rolled out an initial campaign team of NRSC alumni and establishment-friendly strategists. While Stutzman has since replaced that team, his new campaign manager Joshua Kelley said in an interview last week that Stutzman “has a great record on economic development and pro-business legislating,” and would “be happy to have [the Chamber’s] support.”
Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, also an HFC member, is running to replace retiring Sen. David Vitter. He plans to meet with the Chamber’s senior political strategist, Scott Reed, according to Fleming adviser John Brabender.
The Chamber hasn’t said what role it will play in any of these races. In each case, these tea-party candidates have competition from more establishment-friendly House members.
Rep. Todd Young of Indiana has a 94 percent lifetime score with the Chamber, to Stutzman’s 80 percent. In Louisiana, Rep. Charles Boustany has a 91 percent score to Fleming’s 76 percent. Young and Boustany have also been active in courting the Chamber’s support, as has Jolly, for whom the group shelled out big in his 2014 special-election victory.
Asked whether he believed the group would come to his aid in the primary, Jolly laid out his pitch.
“I have thought all along that at some point ... it’s going to be make or break,” Jolly said. “For those who really care about keeping the Senate in Republican hands ... we’re at great risk of having another shutdown Republican in the U.S. Senate.”
Not only does Jolly believe his moderate profile is more suitable for Florida’s purple November electorate, he said electing DeSantis would roll back some of the gains the Chamber made last cycle in fighting to keep out Republicans who often oppose their own party.