NEW YORK (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis is replacing his campaign manager as the Florida governor resets his sluggish presidential campaign.
DeSantis is bringing on James Uthmeier, his chief of staff from his state office, to serve as his campaign manager, replacing Generra Peck, who led DeSantis’ reelection campaign last year before jumping into the same role on his presidential bid.
Peck will stay on as a strategist.
The changes come after DeSantis made two big staff cuts in the past few weeks, laying off about a third of his staff in late July as the campaign faced financial trouble.
“James Uthmeier has been one of Governor DeSantis’ top advisers for years, and he is needed where it matters most: working hand in hand with Generra Peck and the rest of the team to put the governor in the best possible position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden,” campaign spokesman Andrew Romeo said in a statement.
DeSantis has been Donald Trump’s strongest rival in the crowded GOP presidential field, but the former president has kept a commanding lead in polls. Trump, who regularly needles DeSantis, declared on his social media network Tuesday, “DeSanctimonious is CRASHING! Perhaps Party should come together???”
As expected for someone still running a state, DeSantis has kept in contact with his chief of staff while campaigning, with a call to Uthmeier regularly being among the few items on the daily public schedule released by the governor’s office.
Politico in October obtained text messages that showed Uthmeier was involved in Florida’s program to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last year.
NBC News reported in June that while Uthmeier remained in DeSantis’ government office, he was also working as a political fundraiser for the governor’s presidential campaign. The arrangement was unusual, and government watchdog groups said it raised ethical questions.
Before he worked for DeSantis, Uthmeier worked in the Trump administration for U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. His work on the efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census later became part of a congressional committee investigation.
Uthmeier will be on a leave of absence from the governor’s office. Florida’s Secretary of Commerce Alex Kelly will serve as acting chief of staff and work with senior adviser David Dewhirst, office spokesman Jeremy Redfern said.
DeSantis is also hiring an operative who was working on a super PAC that had been supporting his campaign. David Polyansky, who had been advising Never Back Down, will join the campaign as a deputy campaign manager.
Romeo said Polyansky will be a critical addition to the team given his previous experience working in early voting Iowa, which has become a proving ground for the DeSantis campaign.
Polyansky worked on the presidential campaigns of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016 and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in 2012. In Iowa, he helped Joni Ernst win election to the U.S. Senate in 2014 and helped Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee win in the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses in 2008.
Polyansky was traveling with DeSantis in Iowa to events Saturday sponsored by Never Back Down, which as a super PAC, can receive unlimited sums from donors but is barred under federal rules from coordinating with campaigns on how their money is spent.
Polyansky is listed as the chief strategy officer for Axiom Strategies, a political consulting firm whose founder, Jeff Roe, and other staffers are working for Never Back Down.
Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer who has advised Republicans and Democrats, said it’s not unusual for a consulting firm to have employees advising both a super PAC and a campaign, but such a person typically takes a leave of absence or signs document establishing a firewall against restricted coordination.
The DeSantis campaign did not respond to a message about whether Polyansky is staying at his firm or signing a firewall agreement.
The staff shakeup was first reported by The Messenger on Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines contributed to this report.