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DeSantis’ Kentucky gubernatorial bid loses to Trump-backed rival


On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida went out on a limb. On Tuesday it broke.

A day after he entered the Republican primary for Kentucky governor with a last-minute endorsement — a move that turned the race into an apparent proxy fight between himself and former President Donald J. Trump — Mr. DeSantis saw his chosen candidate loses in a fight. landslide to the Trump-backed rival.

To make matters worse for Mr. DeSantis, a Republican he had endorsed, admitted a Democratic opponent in the mayoral race in Jacksonville, the largest city in his state.

Mr. DeSantis’ preparations to enter the 2024 primary are intensifying. He has held a series of private dinners in Tallahassee with top donors, and on Tuesday took a direct shot at Mr. Trump because he dodged whether he would sign a six-week abortion ban.

But on Monday, Mr. DeSantis made a last-minute endorsement and robocall to Kelly Craft, a former U.N. ambassador under Mr. Trump and a member of a Republican mega-donor family.

The move baffled Kentucky Republicans and those working for her rivals: While Ms. Craft spent heavily in the race, with polls suggesting she was headed for defeat to Daniel Cameron, the state’s attorney general, an ally of Sen. Mitch McConnell, who had won Mr. Trump’s endorsement in June 2022. Representatives of Mr. DeSantis declined to comment.

“Kelly shares the same vision as we do in Florida,” said Mr. DeSantis in a recording sent to Republican voters on the eve of the primary election.

It ended up being far from close. With nearly 90 percent of the ballots counted, she was in a distant third, earning just 17 percent of the vote for Mr. Cameron’s 47 percent.

“Let me just say,” Mr. Cameron said in his victory speech, “The Trump culture of winning is alive and well in Kentucky!”

His choice of words was telling: As Mr. DeSantis nears the announcement of a presidential campaign, his stump speech has often called for the Republican Party to end its “culture of losing” in the Trump era. Monday was the sentence splashed across the front by The Des Moines Register after the governor campaigned in Iowa over the weekend.

The Trump team cheered Mr Cameron’s line. In fact, one of Mr. Trump’s top adviser, Chris LaCivita, predicted that less than an hour before Mr. Cameron spoke. When the race was called, Mr. LaCivita wrote on Twitter, “so much for the #alwaysbackdown culture of winning.”

Never Back Down is the name of the primary super PAC supporting Mr. DeSantis. One of the super PAC’s top strategists is Jeff Roe, whose consulting firm also worked for Ms. Craft.

The failed approval of Ms. Craft on election night responded to the last-minute support that Mr. DeSantis edged Harmeet Dhillon in the race to lead the Republican National Committee in January.

Mr. DeSantis called for “new blood” the day before the vote. The incumbent, Ronna McDaniel, won easily the next day.

Meanwhile, Mr. DeSantis’ night was no better in Jacksonville, where Daniel Davis, the Republican endorsed by the governor, lost to Donna Deegan, a Democrat, for an open seat. Mr. DeSantis had provided little support to Mr. Davis beyond his approval, not visiting the city to campaign. Early results showed that ms. Deegan led Mr. Davis with about 52 percent of the vote.

Jacksonville has had Republican mayors for most of the past 30 years.

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