Meet Ron DeSantis’ inner circle
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is easily one of the most recognizable names in American politics today.
He won reelection by historic margins, stumped for candidates across the country during the 2022 election cycle and is widely expected to run for the presidency.
Yet DeSantis has relied on a remarkably small coterie of aides to help guide all that political activity.
The dozen confidantes he leans on most — to shape his agenda in Tallahassee, assemble an extensive fundraising operation and devise his political future — include his chief of staff, well-known lobbyists and especially his wife.
Now he’s leaning on this group of insiders as he plots his next move toward 2024 and a collision with former President Donald Trump.
To understand the world of Ron DeSantis, you need to know these names. Here’s a cheat sheet.
Peck led the day-to-day operations of DeSantis’ 2022 midterm reelection campaign that saw him win by nearly 20 percentage points over Democrat Charlie Crist,a former governor. Peck had as much influence over the campaign as anyone but did so with very little attention or headlines.
She’s a classic behind-the-scenes operator — but one who was instrumental to DeSantis’ campaign success. She is very likely to remain a part of Team DeSantis for the foreseeable future. She previously helped lead the effort to get Trump’s USMCA trade deal with Canada and Mexico through Congress.
Campaign senior adviser
Tyson is one of Florida's best known Republican pollsters and has worked for GOP candidates and organizations across the country. He quickly became a key cog in DeSantis’ campaign operation, taking on polling and broader advisory roles.
He was among the staffers updating DeSantis’ VIPs and donor-types on election night, underscoring the central position he played in the campaign. Prior to joining DeSantis’ team, he worked for Associated Industries of Florida, one of the state’s largest business lobbying and political organizations.
Campaign general consultant
Cox was among the campaign’s first hires, joining the team in March 2021 and serving as its top big picture consultant throughout the duration of the campaign. He is expected to remain a key part of DeSantis’ political operations moving forward. Cox, like many other DeSantis campaign staffers, largely stayed out of the headlines. But the campaign tapped him to do an interview with Business Insider in October 2022 to publicly push back against the idea that DeSantis has a gruff personality and lacks charm. During the rare interview, Cox said the framing was a “total fabrication.”
Cox has a lengthy resume: He served as a top staffer for the Republican Governors Association in the 2010 election cycle when he had to help smooth things over after Rick Scott beat then Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP primary for governor. McCollum was the heavy favorite and Republican establishment pick.
DeSantis administration communications director
Fenske has led the DeSantis administration’s messaging efforts from April 2021 to the present, a time that coincided with DeSantis’ rise through the national Republican ecosystem. During that period, DeSantis championed controversial policy proposals that energized the GOP base but were demonized by Democrats nationally. Those included a series of so-called “election integrity” proposals, legislation and administration rules targeting transgender youth and a planto fly mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers from the southern border to Martha’s Vineyard, which the administration says was to highlight the Biden administration’s immigration failures.
Through it all, Fenske has remained mostly out of the public’s eye — especially compared to DeSantis’ former press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who forcefully defended DeSantis’ publicly before being sent to the campaign after she sent tweets that ran afoul of DeSantis and others in the official office.
Owner, Capital City Consulting
Iarossi and other members of his firm, including fellow Capital City lobbyist Scott Ross, played a huge role in DeSantis’ early 2018 campaign, and have been among the lobbyists closest to the governor since. Iarossi backed DeSantis early in the 2018 election cycle when few thought he could beat then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was the heavy favorite to win the GOP primary and the pick of nearly all of Florida’s Republican establishment and donor class. Iarossi remains both an informal adviser and fundraiser for DeSantis’ political efforts.
Casey DeSantis is unquestionably the most important person influencing DeSantis’ policy and political operations. The former Jacksonville television personality is seen as perhaps the most powerful first lady in Florida political history, taking both public positions on key issues like mental health funding as well as more behind-the-scenes duties, including playing a leading role in changing the makeup at the Republican Party of Florida to bring in people seen as DeSantis loyalists. She is the governor’s closest confidant and has more sway than any other adviser.
Chief of staff
Uthmeier is considered the most influential of DeSantis’ three chiefs of staff and led the governor’s office during much of the time when DeSantis became a post-pandemic political star. DeSantis’ first two chiefs of staff were longtime operative-types, while Uthmeier is seen as further right on the political spectrum and a better fit for DeSantis, who is championing a policy portfolio directed, in large part, to those on the Republican Party’s right flank.
As DeSantis has focused on bigger picture messaging and a likely 2024 presidential bid, Uthmeier has been given wide-ranging authority to oversee the administration’s day-to-day activities. Prior to serving as chief of staff, Uthmeier was DeSantis’ general counsel. He also served as senior adviser to former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Lobbyist, GOP fundraiser
Ballard leads one of Florida’s largest lobbying firms and has been a staple in Republican politics for years. Though he didn’t support DeSantis in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, he quickly became part of DeSantis’ inner circle, including serving as the co-chairman of DeSantis’ 2018 inauguration celebration. One of his lobbyists, Adrian Lukis, who was a former DeSantis chief of staff, served as a co-chair of DeSantis 2022 inauguration events.
Longtime friend, former Nevada Attorney General
Laxalt is considered one of the closest friends of DeSantis, who has a reputation of not having many close friends or associates. The two were roommates at the Naval Justice School and have remained close friends, including continuing to talk on the phone regularly. DeSantis gave Laxalt’s failed U.S. Senate campaign a boost in April when he traveled to Nevada to rally for his campaign and raise money.
Director of Policy & Budget, Executive Office of Governor
Spencer is the administration’s point person on building and developing state spending proposals, which is the lifeblood that runs through nearly every policy decision. During the 2022 legislative session, Spencer oversaw the crafting of a $112 billion budget, the largest in state history. He then led the effort to veto a record $3.1 billion in lawmaker-approved spending projects. Having a huge degree of control over such a heavy veto pen comes with a large degree of power and influence.
Longtime DeSantis fundraiser
Barker is one of DeSantis’ longest running campaign aides, surviving in a world that is well known for high levels of turnover. Barker has been the top fundraiser for DeSantis’ political operation for years. At one point, she was the only full-time political staffer on the campaign’s payroll before the 2022 midterms really kicked off. She was given the title of senior adviser during the 2022 campaign and continues to be a vital staffer in DeSantis’ political operation.
Adelson and her late husband, Sheldon, who founded Las Vegas Sands and was one of the Republican Party’s largest and most influential donors, gave DeSantis’ 2018 campaign its first major boost when Sheldon and Miriam agreed to sign on to his finance committee.
The Adelsons’ connection to the campaign helped boost its legitimacy and helped change the perception that DeSantis was the underdog in the race. Miriam Adelson has remained a confidant to DeSantis, advising him on a range of issues from foreign policy to substance abuse.