Pro-DeSantis group brings on top political strategist as campaign heats up

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FILE PHOTO: Florida Governor DeSantis makes his first trip to Iowa at a book tour stop in Davenport, Iowa

By Gram Slattery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Republican strategist and adviser to the governor of Virginia has joined a high-dollar fundraising group aimed at getting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis elected to the White House, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Jeff Roe, the founder of political consultancy Axiom Strategies, is working with Never Back Down PAC, which was formed earlier in March by Ken Cuccinelli, a former senior official in Donald Trump's administration.

The move, first reported by Politico, comes as DeSantis appears to inch closer to a presidential bid. He has not declared himself a candidate, but he is widely expected to do so, and opinion polls show that he is by far former President Donald Trump's most formidable challenger for the Republican nomination.

The hiring of a major national campaign figure represents a key step by DeSantis's allies to prepare for a formal launch of his 2024 campaign.

In recent weeks, DeSantis has toured states including Iowa and Nevada, which are key stops in the Republican nominating contest. Advisers have also begun identifying potential operatives in those states and have begun collecting resumes for a national campaign staff, sources close to the governor said.

Roe is a close advisor to Republican Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who is also seen as a potential contender for the Republican nomination. His decision to jump to DeSantis's team raises questions about whether Youngkin will ultimately run after months of speculation.

Representatives for Never Back Down, Roe and Youngkin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Alistair Bell)