Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has started cutting campaign staff just months into his presidential bid, as he has struggled to gain traction in the Republican primary and lost ground in some public polls to former President Donald J. Trump.
The exact number of people let go by the DeSantis team was unclear, but one campaign aide said it was fewer than 10. The development was earlier reported by Politico.
The dismissals are an ominous sign for the campaign and also underscore the challenges that Mr. DeSantis faces with both his fund-raising and his spending, at a time when a number of major donors who had expressed interest in him have grown concerned about his performance.
An aide, Andrew Romeo, described the campaign’s circumstances in an upbeat tone.
“Americans are rallying behind Ron DeSantis and his plan to reverse Joe Biden’s failures and restore sanity to our nation, and his momentum will only continue as voters see more of him in person, especially in Iowa,” he said in a statement. “Defeating Joe Biden and the $72 million behind him will require a nimble and candidate-driven campaign, and we are building a movement to go the distance.”
The race is still in its early days, and past campaigns have reshuffled in the months before voting begins. Former Senator John McCain blew up his campaign in the summer of 2007 before winning the Republican nomination. Mr. Trump’s went through three iterations in his successful bid, although none came during the primary races.
Several top DeSantis fund-raisers have said the Florida governor is in it for the long haul, with a focus on the upcoming debates and contests that begin in January.
But Mr. DeSantis’s moves are coming unusually early. And the fund-raising numbers — filed Saturday — show a campaign that will need to make several adjustments, including to travel schedule and to staff size, if it plans to make up lost momentum that began to fade months before Mr. DeSantis formally entered the race.
The DeSantis campaign is also expected to make further changes, according to aides. Policy speeches are planned, along with interviews with the kind of news outlets he has broadly derided, as soon as this week, according to two people familiar with the strategy.
Mr. DeSantis’s struggles appear to be not just about the numbers, but also with the campaign’s message. Late last week, two top DeSantis advisers, Dave Abrams and Tucker Obenshain, were announced to be leaving to join an outside group supporting Mr. DeSantis.
Mr. DeSantis’s campaign finance disclosure with the Federal Election Commission shows he raised roughly $20 million but spent almost $8 million, a so-called burn rate that leaves him with just $12 million in cash on hand. Only about $9 million of that cash can be spent in the primary, with the rest counting toward the general election if he is the nominee.
The filing indicated a surprisingly large staff for a campaign so early in a candidacy, particularly for one with a super PAC that has made a show of how much of the load it is prepared to handle. More than $1 million in expenditures were listed as “payroll” and payroll processing.
Mr. DeSantis’s top expenditures included $1.3 million earmarked for travel, including private jet rental services. The campaign also spent more than $800,000 apiece on digital fund-raising consulting, media placement and postage. The campaign also paid nearly $1 million to WinRed, the online donation-processing company.
Recent Republican primary races have been littered with examples of candidates with early sizzle followed by significant struggles. Scott Walker, who was the governor of Wisconsin, quit the presidential race in September 2015 as he was amassing debt. Jeb Bush, one of Mr. DeSantis’s predecessors as Florida governor and perhaps the biggest donor draw in the 2016 campaign, began shedding payroll amid struggles as well, though much later in the race.
Still, Mr. DeSantis’s allies note that he is further ahead in polls in Iowa than Mr. Bush was in the fall of 2015 and that he has a more natural constituency in Iowa than other challengers. The caucuses will be held on Jan. 15, 2024, and it’s the state where candidates seeking to blunt Mr. Trump must fare well.
Rachel Shorey contributed reporting.