Chattanooga Republicans holding fundraiser for GOP presidential hopeful DeSantis

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Tennessee Republican Party Statesmen's Dinner, Saturday, July 15, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

NASHVILLE — Republican presidential hopeful and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to be in Chattanooga on Tuesday for a fundraiser sponsored by local supporters.

Six couples are hosting the event, according to an invitation obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Among them is Brad Martin, a former Tennessee legislator who later became chair and CEO of Saks Inc., along with his wife, Dina Martin.

Other host committee members include homebuilder Win and Lucy Pratt, Jacob and Gretchen Levy, Gary and Marie Ivey, Derek and Becky English as well as Hal and Rachel Brown.

Hosts are paying $10,000 per couple for the event, while co-hosts pay $5,000. Other attendees are paying $2,000 each at the event, which is taking place at a private home in Riverview.

Similar fundraising events are taking place this week in Knoxville and Franklin.

DeSantis' appearances in Tennessee come days after the former congressman was the main speaker at the Tennessee Republican Party's main fundraiser.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has worked with DeSantis, did not attend, citing a prior family commitment. Nor did U.S. Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, who are firmly backing former President Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

The DeSantis campaign is telling top donors that a reset is underway amid cost overruns and messaging issues during the early stages of his national effort, Fox News and CNN have reported.

Trump continues to dominate the field, even as his legal battles mount. In Georgia, he is being investigated for his alleged efforts to overturn the state's 2020 presidential election results while president.

Trump also faces federal investigations into his handling of classified documents as well as his actions leading up to and during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot and breach of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

In a phone interview Monday, Jacob Levy focused on DeSantis, calling him a fine man.

"The governor is an outstanding candidate to lead this country as president of the United States," said Levy, a technology executive who first met DeSantis when the future governor was still serving in Congress. "DeSantis is both the best candidate in the field on merit and the candidate most able to win the general election.

  photo  Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Tennessee Republican Party Statesmen's Dinner, Saturday, July 15, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

"I think he stands out in the field on principle, pedigree and prowess," Levy said, going on to call the governor a "very intelligent man" who determines his own mind on policy. "He's demonstrated leadership by running the third most populous state in the country."

Asked about Trump, Levy said, "I think that a lot of people feel appreciation, gratitude, maybe even loyalty to President Trump for fighting for them, giving a voice. I think President Trump did a great thing for the country, running and winning in 2016 and creating a moment of change in the country where political lines realigned to face the real challenges in front of us and the challenges behind us.

"That being said," Levy added, "he did not deliver very much on the promise of his presidency, and he lost in 2020. The task in front of us now is to nominate someone to lead the country for the next four, God willing, eight years. That person is Gov. DeSantis."

DeSantis served as keynote speaker at Tennessee Republicans' annual fundraiser earlier this month where he promised to reverse "national decline" under Democratic President Joe Biden and fight "woke ideology" as he has in Florida.

"We've made the state of Florida the place where woke goes to die. And now, it is our mission as Americans to ensure that in January 2025," he said. "We leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history where it belongs."

Also on the campaign trail, DeSantis has said some Black people benefited from being enslaved while defending his state's new African American history standards that civil rights leaders and historians have criticized as offensive and revisionist, The Washington Post reported last week.

"They're probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life," DeSantis told reporters last week in response to questions, according to the Post account.

Asked about DeSantis, state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, who is Black, said by phone that he doesn't think very much of him.

"He doesn't seem like a person ... who believes in facts and science. He wants to provide a narrative that's counter to the truth," Hakeem said. "Talking about benefits of slavery for Black people is asinine. I guess the way I would characterize him is, he is portraying himself as one of the dumbest smart people I've ever seen and, you know, coming out of Harvard. And it appears he has no relationship with the truth or science."

Turner Wood, president of Triad Electrical Contractors in Chattanooga, donated $250 to the DeSantis campaign in May. He said DeSantis can be too aggressive, but Wood appreciates his policies and his "decisive win in the election in Florida."

Above all, Wood's support for DeSantis comes from a desire to pivot the Republican Party away from Trump.

"I'm a devout conservative Republican, and I just believe that it's time to move on without Donald Trump," Wood said. "I can't express that strongly enough that ... we are just going to fall right back in the rut of 'them against us' if Donald Trump's elected."

Wood is keeping a close eye on Republican candidate Tim Scott, who he said is a close second to DeSantis.

Trump, on his social media platform Truth Social on Sunday, circulated an image of himself hitting a golf ball with DeSantis' face on it.

"Go back to Florida, Ron!" it said.

Staff writer Sarah Dolgin contributed to this report.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-285-9480.