How DeSantis’s Ambitious, Costly Ground Game Has Sputtered

Ron DeSantis’s battle plan against Donald J. Trump was always ambitious.

This spring, the main super PAC backing Mr. DeSantis laid out a costly organizing operation, including an enormous voter-outreach push with an army of trained, paid door-knockers, that would try to reach every potential DeSantis voter multiple times in early-nominating states.

Seven months later, after tens of millions of dollars spent and hundreds of thousands of doors knocked, one of the most expensive ground games in modern political history shows little sign of creating the momentum it had hoped to achieve.

Mr. DeSantis’s poll numbers have barely budged. His super PAC, Never Back Down, is unraveling. And Mr. Trump’s hold on Republican primary voters seems as unshakable as ever. With time running out before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15, Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, appears in danger of losing the extraordinary bet he made in outsourcing his field operation to a super PAC — a gamble that is testing both the limits of campaign finance law and the power of money to move voter sentiment.

Never Back Down has spent at least $30 million on its push to reach voters in person through door-knocking and canvassing in early-primary states, according to a person with knowledge of its efforts — a figure that does not include additional tens of millions in television advertising. The organization has more than 100 full-time, paid canvassers in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, along with 37,000 volunteers.

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