The announcement was made in a memo to grassroots activists via the network’s advocacy arm Tuesday and is being backed by a multimillion-dollar ad campaign beginning this week in states that hold early primary contests and several that vote on Super Tuesday.
“When we announced our decision to engage in our first ever Republican presidential primary, we made it clear that we’d be looking for a candidate who can turn the page on our political dysfunction — and win. It’s clear that candidate is Nikki Haley,” Emily Seidel, senior advisor to AFP Action, said in a statement.
“Nikki Haley represents a new generation of leadership and offers a bold, positive vision for our future. AFP Action is proud to be endorsing her and we will be doing everything we can to help make her the next President of the United States.”
While Haley stands to gain support in key primary states, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be at the losing end of the decision, as he struggles to find traction and has tried to find a spark to propel his listless campaign.
“This was not an easy decision for AFP. Governor DeSantis has been a good ally and a champion of many policy positions of AFP and the state of Florida,” a source briefed on the matter said.
“But Nikki Haley also was an early ally, going back to the Tea Party movement when she ran for governor of South Carolina, and is also aligned on the issues.”
Donors to Americans for Prosperity, a piece of the political arm of the larger Koch network, had pressed the deep-pocketed group to make a decision and use their resources to boost a preferred candidate sooner rather than later, two sources familiar with the decision said.
The push by donors came as the Republican primary field shrank, after former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. dropped out.
“I’m honored to have the support of Americans for Prosperity Action, including its millions of grassroots members all across the country,” Haley said in a statement after the announcement.
“AFP Action’s members know that there is too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines. This is a choice between freedom and socialism, individual liberty and big government, fiscal responsibility and spiraling debt. We have a country to save, and I’m grateful to have AFP Action by our side.”
For weeks, people briefed on the matter cautioned that the decision wasn’t considered final until it was announced, with others noting until days before the announcement that the group could still end up backing DeSantis instead.
The network had already waded into the Republican primary with advertisements targeting former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.
An endorsement brings with it lucrative financial backing and an early state operation that rivals the infrastructure of the Republican National Committee. It’s known in Republican circles as a turnkey operation — as soon as they decide, AFP can kick into gear.
The group has spent around $4 million on ads so far this cycle (digital, satellite and radio), according to AdImpact tracking. Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC, raised more than $70 million in the first half of the year, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The DeSantis team got wind of the likely Haley endorsement after an AFP backer discussed it at a gathering of political donors two weeks ago.
A DeSantis donor relayed it to the governor’s aides, who were “apoplectic” and began a full-court press with AFP to buy their candidate more time to return to favor, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
DeSantis had a direct conversation with an AFP executive, according to a person familiar with the discussion. This source said AFP recently told DeSantis they had not come to a decision yet and are still going through their process.
DeSantis is in a critical stretch of the race that could be more difficult if the Koch cavalry comes out in force for his top rival.