Receive free US presidential election 2024 updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest US presidential election 2024 news every morning.
Republican presidential hopefuls are courting wealthy US oil donors as they seek to tap a rich seam of campaign funds that remains up for grabs, reflecting what executives say is a shift in support away from former president Donald Trump.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis is leading the charge with a visit on Wednesday to the energy hub of Midland, West Texas, to tout his support for American oil and gas and intention to unpick President Joe Biden’s green agenda.
The message will draw comparisons with Trump’s 2020 stump speech near the city, where he tried to garner support among oil donors with a pledge to end the “far-left assault” on American fossil fuels.
But DeSantis and other Republicans are hoping to capitalise on growing discontent with Trump among oil executives, who fear he will lose another election to Biden in 2024, resulting in more regulation of their industry.
The shift away from Trump comes as other Republican megadonors hold back from spending money in the hope that one of the alternative candidates can unite the anti-Trump vote.
“I’m personally looking for a true dark horse that has minimal baggage — so Republicans can perform better and truly compete for the White House and Congress,” John Yates, scion of a prominent New Mexico oil family and chief executive of Abo Empire, a private oil and gas producer, said in an interview.
Nikki Haley, who visited Midland last month, will attend an event hosted by oil billionaire Harold Hamm in Oklahoma City next week. Hamm, a former confidant of Trump, has also given to DeSantis, while criticising the “chaos” surrounding the former president, who is facing scores of criminal charges.
Texas has been fruitful ground for Republicans in recent election cycles, with donors from the state giving more than $85mn to Trump’s campaign in 2020, according to OpenSecrets, or more than 9 per cent of his war chest. The oil and gas industry backed him with $15mn.
The former president campaigned across oil country in 2020. “We are telling the Washington politicians trying to abolish American energy, ‘Don’t mess with Texas’,” Trump declared during a rally on an oil rig outside Midland.
Some resources executives are now actively campaigning against Trump.
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organisation founded by Charles Koch, chair of Koch Industries, stayed out of the 2020 race but has now raised more than $75 million to fight Trump’s 2024 bid.
Hamm, the sector’s best-known oilman — who Trump once considered making energy secretary — has called on the former president to drop out and become a “kingmaker” for another Republican candidate. Hamm recently told the Financial Times that America needed a “clean slate” and to get away from the “division and chaos” associated with Trump.
No candidate has yet laid out a coherent energy strategy — though some executives have praised North Dakota governor Doug Burgum, head of the nation’s third-biggest oil producing state. Former vice-president Mike Pence has released an energy agenda that includes cutting the approval process, opening drilling and mining on federal land, and rolling back proposed rules to reduce emissions of methane, a virulent greenhouse gas.
But Dan Eberhart, the chief executive of Canary oilfield services group who donated more than $100,000 to Trump’s 2020 campaign, has thrown his fundraising prowess behind De Santis.
“Governor DeSantis is certainly [taking] positions that are positive for national security and for traditional energy producers,” Eberhart told the FT.
DeSantis is expected to unveil details of his own energy platform in Midland on Wednesday, vowing to demolish Biden’s climate agenda and promote more shale oil and gas output.
The Florida governor has moved to capitalise on the recent surge in petrol prices across the country, saying in Texas on Wednesday that his administration would aim for $2 a gallon, or slightly more than half the current average price.
“We will unleash American energy dominance,” said DeSantis.
Roy Bailey, a former Trump 2020 campaign official now fundraising for DeSantis in Dallas, said the Florida governor had already lined up “a lot of major hitters” in the industry.
DeSantis was the “only candidate that has a legitimate chance to beat Trump for the nomination”, he added, reflecting a view shared by many across Texas’s oil patch.
Ben Proler, an oil and gas executive in Houston, said DeSantis had “pretty much inherited” the donor base of Ted Cruz, the junior senator for Texas who endorsed Trump after a bruising primary battle against him in 2016.
DeSantis was “far and away ahead of most when it comes to getting oil and gas major donors”, said Proler, the former national chair of Maverick PAC, a network for young American conservatives. “I think there’s a reason why he’s going to Midland.”
Additional reporting by Sam Learner