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The blitz comes as DeSantis draws widespread interest from Republican Party donors eyeing the next generation of party leaders, who have praised him for his anti-coronavirus lockdown policies and his combativeness toward the media. With the prospect of a Donald Trump comeback bid still uncertain, many contributors scoping out the party’s bench are flooding DeSantis with five-, six-, and even seven-figure checks for his 2022 campaign in Florida.

DeSantis’ cross-country fundraising swing draws parallels to former President George W. Bush, who courted donors outside his home state in the run-up to his 1998 reelection race. Bush received financial support for his gubernatorial campaign and, crucially, developed the national finance network that became a foundation of his presidential bid two years later.

“DeSantis is very smart to use his reelection and his national ascendancy to travel the country, raising money and building a network that could serve him well in 2022 and beyond,” said Scott Jennings, a former top Bush political adviser. “Circumstances are coming together for him quite nicely, and his operation appears agile enough to understand it all and take advantage of it.”

DeSantis allies say he’s focused solely on the 2022 contest and, if anything, finds talk of a 2024 run an unwelcome distraction. DeSantis faces the hurdle of running for reelection in a perennial swing state he won by only a fraction of a percentage point in 2018, and senior Republicans view him as one of the party’s most vulnerable incumbent governors up for election next year. The race has drawn a pair of potentially formidable Democratic candidates: state Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried and Rep. Charlie Crist, who is seeking a comeback after serving as a Republican more than a decade ago. Crist later switched parties.

Bush, by contrast, had the luxury of running for reelection in a state he had already won comfortably. When he ran again in 1998, he received more than two-thirds of the vote.

But Republican givers are treating DeSantis as a national figure. Invitations to Thursday’s fundraiser, which is being co-hosted by former San Diego County GOP Chairman Tony Krvaric and real estate investor Cathy Herrick, dub DeSantis as “America’s Governor.” Attendees are being asked to pony up as much as $100,000.

“The interest is sky-high and we expect a very successful visit,” Krvaric said in a text message.

DeSantis’ recent out-of-state fundraising travels have taken him to Lexington, Ky., where former U.N. ambassador and GOP megadonor Kelly Craft hosted a reception and dinner that drew around $300,000 for the governor’s reelection effort.

Craft, one of the party’s most sought-after contributors and a likely future candidate for governor of Kentucky herself, noted that many of the attendees had second homes in Florida. She said there was a desire to hear DeSantis talk about how he’d handled the pandemic.

“I just felt he was a perfect fit to come into Kentucky, especially with the group that we had. A lot of the folks have places in Florida and the reception was amazing,” said Craft. “This is a guy who has a national name but at the same time is focused on Floridians.”

DeSantis also raised money in Pennsylvania last month, and he attended a series of donor events in Texas, including one hosted by venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale and another by Kent Hance, a former congressman and past chancellor of the Texas Tech University System.

“We put together a 40-person lunch with six days’ notice and raised $80,000. The interest and demand were absolutely off the charts,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist and fundraiser who co-hosted another event.

The list of major out-of-state donors to DeSantis this year includes Chicago hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who cut a $5 million check, and Boston-based private equity investor John Childs, who gave $250,000. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who resides in Atlanta, chipped in another $250,000.

It’s unclear whether DeSantis’ national fundraising travels will extend into 2022, as the election draws closer and the demands of a swing-state campaign intensify.

After crisscrossing the country in the summer and fall of 1997, Bush’s out-of-state fundraising tapered off in 1998, when he focused on campaigning in Texas. By the time the dust had settled on the 1998 race, Bush had cultivated a national network of donors that included Florida real estate developer Mel Sembler, Arizona auto dealer Jim Click, and Massachusetts technology executive Richard Egan. Some of the national donors who bankrolled Bush’s 1998 effort would ultimately become members of the “Pioneer” program that bundled large sums for Bush’s successful 2000 presidential campaign.

DeSantis isn’t the only governor cultivating a national donor base. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who is also up for reelection next year, has been traveling beyond the confines of her small state. Noem, who has raised money in such states as Tennessee, Texas and Florida, has received financial support from the likes of California-based donors Richard and Stacy Kofoed, both of whom were major Trump backers. The governor is being shepherded around the country by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Should they run in 2024, however, DeSantis and Noem may confront other Republicans who have more established donor bases. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who developed a wide network of contributors during his 2016 presidential bid, earlier this year held a donor retreat where the prospect of a national campaign was a subject of discussion, according to a person familiar with the event. Cruz also has a large base of small dollar givers; during the first three months of the year he raised over $5 million, more than any other Republican senator.

But being forced to run for reelection next year may turn out to be a blessing for DeSantis, giving him entrée to benefactors who see good reason to cut checks. Other would-be presidential contenders who aren’t running in the midterm elections, such as former Vice President Mike Pence and ex-U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, are seeking out other ways to remain relevant, such as throwing themselves into congressional races.

“Some of the other candidates don’t have 2022 reelections,” said Jennings, “so they are in the phantom zone to some degree until Trump decides what he’s going to do.”

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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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