Home Politics Elections DeSantis embraces campaign rituals in Iowa, but gravitates toward policy

DeSantis embraces campaign rituals in Iowa, but gravitates toward policy


SIOUX CENTER, Iowa – Rep. Randy Feenstra brandishes his pork chops while grilling with Ron DeSantis to a crowd of reporters.

“That’s a nice Iowa chop there guys – look at that, huh?” the Republican congressman from Iowa said with a grin.

DeSantis, as he often does, turned the conversation to policy.

“I can’t believe … that Supreme Court, court decision with the California stuff,” said the Florida governor, turning to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. he was apparently referring to a recent decision upheld the ban On sale of some pork.

It was a pertinent reference to the country’s top pork-producing congressional district. But it was also a neat encapsulation of the Florida governor’s preference for policy talk over chit chat as he goes through the rituals of a bid for national office. Making final preparations for a campaign slated to begin in early June, DeSantis returned Saturday to the nation’s first GOP caucus state with fresh legislative accomplishments and several endorsements from Iowa — but also doubts about his viability against Donald Trump. is facing. ,

Critics have said that DeSantis is awkward in personal interactions and ignores personal touches valued by other candidates. DeSantis and his allies have worked to show a more personal side: On Saturday evening, DeSantis sat down with Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufman for a question-and-answer session that focused on his daily life and family, including his wife’s cancer diagnosis

Even though DeSantis has stepped up his engagement in in-frontal politics, and a super PAC supporting him has worked to highlight his background, some allies are finally betting that voters will vote for such a candidate. whose pitch focused on facial results. Trump’s assertion that his opponent needed a “personality transplant”.

“Governance isn’t about building a brand or talking about social media and virtue signaling,” DeSantis told several hundred attendees in a speech at Saturday’s picnic, an apparent jab at Trump and his online tirades. “It’s ultimately about winning and delivering results.”

DeSantis’ ability to connect closely with voters and go off-script was under intense scrutiny Saturday as the election ran the traditional circuit of campaigning in a state where personal interactions are valued. He met VIPs at a private reception. He greeted voters — this time not separated from the crowd by the bike racks that had appeared at his Iowa events earlier this year. He stopped by a Pizza Ranch restaurant, where he pleased the manager’s mother, Sue Dykstra, who finds DeSantis to be a far more attractive person than Trump.

Dykstra said, “I really like Trump’s policies … but he is not a good person.” “I don’t want to sit and eat with him.”

Trump was expected to hold a dueling rally Saturday in Des Moines, but canceled it hours earlier, citing an area tornado watch and said the event would be rescheduled soon. Trump and DeSantis displayed competing slates of support for Iowa Republicans.

Senate President Amy Sinclair and Iowa House Majority Leader Matt Windshittel endorsed DeSantis just ahead of his visit, headlining a list of more than three dozen state lawmakers who are members of Never Back Down, the super PAC promoting the governor. Accordingly, were giving their support behind the Governor. Trump’s campaign announced the endorsements of more than 150 elected officials and others throughout Iowa.

Florida’s governor has been less open to media scrutiny than many other 2024 hopefuls as he hits the trail — and it showed on Saturday. She ignored questions from most reporters at the picnic — unlike Feenstra and last year’s headliner Nikki Haley, who is now a presidential candidate herself. DeSantis ran from the egg-stained stands to his car at the end of the picnic while cameras followed, ignoring a question about the six-week abortion Sanctions he recently signed.

In his home state, DeSantis has been negotiating more closely with Republicans, hosting a steady stream of supporters and potential supporters in Tallahassee, which a person familiar with the meetings likened to a “George W. Bush front porch strategy.” . When the politician came to Texas to sit down with then-Governor Bush before the presidential race.

Some Iowa voters also wanted more answers to specific questions and more opportunities to engage with him. Cinda Van Der Zwaag, a farmer, had noticed DeSantis’ changing comments on the war in Ukraine and went to the picnic in hopes that he would “reduce his stance.” No luck, she later said – “I’m waiting.”

Dustin Rodger, who cited Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s desire to take more questions, said, “I would have liked it to have been town hall style.” But Rodgers, who wore a DeSantis hat, said he was passionate about the governor’s track record in Florida and was eager for “somebody with similar fiscally conservative policies and a common-sense agenda, but without all the other distractions.” “

DeSantis and his supporters are trying to recapture the momentum they gained earlier in the year – pitching donors On the governor’s ability to defeat President Biden in swing states, Trump working to combat support is already poised and taking sharp swings at the former president who is still very beloved by the GOP. Trump is setting himself up as the inevitable nominee, but is facing fresh questions from the GOP about his electability after a New York jury found him liable for defamation and sexual assault — charges that He has denied.

“If we make [the] The 2024 election, a referendum on Joe Biden and his failures, and the positive alternative we provide for the future of this country, Republicans will win across the board,” DeSantis said on Saturday. “If we don’t do that – if we get distracted, we focus the election on the past or other issues … the Democrats will beat us again.”

Representatives for DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment ahead of his visit, while Trump’s campaign spokesman Steven Cheung referenced Trump’s commanding lead in GOP primary polling and also cited general election polls that show him ahead of Biden. Are. “That’s why he has the support of US senators, members of Congress, elected officials and grassroots activists,” Cheung said.

The challenge of criticizing Trump while simultaneously wooing his voters was evident this past week, as the pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, stepped up its attacks. some rebuke From vocal DeSantis supporters on social media. Trump’s CNN town hall, responding to PAC and its staff took aim Trump’s handling of issues important to the GOP base: guns, abortion and a southern border wall. It also shed light on the amount of time spent talking about them January 6, 2021, The US Capitol is stormed by a pro-Trump mob; his false claims the 2020 election was rigged; and defending his comments about how famous men can carry out unwanted sexual advances.

DeSantis delivered his most direct response to some of Trump’s attacks last week, telling Newsmax that Trump is employing Democratic talking points on his record on Social Security. But so far he’s stayed away from the blunter attack lines of Never Back Down.

The governor’s team thinks Trump’s attack “might hurt his head-to-head numbers, but it’s not really hurting his favorability numbers,” said an attendee at a recent dinner with DeSantis. said, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation. He added, “They’re going to hit back when they think it makes sense … They’re not anti-Trump.”

Trump’s team has pressed its advantage to rack up endorsements before DeSantis officially joins the race, locking down the support of much of the Republican congressional delegation from Florida — including a longtime DeSantis ally, Rep. Byron Donalds and another congressman who said DeSantis has. Be unresponsive to your outreach.

Trump’s campaign and his super PAC allies have highlighted more supportive statements this week from West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) — who said on Fox News he believes Trump can win the election — than Marjorie, president of a National anti-abortion group for Dannenfelser, who said he had a “great meeting” with Trump.

Advisers to DeSantis are reminding donors that it is early in the race, planning to spend particular time in Iowa and New Hampshire and noting that national polls do not capture the dynamics in early primary states, which are where governors And the team in Tallahassee recently for small group dinners and briefings, according to people who attended them. DeSantis’ team has long privately estimated that some 30 percent of Republican voters would back Trump no matter what, but expressed hope that he could lead among the rest, according to people who spoke with him. Have done

The dynamics of the presidential race have changed significantly since Trump and DeSantis nearly crossed paths in Iowa two months ago, as Trump appeared more vulnerable and the Florida governor was just starting his book tour. Trump’s team tried to pull A stark contrast with DeSantis over his style of answering audience questions and making an unannounced stop at his rally.

DeSantis made sure to mingle with voters at his booked tour stops in March — but the trip still demonstrated potential challenges for the policy-focused governor, who has sometimes been criticized. Sitting down for a radio interview with Des Moines host Simon Conway – 13 minutes of unscripted banter – DeSantis delivered some of Conway’s jokes in all seriousness and discussed the legislative calendar involving “sign die” and “line item vetoes”. Gave detailed description.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Republican Party of Iowa on Saturday evening in Cedar Rapids, DeSantis cited his record in Florida. Following his remarks, DeSantis, along with his wife, Casey DeSantis, answered some personal questions from Kaufman.

DeSantis recalled meeting Casey at a golf driving range, and later marrying her at Walt Disney World – drawing laughter as he joked that “who would have thought” he would now be fighting with Disney, a A reference to the escalating legal battle.

He laughed as he described bringing his two children with him on a recent international trip and the jet lag he experienced. “It’s part of being a parent, but our son, he died that afternoon, so we’re all getting ready to go to bed at 11 at night. All of a sudden, he wakes up and he’s on , and he’s hungry,” she said to laughter.

Casey DeSantis spoke about her work as Florida’s first lady, and described her husband as “the embodiment of the American Dream” who is “fighting as much for our children as he is for your families.” fighting.”

He said, “He’s exactly what you see behind the podium because he’s at home.”

In an interview with The Washington Post prior to the event, Kaufman said he was looking forward to being in person with the governor. “I know we’ve been asked to make time to talk to them,” Kaufman said, adding that as an interviewer he “has a reputation for bringing out some real human moments in these guys.”

Wells reports from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.


A previous version of this story included a photo caption that misspelled the first name of an attendee at a picnic hosted by Rep. Randy Feenstra. It’s James Dean, not Jake Dean.

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