Ron DeSantis heads to Iowa to pave the way for 2024 presidential ambitions


Davenport, Iowa

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will make his first appearance in Iowa on Friday, bringing his long-awaited bid for the White House one step closer to reality.

Although DeSantis doesn’t plan to make a formal announcement about his political future until May or June, his visit to Iowa, followed by a stop in Nevada on Saturday, shows the growing priority of his presidential ambitions and his desire to send a clear signal. GOP donors, activists and potential campaign workers are talking about his intentions in early voting.

His arrival here Friday is highly anticipated by Iowa Republicans who have watched DeSantis from afar and are eager to take his measure up close.

“Our grandchildren live in Florida, so we have to see and hear what he’s done there,” said Kim Schmett, a GOP activist from Iowa. “But everybody in Florida is telling us that we don’t want him to run for president because we want to keep him here. Good to hear from someone in public service.

DeSantis’ carefully crafted travel schedule has taken him to many of his neighbors in Iowa in the middle of last year and, in recent weeks, to friendly audiences from Staten Island to Southern California. But he avoided public events in New Hampshire, the GOP’s first nomination state and home of the party’s first primary. In an interview last year, DeSantis boasted that the state had gotten rid of the lure of politicians, saying, “Here’s the thing: I’ve never been to Iowa in my life. »

He will break the seal with his visit to Iowa on Friday, making him the last potential 2024 hope to begin meeting in person with the state’s Republican caucus voters. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who announced her candidacy last month, is wrapping up her three-day tour of the state, while potential candidates such as South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu have held events in Iowa. from last year.

Earlier this year, sources close to the Florida governor didn’t know DeSantis was going to Iowa until he officially became a candidate. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican who attended a donor party in Palm Beach last month, has urged DeSantis to come to the state as soon as possible, according to aides. The release of her second book, The Courage to Be Free, and the national tour that followed allowed DeSantis to land in Iowa on her own terms.

Friday’s tour includes two stops on its public schedule — a casino in eastern Iowa’s Davenport and the state fairgrounds in Des Moines with Reynolds — but its itinerary is also packed. Several personal meetings with the main leaders of the republic.

He plans to meet with a group of state lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where the legislation, similar to many of Florida’s signature proposals, has been hotly debated all week. Those involved in setting up his political action committee invited several influential Iowa Republicans to meet with DeSantis on Friday, according to aides familiar with the conversations.

The Florida governor’s top advisers have talked to several key Iowa GOP operatives about joining his team in the state. No specific hiring decisions have been made, people familiar with the matter said, but campaign veterans of Reynolds and former Gov. Terry Branstad are among those in talks with DeSantis’ team.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump has made a personal call in Iowa over the past two weeks — targeting some of those lawmakers and longtime supporters — urging them to re-endorse his candidacy.

“President Trump is waving his arms and looking for approval, but most of us are keeping the powder dry for now,” a senior Republican official told CNN on condition of anonymity because he did not want to comment. alienating the former president or the DeSantis team.

Trump will hold his first Iowa 2024 event in Davenport on Monday, just days after DeSantis left town. Jeanita McNulty, chairwoman of the Scott County GOP, said many local Republicans are not involved, and she expects to see some familiar faces at the DeSantis and Trump events.

“Republicans here are not closing a chapter or starting a new chapter,” he said. “They want to hear the two candidates, see what they have to say.”

There are plenty of cautionary signs for DeSantis in Iowa, which is expected to have its first vote in the Republican contest early next year.

“He’s riding high for a lot of good reasons. He’s done a great job leading the state of Florida,” Bob Vander Plaats, president of the influential Christian group The Family Leader, told CNN.

“But in 2008, (Rudy) Giuliani ran. In 2012, Rick Perry ran. In 2016, Scott Walker ran,” he said, referring to previous candidates who did not respond. had high hopes and failed before the voting began. “For Gov. DeSantis, he now has to show that he’s not just looking at all the polling numbers, he’s actually willing to work.”

Vander Plaats had a one-on-one meeting with DeSantis last month near Naples, Florida.

DeSantis’ name came up again and again during conversations with more than two dozen Republican voters and party activists in Iowa this week. To many, her decision to include Iowa in her national book tour signals her intention to run, but she’s in no rush to make it official.

“Pushing the book in Iowa is a fishing expedition,” said Kelly Koch, chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party. “I think he’ll be surprised how many people come to the fairgrounds to see him. People are very curious.’

It’s unclear how much DeSantis will prioritize Iowa and other early-candidate states as he builds a campaign focused on surviving Trump’s GOP primaries. Two people with knowledge of the planning, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said DeSantis’ political operation has laid out an ambitious national strategy that focuses as much on contesting Trump strongholds and winning big races as it did on the first battleground. His recent trips to Alabama, Texas and California are the first indication that DeSantis is not focused on winning Iowa or New Hampshire on a county-by-county basis.

“I think you’re going to see some unconventional things happen in a short amount of time,” the source said.

DeSantis routinely broke traditional political protocol when he was Trump’s primary GOP challenger, and there’s no playbook for challenging the former president in the primaries. He also built a fundraising juggernaut that will bring in more than $70 million from his 2022 re-election bid, and he raised another $10 million this year through his Florida political committee before stepping down. . CNN previously reported that the governor’s political team planned to transfer the money to a federal committee if DeSantis were to run.

For a first-time presidential candidate who was unknown to most of the country two years ago, building a national campaign from scratch would be a risky and expensive endeavor. This creates the added risk of turning off voters in early states like Iowa.

“They expect to meet the candidates, shake their hands, look them in the eye,” said Scott County GOP Chairman McNulty. “This is the beauty of the first group in the country. It would be foolish to ignore the power of fractional politics here.

Recent Republican Iowa caucus winners — Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (2016), Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (2012) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (2008) — spent a lot of time in the state to win. . However, none of them managed to secure the Republican nomination in the end.

A source close to DeSantis’ political team said his operation has seen the political landscape change since 2016 to allow for an unconventional campaign.

“Ron DeSantis never succeeded because he was the best campaigner. He was successful because he was the best governor,” the source said. “Primary voters are less worried if you have coffee with them. if you are honest and do what you say you will do. I understand that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are used to a certain style of campaigning, and he should take those factors into account. But the Republican primaries have voters so concerned about the direction of the country, and those things don’t matter.

Favorable daily coverage from Fox News and other conservative outlets allowed DeSantis to represent many potential GOP voters. He will spend much of the coming weeks promoting his book and making a point to speak to out-of-state voters, such as he did during a rally with law enforcement unions. New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois ordered last month, sources said. Back home, the GOP-led state legislature is expected to send his office a list of ideological bills that could generate more headlines and serve as a platform for his campaign.

“Governor. “DeSantis has an unfair advantage in some way,” Vander Plaats said, “and that’s the governor of Florida.” It’s a big country and it gets a lot of media coverage.

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