DeSantis Sets Sights on Iowa, Hoping It Slingshots Him Past Trump

After his much-maligned Twitter rollout last week, Ron DeSantis is joining the campaign trail, making a play for evangelical voters in the first-in-the-nation nominating state.

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DeSantis Sets Sights on Iowa, Hoping It Slingshots Him Past Trump |

“I think the groundswell of support has been really, really strong” in Iowa, said Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, who announced his Republican presidential campaign last week.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida will hold a kickoff event in Iowa on Tuesday as he begins a three-state, 12-city tour at the start of his presidential campaign, aiming to win over Republicans in a socially conservative state where he is banking on a strong showing against former President Donald J. Trump.

In a recent media blitz, Mr. DeSantis has highlighted the crucial role Iowa will play in his bid, calling it “very important” in an interview on “Fox & Friends” and drawing comparisons between a six-week abortion ban he signed in Florida and a similar law in Iowa that has been tied up in court.

“I got endorsed by 37 legislators there before I even announced my candidacy,” Mr. DeSantis said on Fox News on Monday. “We obviously have a lot in common with Iowa in terms of what Florida has done and what they’ve done under Gov. Kim Reynolds. And I think the groundswell of support has been really, really strong. We’re going to press the case.”

His campaign’s decision to hold its first in-person event at Eternity Church in Clive, a suburb of Des Moines, signals the enduring importance of evangelical Christian voters in Iowa’s Republican caucuses.

Mr. DeSantis has sought to differentiate himself from Mr. Trump on social issues, pointing to their stances on abortion and the governor’s clash with Disney, among other issues, as proof that he is the more conservative candidate in the race and that Mr. Trump has moved to the center (“I will be able to destroy leftism in this country,” Mr. DeSantis said on Fox News). Senator Ted Cruz of Texas defeated Mr. Trump in the Iowa caucuses in 2016, relying in large part on evangelical support.

ImageEternity Church in Clive, Iowa, on Tuesday before Mr. DeSantis’s visit.Credit…Rachel Mummey for The New York Times

Mr. Trump is also set to visit Iowa on Wednesday and Thursday, meeting with local Republicans and faith leaders and holding a Fox News town hall event in Clive.

The church is a far cry from the setting where Mr. DeSantis formally announced his campaign, an audio livestream chat on Twitter last week with the platform’s billionaire owner, Elon Musk, that was marred by technical mishaps and led to mockery from Mr. Trump and others. But the Twitter fiasco was little noticed by many voters in Iowa, according to Gloria Mazza, the chair of the Republican Party in Polk County, which includes Des Moines.

“They know his name, but Iowans expect to meet him,” said Ms. Mazza, who is staying neutral in the 2024 race. “They want to hear him and see him and look him in the eye. Most people here have not made up their minds. I go to the events for each candidate and I see the same people. They’re trying to decide.”

Ms. Mazza added that both Mr. DeSantis’s campaign and the main super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down, were trying to contact voters directly, something she had seen firsthand. Two weeks ago, she said, field workers with Never Back Down knocked on her door to make their pitch for Mr. DeSantis, who has at points struggled in his retail interactions with voters.

“They clearly have a strong ground game,” she said.

And the glitchy online rollout did not stop Mr. DeSantis’s campaign from raising what it said was a record haul of $8.2 million in contributions in its first 24 hours.

Money may be Mr. DeSantis’s greatest strength in the race. Never Back Down expects to have a budget of at least $200 million to spend nationwide, including more than $80 million that is being transferred from Mr. DeSantis’s state political fund-raising committee.

That transfer has led to a formal complaint from a campaign watchdog group. On Tuesday, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission arguing that moving the funds to Never Back Down had violated rules against using “soft” money — dollars raised without federally imposed limits — in a presidential campaign. (The F.E.C. is deadlocked between the political parties, and campaign finance experts say they doubt it would act on such a complaint.)

Representatives for Mr. DeSantis’s campaign and Never Back Down did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Although Iowa is a top priority for Mr. DeSantis ahead of a vote in more moderate New Hampshire next year, the state is not necessarily a bellwether in Republican politics. The last Republican to win Iowa in a competitive primary season and then capture the party’s nomination was George W. Bush.

On Wednesday, Mr. DeSantis will continue his tour of Iowa with four more events before visiting New Hampshire on Thursday and South Carolina on Friday.

Shane Goldmacher contributed reporting.

Nicholas Nehamas is a campaign reporter, focusing on the emerging candidacy of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Before joining The Times in 2023, he worked for nine years at The Miami Herald, mainly as an investigative reporter. @NickNehamas

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