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Ron DeSantis visits Iowa as interest in Donald Trump’s likely 2024 rival grows


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Ahead of a highly anticipated presidential campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came to a cheering audience of Iowa Republicans on Friday with a message that leaned into antagonism toward the left which made him a popular figure among conservatives.

“We’ll never make it to the woke crowd,” DeSantis told an audience of more than 1,000 at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in the eastern Iowa town of Davenport, his first stop in the Iowa as it heads toward the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. “Our state is where the revival is going to die.”

With less than a year to go until the Iowa caucuses, Republicans in the state are taking a closer look at DeSantis, who emerges as one of Donald Trump’s main rivals. The former president, who is mounting his third White House bid, will be in Davenport on Monday as early signs warn some Republicans may be looking for someone else to lead the party in the future.

Trump poked fun at DeSantis’ trip on social media, asking “why would people show up?”

And White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre took issue with the Florida governor’s threatening language that criticized young transgender people and their parents.

“When…these MAGA Republicans disagree with an issue or with a policy, they’re not presenting something that’s going to have a good faith conversation. They go to this “woke” conversation. …which turns into hate; what it becomes is a despicable policy.

But they did show up, including more than 1,000 on Friday night in the capital, Des Moines, where DeSantis sparked his biggest ovation as he accused schools of seeking to impose a leftist agenda on students on gender and race issues. .

“I think we’ve done a really great job of drawing a line in the sand and saying that the purpose of our schools is to educate children, not indoctrinate them,” DeSantis said in the auditorium of the park. Iowa State exhibits. “Parents should be able to send their children to school without having someone else’s agenda imposed on them.”

DeSantis appeared alongside Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in Davenport and Des Moines and met with a small contingent of GOP lawmakers in the capital. He was also promoting his recently released book, “The Courage to Be Free.”

The visit is an early test of DeSantis’ support in the state that will kick off the contest for the Republican nomination next year. Trump remains hugely popular among Republicans in Iowa, although positive views of the former president have waned somewhat since he left the White House. Now 80% say they have a favorable rating from him, down slightly from 91% in September 2021, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll published Friday. Eighteen percent have an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

The poll’s movement suggests that Republicans in Iowa aren’t singularly committed to Trump for 2024 and are open to the idea of ​​other candidates. Although slightly behind the famous Trump, DeSantis gets a positive review from Iowa Republicans – 74% favorable rating. Notably, DeSantis enjoys high notoriety in a state more than 1,000 miles from his own; only 20% say they don’t know how to evaluate it.

Copies of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ book “The Courage to Be Free” are handed out before he speaks at an event Friday, March 10, 2023 in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ron Johnson)

Sandy Bodine said she was impressed with DeSantis as the ballroom emptied after Friday morning’s event.

“He’s very articulate, uses common sense it seems to rule,” the retired 3M Co human resources worker said.

Bodine is reportedly considering attending the 2024 caucuses and supporting DeSantis, although she is not registered with any of the major political parties and has never caucused before. Either way, Trump is out of the running for Bodine, who comes from nearby Clinton.

“I don’t like Trump,” she said. She “unfortunately” voted for Biden in 2020, she said. “He is not a statesman and we need a statesman. I can see DeSantis as a statesman.

But others in the crowd suggested they would stick with the former president. Retired Al Greenfield, of Davenport, said he came out of curiosity but “I don’t particularly care” about the governor of Florida. “He doesn’t have the experience,” said Greenfield, who is 70. “He doesn’t know the swamp.”

Greenfield is ardently for Trump and plans to create a caucus for him next year.

Nearby stood Diana Otterman, of Bettendorf, still considering her options.

“Governor. DeSantis is a wonderful man. I’m for DeSantis, but I’m also for Trump. I haven’t decided yet,” the 70-year-old retiree said. people will vote.”

As DeSantis made his presence known in Iowa, several prominent former Trump supporters called for him to take the next step and announce he’s running.

“More than ever, our country needs strong leadership, someone who gets things done and isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right,” the former Pennsylvania Rep and Republican candidate for office tweeted. of Governor Lou Barletta. “Come on, Ron, your country needs you!”

Barletta had accused Trump of disloyalty after the former president endorsed a rival in his gubernatorial primary.

DeSantis’ visit coincided with a trip to the state by former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her 2024 candidacy last month. Trump’s stop Monday will be his first visit to the state since launching his last presidential bid.

Over the past few weeks, the DeSantis team has begun holding conversations with a handful of potential campaign staffers in key states. Late last month, he met privately with donors, elected officials and national conservative activists to discuss his views, including limiting the way race and sexuality are taught in schools.

DeSantis is expected to announce his candidacy in late spring or early summer, after the Florida legislative session concludes in mid-May.

The anticipation is reminiscent, to some extent, of Iowa’s support for George W. Bush before the 2000 election, albeit with significant differences, said veteran Iowa GOP activist David Oman.

DeSantis is seen, as Bush was, as a next-generation Republican governor of a great state who won resounding re-election, said Oman, who was among the Iowa Republicans who helped recruit Bush. to introduce one’s self.

Bush dove into Iowa with fanfare in June 1999 and won the Iowa caucuses the following year en route to the GOP nomination in 2000 and the White House. Not insignificantly, Bush enjoyed the hands-on outreach campaign in Iowa of his father, former President George H. W. Bush, who had built lasting relationships during his Iowa caucus campaigns in 1980 and 1988. .

“There is another former president in this cycle. Only he’s not interested in helping a first-time candidate,” Oman said, referring to Trump. “W was the heavy favorite in Iowa. I believe there is no overwhelming favorite this time around.

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