By James Oliphant and Gram Slattery
WAUKEE, Iowa (Reuters) – If Ron DeSantis wants to win the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election, it will likely all come down to the next 12 days.
Florida’s governor launched a series of frenetic campaign events Wednesday in the run-up to the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, which will offer the first signal of whether Republican voters’ preferences match public polls that show the former President Donald Trump as the party favorite. .
No candidate has gambled more on a strong result in Iowa than DeSantis: He visited all 99 of the state’s counties, fiercely courted its socially conservative voters and won the support of its governor.
A poor performance in the caucuses likely dooms DeSantis’ candidacy. The next race for the Republican nomination is Jan. 23 in New Hampshire, where he is trailing in polls behind Trump and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
At an event Wednesday at a small community center in Waukee, Iowa, DeSantis peppered his remarks with criticism of Trump, saying he had failed to deliver on campaign promises, including construction of a wall on the southern border of the United States and the expulsion of millions of people. migrants in the country illegally.
“What makes you think he’s going to succeed the second time?” » DeSantis asked a crowd of about 100 people.
One attendee, Christopher Garcia, 75, of Woodward, Iowa, noted that DeSantis was performing poorly in the polls and continued to push him to go more “directly after” Trump during the campaign.
DeSantis argued that he had been tough on Trump, saying “he was his own worst enemy. I don’t think Donald Trump can ultimately win an election.”
Afterward, in an interview, Garcia said he would caucus for DeSantis, complaining that Trump “can’t keep his mouth shut.”
“We need someone who can be president. DeSantis would be fine, but he has to fight,” he said. “Are these people afraid to take Trump head on? Is that the problem?”
The Republican candidate will face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election.
Another attendee, Tom Shields, 78, of Clive, Iowa, said he would also attend DeSantis’ caucus after supporting Trump in the past.
Trump “comes on quite strong and I think he turns off a lot of people,” Shields said.
DeSantis’ campaign has been plagued by money problems and discord between his campaign team and a super PAC supporting him, Never Back Down. But more fundamentally, he has struggled to expand his appeal beyond a narrow slice of the Republican electorate and position himself as an heir to Trump’s political movement.
At a campaign rally for his supporters on New Year’s Eve, DeSantis’ most influential evangelical supporter, Bob Vander Plaats, urged those in the room not to surrender. “Everywhere I go, the polls don’t match reality,” he said.
Those close to DeSantis or his nomination effort privately acknowledge that he needs to finish at least second in Iowa for his candidacy to remain viable.
One person who spoke with the governor often said that even a close finish that resulted in DeSantis and Haley walking away with the same number of delegates would be a defeat. The 40 delegates up for grabs in Iowa are awarded on a proportional basis.
“We hope to surprise everyone,” said the person, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the state of the campaign. “If he gets the same number of delegates, that’s not good.”
A major donor, who spent more than $1 million to support DeSantis, said a third-place finish would mark the end of the campaign.
That donor, who also requested anonymity, said he would probably write Haley a check if DeSantis didn’t defeat her in Iowa.
Heading into Iowa, Haley and the super PAC supporting her outspent DeSantis and Trump. The PAC, SFA Fund Inc, blanketed the TV airwaves with negative ads against DeSantis while leaving Trump alone.
Haley returns to Iowa on Thursday for a televised town hall with voters. DeSantis will participate in a similar event that evening.
Before that, he will hit the western part of the state on Wednesday holding several events, then do the same in the eastern region on Friday and Saturday, when Trump will also hold four rallies in Iowa.
(Reporting by James Oliphant in Waukee, Iowa, and Gram Slattery in Council Bluffs, Iowa; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang)
Copyright 2024 Thomson Reuters.