Urgency grows for DeSantis in Iowa as Trump seeks to take him down | ET REALITY


On paper, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is doing everything a Republican presidential candidate should do to win Iowa.

He is doggedly crisscrossing the state, visiting 58 of its 99 counties so far and promising to reach the rest. She meets with voters in small-town churches, meeting halls, county fairgrounds and ice cream parlors, courts heavily evangelicals and amasses endorsements from influential religious leaders and local politicians. Her super PAC is mounting a formidable get-out-the-vote operation and says she has booked $13 million in television ads in Iowa through Thanksgiving.

For DeSantis, who trails former President Donald J. Trump in Iowa by double digits, The State has become something that must be won. Trump, who has campaigned sparingly here, seems to know this. The Trump campaign recently announced that visit Iowa five times in the next six weeks, including stops Wednesday, in a clear attempt to thwart DeSantis’ bid for president with a resounding victory in the Jan. 15 caucuses, the first votes in the nomination race .

Trump’s enduring popularity among the Republican base (so strong that the former president has recently become comfortable distancing himself from the party’s orthodoxy on abortion) is just one of the main obstacles DeSantis faces in Iowa. The other is his lack of charisma. room-brightening and folksy authenticity, qualities that seem necessary, at the very least, to beat an established star like Trump.

“He’s very cerebral, very smart,” said John Butler, 75, an accountant from Pella, Iowa, who heard DeSantis speak Saturday at a meeting of Christian conservatives in Des Moines. “But it seems like it may be difficult to get to know him.”

For now, DeSantis’ top advisers say they are planning a steady diet of the hard-working approach that worked for Republican victors in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Iowa caucuses, none of whom, notably, came close to capturing the power. the party nomination.

“Winning a caucus in Iowa is very difficult,” David Polyansky, DeSantis’ deputy campaign manager, said in an interview this month. “It takes an enormous amount of discipline. Traditionally, it takes an incredible amount of hard work and organization. So much so that even at his peak, Donald Trump couldn’t win it in 2016.”

Much of DeSantis’ strategy mirrors the approach taken by the last three Republicans to win contested caucuses in Iowa: former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, all social conservatives who came to practically all elections. corner of the state. Cruz, not exactly a ball of white-hot magnetism, defeated Trump here in 2016, an effort in which Polyansky played a key role.

“Governor DeSantis is doing a 99-county tour,” said Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, who appeared with DeSantis Saturday at a gathering at a county historical society in her hometown of Red Oak. “He will meet with Iowa voters. That makes a difference.”

And Trump may be giving DeSantis opportunities to make his case in the state.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump called the six-week abortion ban that DeSantis signed in Florida “a terrible thing.” Iowa passed a similar law that is widely popular among social conservatives. DeSantis fired back on Monday in a interview with Radio Iowa, saying, “I don’t know how you can even claim to be somehow pro-life if you’re criticizing states for enacting protections for babies who have a heartbeat.”

The former president has also spent a few days campaigning in Iowa so far, and was booed when he appeared at the Iowa-Iowa State football game this month.

“They’re nervous, and they absolutely should be,” Polyansky said of the Trump campaign. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be a very close race in Iowa. And the former president’s loss seriously damages the glow of invincibility they’re trying to project.”

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said Trump would “put the pedal to the metal” in Iowa, even though he has a commanding lead.

“We don’t play preemptive defense,” Cheung said in a statement. “President Trump’s aggressive schedule in Iowa reflects his continued commitment to building support in the state, one voter at a time.”

One of DeSantis’ biggest challenges may be showing voters that he is not as painfully clumsy as his critics suggest.

Rachel Paine Caufield, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines, has seen DeSantis appear at about 10 events so far this cycle. She said his small-town approach made sense in Iowa, but that he himself might not be the right candidate to execute it. She has been especially struck, she said, by the way he interacts with voters.

“He always looks miserable until he’s directly in front of a camera about to take a selfie,” said Dr. Paine Caufield, who wrote a book about the Iowa caucuses.

On Twitter, a cottage industry has emerged that has turned DeSantis’ most awkward moments into viral memes. There was a time when he he said to a young woman at an Iowa county fair that their Icee probably had too much sugar. The painful way his face contorted when they reminded him that Trump was leading him in the polls. And, of course, the strange, almost heartbreaking laughter (with his head thrown back violently, eyes closed and mouth open) usually announces the voters’ jokes.

new york magazine and vanity fair They have packaged those interactions into clickbait lists. They have become fodder for late-night comedians. The Onion, a satirical news site, has turned Mr. DeSantis into a regular punching bag (“DeSantis has a surprisingly fluid verbal exchange with the Iowa State Fair Corn Dog,”) a holder read).

Even his super PAC, Never Back Down, reminded DeSantis that he should “show emotion” when talking about his wife and children, in an unexpectedly public memo about last month’s debate.

But on the campaign trail, where he is often accompanied by his wife, Casey, a former local television host, and their three young children, DeSantis has seemed pleasant enough, voters say. Even some Trump supporters don’t find him rigid. They simply like Trump more and wish the Florida governor had waited to run until 2028.

“I saw a spokesperson who was very confident in what he believes,” said Madeline Meyer, 85, a retiree who heard DeSantis speak at a fundraiser in Iowa last month but said she planned to stick with the former president. “He has a good voice and a nice young family.”

in a Fox News Interview Last weekend, DeSantis called criticism of his behavior a “false narrative.”

Kristin Davison, Never Back Down’s chief operating officer, said the group’s messaging in Iowa would focus on DeSantis’ plans for immigration and the economy, which polls show are top issues for Republicans.

“We’re focusing on expanding on what the governor has said he will do for voters,” Davison said in an interview.

DeSantis has also tried to tailor his appeal more specifically to Iowa voters in recent trips, after largely focusing his initial speech on his record in Florida. He has noticeably adjusted his speech to talk less about Florida and more about what his priorities would be as president.

But the governor clearly finds it difficult to leave his home state behind.

While walking on an Iowa cattle ranch over the weekend, a gust of wind blew open his jacket and revealed that the lining had been sewn with images of the Florida state flag.

Maggie Haberman contributed with reports. Alicia McFadden contributed to the research.

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