DeSantis visits Iowa as GOP footing rises

By Thomas Beaumont | The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa >> Ahead of a widely expected presidential campaign, Florida Gov. RonDeSantis introduced himself to eager audiences of Iowa Republicans on Friday with amessage that leaned into the antagonism toward the left that has made him a popular figureamong conservatives.

“We will never surrender to the woke mob,” DeSantis told an audience of more than 1,000 at the Rhythm City Casino Resort in the eastern Iowa city of Davenport, his first Iowa stop as he moves toward seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. “Our state is where woke goes to die.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets people in the crowd during an event Friday in Davenport, Iowa. RON JOHNSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

With the Iowa caucuses less than a year away, Republicans in the state are taking a harder look at DeSantis, who is emerging as a leading rival to Donald Trump. The former president, who is mounting his third bid for the White House, will be in Davenport on Monday as early signs warn that some Republicans may be looking for someone else to lead the party into the future.

Trump mocked 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’sthreatening language that criticized young transgender people and their parents.

“When ... these MAGA Republicans don’t agree with an issue or with policy, they don’t bringforth something that’s either going to have a good faith conversation. They go to thisconversation of ‘woke.’ ... What that turns into is hate; what that turns into is despicablepolicy.”

But show up they did, including more than 1,000 Friday evening in the capital city, DesMoines, where DeSantis ignited his biggest ovation by accusing schools of seeking toimpose a leftist agenda on students on issues of gender and race.

“I think we really have done a great job of drawing a line in the sand and saying the purposeof our schools is to educate kids, not indoctrinate them,” DeSantis said in the auditorium onthe Iowa state fairgrounds. “Parents should be able to send their kids to school without having somebody’s agenda shoved down their throat.”

DeSantis appeared alongside Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in Davenport and Des Moines and met with a small contingent of GOP lawmakers in the capital city. He was also promoting his newly 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 widely popular among Iowa Republicans, though positive views of the former president have slipped somewhat since he left the White House. Now, 80% say they have a favorable rating of him, down slightly from 91% in September 2021, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released Friday.  Eighteen percent have unfavorable views of Trump.

The poll’s movement suggests Iowa Republicans are not singularly committed to Trump for2024 and are open to considering other candidates. Though slightly behind the well-knownTrump, DeSantis gets a rosy review from Iowa Republicans — 74% favorable rating. Notably,DeSantis has high name recognition in a state over 1,000 miles away from his own; just20% say they aren’t sure how to rate him.

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

“He’s very articulate, uses common sense it seems in governing,” the retired humanresources worker for 3M Co. said.

Bodine would consider attending the 2024 caucuses and supporting DeSantis, though sheis registered to neither major political party and has never caucuses before. Regardless,Trump is out of the running for Bodine, who is from nearby Clinton.

“I don’t like Trump,” she said. She “unfortunately” voted for Biden in 2020, she said. “He’snot 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. Retiree AlGreenfield, of Davenport, said he came out of curiosity but “I don’t particularly care for” theFlorida governor. “He doesn’t have the experience,” said Greenfield, who’s 70. “He doesn’tknow the swamp.”

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

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

“Gov. DeSantis is a wonderful man. I’m for DeSantis, but I’m also for Trump. I haven’tdecided yet,” the 70-year-old retiree said. “So we’ll see how God works it out and how thepeople vote.”

While DeSantis was making his presence known in Iowa, several prominent former Trumpsupporters called on him to take the next step and announce he’s running.

“More than ever our country needs strong leadership, someone that gets things done & isn’tafraid to stand up for what’s right,” tweeted former Pennsylvania Rep. and Republicangubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta.

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