DeSantis courts Republican voters in weekend trip to Iowa

By: - May 13, 2023 6:08 pm

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at the Feenstra Family Picnic on May 13, 2023. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

SIOUX CENTER — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wooed Iowa Republicans on Saturday by drawing parallels between the two states, especially in regard to newly passed legislation that restricts what can be taught in schools and that prohibits gender-affirming surgeries for minors.

“The survival of our American experiment requires a revival of the American spirit and American principles,” DeSantis said at the Dean Classic Car Museum in Sioux Center. “Florida and Iowa prove it can be done. Our states offer a ray of hope that better days may lie ahead.”

DeSantis was the guest of U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, a fellow Republican who held his annual Feenstra Family Picnic in Sioux Center in northwest Iowa. More than 650 people attended, including state lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis briefly spoke to attendees of the Feenstra Family Picnic after he delivered remarks about his successes as governor. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

DeSantis is expected to seek the Republican presidential nomination for the 2024 election, although he has not yet officially announced a campaign. His weekend trip to Iowa — where Republican caucuses will lead the nation’s selection process for a nominee — included stops in Sioux Center and Cedar Rapids.

Reynolds, Ernst and Miller-Meeks also attended the Republican Party of Iowa fundraiser in Cedar Rapids, along with U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. 

Former President Donald Trump had planned an event in Des Moines the same day but canceled it due to severe weather. Trump has been leading in polls of likely Republican voters.

DeSantis did not attack Trump by name but bemoaned election losses that Republicans have suffered since Trump’s election in 2016.

“Both Florida and Iowa show strong leadership and a bold agenda can defeat the left in this country, but there’s no substitute for victory,” he said. “We must reject the culture of losing that has infected our party in recent years.”

Myron Harris, of Cherokee, who attended the event, said he backs DeSantis because Trump has too much baggage.

“He needed to learn to keep his mouth shut,” Harris said of Trump.

Trump was recently found liable by a jury for sexually abusing and defaming a woman, he has been criminally indicted over an alleged hush-money payment to a pornographic film star, and there are ongoing investigations into his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and election interference in Georgia.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flipped burgers with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra at the Feenstra Family Picnic. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Harris likes what Florida has done to curtail instruction in schools about gender identity and Critical Race Theory and agrees with DeSantis about restricting abortion. DeSantis signed a bill last month that bans most abortions after six weeks of gestation.

And Harris is very concerned about illegal immigration, to the point that he believes businesses that knowingly employ those immigrants should be taken from their owners. He is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and suggested that retired members of the military, like himself, could be commissioned by the federal government to help secure the country’s borders.

DeSantis’ remarks about border control drew sustained, rapturous applause from the crowd in Sioux Center.

“We decide who comes into this country as Americans,” he said. “We have every right to have that border secure and not have this disaster unfolding. … I’d shut down the border immediately.”

Gwen Ecklund, of Denison, said she was impressed by DeSantis’ performance on Saturday and would vote for him.

“I agree with almost everything he said,” Ecklund said. “He not only has similar beliefs but has the presence to deliver it.”

She said she would vote for Trump if he gets the nomination, “but I’d like to see something different.”

Nancy Bruner of Cedar Rapids, an attendee of the evening event, said she was a fan of Trump early on, supporting him early in the 2016 campaign season. Now, Bruner says between Trump and DeSantis, it will be hard to make a decision between a family man and a businessman. 

“I think DeSantis is a family man,” Bruner said. “He puts family first, he has some Christian thoughts and I like that, his background reflects that. Now with Trump, he is smart and he knows his business. So, it’s going to be between, do I take the smart one or the family one, and I haven’t made that decision yet.”

Devin Ladehoff, who had never voted Republican prior to Trump, said he was impressed with DeSantis. 

“I think he is the most electable Republican we have in the field now,” Ladehoff said. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis congratulated each other on legislative successes at the Feenstra Family Picnic. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Reynolds described DeSantis as a “good friend” with whom she has competed in regard to legislative accomplishments. Almost all of the priorities Reynolds mentioned in her Condition of the State address in January were enacted into law this year.

“Florida also wrapped up a historic legislative session,” she said. “When governors are competing, Americans win.”

DeSantis, who referred to Reynolds by first name in his remarks, said he’s “proud of our achievements in Florida, and I look forward to the battles ahead, but it is not going to be easy. The left is not going to just give this to us.”

Jay Waagmeester contributed to this report.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.