Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is handed a child by a parent attending his speech at Sun Valley Barn in Pella on May 31, 2023 (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
PELLA — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hit the ground running in his second day on the Iowa caucus trail Wednesday as he hopes to cement himself as the main alternative to former President Donald Trump in an expanding field of Republican candidates.
DeSantis gave speeches to crowds of hundreds at Sun Valley Barn in Pella and Hawkeye Downs Speedway in Cedar Rapids Wednesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, he held events in Sioux City and Council Bluffs.
It was his second day as an official 2024 Republican presidential candidate in Iowa. He kicked off his “Great American Comeback” tour Tuesday at a Des Moines area church, where he told an excited crowd about his fight against “woke” companies and schools as Florida governor. He’s also scheduled to attend Sen. Joni Ernst’s “Roast & Ride” event on Saturday, along with other GOP candidates.
At the Wednesday events, DeSantis repeated his request for Iowans to help him reach the White House and “avoid American decline.” While he has not named former President Donald Trump in his campaign speeches, he has called for the need for a Republican president to stay in office for two terms “to be able to do as much as you need to do.”
He also said he wants to end the “culture of losing” in the Republican Party, pointing to the 2022 midterm elections, when a “red wave” failed to materialize.
“Iowa showed we can do it, Florida showed we could do it, and yet we should have 55 Republican senators right now and we only have 49,” DeSantis said. “So we’ve got to step up. We can’t make excuses, we’ve got to get it done.”
Trump is also in Iowa Wednesday, speaking with a Des Moines area radio station. On Thursday, he’s scheduled to speak at the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale and at a Fox News Town Hall with Sean Hannity in Clive.
When answering questions from national reporters Tuesday, DeSantis more directly criticized Trump, saying the former president “decided to move left on some of these issues” and criticized him on issues like immigration and government spending.
Trump holds a clear lead in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential nominating cycle. In most recent polls, Trump is the first choice for the 2024 Republican nominee for more than half of respondents, with DeSantis coming in as second at around 20%.
Trump remains popular in Iowa. The most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll published in March found almost three-fourths of Iowa Republicans said they would support Trump in a general election with 47% saying they would definitely vote for him and 27% who would probably vote for him. While he retains significant support, his support decreased from June 2021 when 69% of Iowa Republicans responded they would definitely vote for Trump in 2024 and 15% said they would probably vote for him.
DeSantis is one of many 2024 candidates hoping to take advantage of that opening. Paul Vanderstreak, a Trump supporter from Pella, said he came to see DeSantis speak because he wanted to hear from younger conservatives. While he still prefers Trump, Vanderstreak said he wanted to make sure to give other candidates a fair chance.
“There’s room here,” Vanderstreak said. “I came in here with an open mind and I’m going to leaving here very satisfied with what he’s doing and saying.”
More Republicans are planning to join the race and offer an alternative to Trump. Former Vice President Mike Pence is expected to launch his presidential bid in Iowa next week. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are also expected to join the field.
Cora Engelken from Cedar Rapids said she’s searching for an alternative to Trump. However, she questioned why more Republicans were jumping into the race. While anyone can take a chance in joining the race, she said many of the people joining do not have the name recognition or charisma to have a good shot at the nomination.
“I don’t mind three or four, four or five candidates, but I think more than that is just too many,” Engelken said. “Because they just don’t have a chance. I don’t have fire for them, I won’t be inspired by them. I’m inspired by Tim Scott, I’m inspired by Ron DeSantis. And that’s what I’m looking for — somebody to light my fire.”
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