Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis made a four-stop blitz through Iowa during his first full day of presidential campaigning Wednesday and aimed for a personal connection with voters while ramping up his criticism of former President Donald Trump.
DeSantis is opening his campaign trailing the former president in the polls. For months, he has been dogged by criticism that although he’s comfortable in official settings and on stage, he can seem awkward and halting when interacting with regular voters.
The Florida governor launched his campaign with a glitch-filled kickoff online last week. He held his first official event Tuesday night in Iowa before an energetic crowd of around 500 gathered inside a suburban church in Des Moines. While speaking to reporters afterward, DeSantis pushed back against the former president in a way he had not previously done.
DeSantis has accused Trump of abandoning “America First” principles
Governor DeSantis accused former President Trump of abandoning “America First” principles by “moving left” on critical issues, including immigration and supporting coronavirus pandemic-related lockdowns. The Florida governor laughed off any criticism Trump sent over his leadership, particularly his state’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Hell, his whole family moved to Florida under my governorship,” said DeSantis. “Are you kidding me?”
Donald Trump and his allies have let loose a new round of attacks on DeSantis sharing polls that have shown the former president is a heavy favorite in the Republican race and taking aim at DeSantis’ leadership during the pandemic. A super PAC that is heavily pro-Trump is also running ads on Iowa television that accuse DeSantis of wanting to raise taxes. DeSantis has denied the claims.
Former President Trump, who was already previously scheduled to be in Iowa Thursday, added more stops to his Wednesday, ensuring he would overlap DeSantis for some time. Trump will record a radio appearance in Des Moines before attending a Republican legislation dinner.
Meanwhile, DeSantis will be back in Iowa Saturday for an event for 2024 GOP hopefuls hosted by Senator Joni Ernst. Other candidates will join them declared and undeclared candidates, including former U.N. Ambassador and Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, as well as Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Pence is among the candidates expected to join the Republican primary field next week, along with North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.