There are now just 10 days before the 2024 Iowa Caucuses, where the first votes for a potential president will be cast. Iowa has long enjoyed the role of being first among kingmakers. Its place in the primary contest calendar ensures its interests, namely agricultural, are communicated to presidential contenders.
Iowa can be a proving ground for candidates, often spending large sums of donated funds, time, effort and sweat on old-fashioned campaigning. Before one can schedule stadium-filling rallies leading up to the summer conventions, presidential hopefuls are sitting down to breakfast in diners and shaking hands at county fairs.
“I think the candidates who, you know, spend all the money on TV but aren’t actually down on the ground visiting folks, they tend to under-perform and the candidates that have that organization tend to over-perform,” says Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one of the candidates for the GOP’s nomination. DeSantis spoke with the FOX News Rundown podcast while between campaign events in Des Moines.
While Iowa historically serves this role for both major parties, only Republicans will observe the ritual this time. Democrats will hold their first nominating contest in South Carolina, a state where the party’s active voters are believed to be more supportive of embattled incumbent President Biden.
DeSantis has been making a big deal of Iowa. He boasts of visiting all the state’s 99 counties. His campaign’s Iowa operation has been in motion since his announcing his candidacy in May 2023. He has secured endorsements from the state’s popular Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, and beloved social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats. Both came at the consternation of former President Trump, who is not just seeking the GOP nomination, but has decidedly made an enemy of DeSantis, whereas once the two were seen as close allies and confidantes.
However, DeSantis argues the former president’s light campaign schedule in the state will be his weakness.
“He has not been willing to take questions from Iowa voters,” observes the governor. “He refused to participate in the debate that we’re doing on January 10th. He, of course, has not participated in any debate thus far.”
Despite the former president’s debate stage absence, the political attacks have been numerous. From President Trump, as expected, it involves name-calling and mockery. From fellow candidate Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and former U.N. ambassador, it has come in the form of advertising. Then, there is money spent on messaging by SuperPACs. DeSantis says the focus on him by his two main competitors and their aligned activists means he is the man to beat.
“I’ve had $40 million spent attacking me. That’s more than all the other Republicans have had spent against them combined. That’s more than has been spent against Donald Trump and Joe Biden combined in the 2020 in this 2024 cycle.”
DeSantis hasn’t held back either. He is not known for mincing words, though voters might have been surprised he made things a bit more personal in his attacks against Haley. He has called her a “phony” during a televised debate, and more recently, took umbrage at Haley suggesting voters in New Hampshire’s primary in late January would “correct” the way Iowans voted in their caucus weeks before.
DeSantis demands to know what Haley meant by that.
“What does Iowa need to be corrected for? Are you trying to say Iowans, somehow, their voice doesn’t matter and it needs to be corrected? So, it was very disrespectful.”
He also does not understand what he says is Haley’s ignoring of other state contests where convention delegates are up for grabs.
“She’s not even competing in the Nevada caucus,” DeSantis notes. “She signed up for the Nevada primary, which doesn’t award any delegates. Now, it’s true the Nevada GOP is partial to Trump. And they they are trying to rig the caucus for him. But you know what? Democrats aren’t going to make it easy for us. I’m competing in the Nevada caucus, so we have delegates at stake.”
Then, there is the polling.
DeSantis stipulates published polls have not shown him to be giving the front-runner, the former president, a hard fight. More recently, the polls show Haley gaining on him in Iowa and surpassing him in New Hampshire. DeSantis, however, is not sold on the accuracy or lack of bias of published polls. He notes many were wrong about his re-election in 2022. That was when he stunned the political industry with a substantial victory over a Democratic nominee who himself was a former single-term governor, as a Republican, no less. His strong showing in 2022 was perhaps the only big Republican victory when even Democrats were expecting a “red wave” from coast to coast and up-and-down ballots. It has been argued that DeSantis’ re-election numbers carried Sen. Marco Rubio to re-election, as well as causing Congressional and state legislative seats to flip in historically blue areas such as Miami, as the state’s population surged with new residents who ran away from blue state COVID-19 lockdowns.
“There were polls coming out that I was in the margin of error with my Democrat opponent. Some even had me down. Most of them had me winning, but by like 3 to 6 points and I won by 20 points. And, you know, we knew that we were going to win big because we were actually identifying the people that had committed to vote for us and who we knew were going to turn out. And so I just think for them to have been so off in my reelection, I just don’t put a lot of stock into what’s going on.”
DeSantis will participate in another televised town hall event on the Fox News Channel on Jan. 9.