The Republican Ron DeSantis greeted fans in Iowa on Friday, marking the Florida governor’s first visit this election cycle to the early voting state and intensifying speculation over when he might announce his 2024 presidential bid.
DeSantis delivered remarks to a full crowd at a casino in Davenport on Friday morning, and later appeared in Des Moines with the governor of Iowa, Republican Kim Reynolds, to promote his new book, The Courage to be Free.
Speaking before a crowd of more than a 1,000 on Friday evening, DeSantis drew loud applause by hammering the culture-war issues that have energized Republican primary voters in recent years, particularly on education.
“I think we really have done a great job of drawing a line in the sand and saying the purpose of our schools is to educate kids, not indoctrinate them,” DeSantis said in the auditorium on the Iowa state fairgrounds. “Parents should be able to send their kids to school without having somebody’s agenda shoved down their throat.”
The hardline rightwing governor has emerged as the most likely rival to Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican nomination race and relations between the two have soured, with Trump recently pouring insults on DeSantis.
Trump has already announced his own bid to return to the White House, but his grip on the party has weakened a little after a disappointing show by top Trump-backed candidates in last November’s midterm elections.
Speaking in Davenport, DeSantis touted his accomplishments in Florida. The crowd gave DeSantis a standing ovation when he mentioned his decision to have migrants flown from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, a move that sparked a lawsuit and has already cost the state nearly $2m.
“We will never surrender to the woke mob,” DeSantis told the Davenport crowd. “Our state is where the woke mob goes to die.”
After the speech, DeSantis mingled with his supporters, working the rope line of the event. The governor took selfies with supporters and offered to autograph their books, looking like a candidate for higher office.
DeSantis’s trip comes as he trails Trump in national surveys of likely Republican primary voters, with the former US president leading by 25 points in the latest Morning Consult poll.
But a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom survey suggests DeSantis currently poses the largest threat to Trump in Iowa, which will hold the first caucus of the 2024 Republican nomination contest next February.
According to the survey’s results, Trump is viewed favorably by 80% of Iowa Republicans, compared with 75% who view DeSantis favorably. The former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who launched her own presidential campaign last month, is viewed favorably by 53% of Iowa Republicans.
“Someone who has already held the office and who won the state twice would be presumed to be the frontrunner, and I don’t know that we can say that at this point,” said pollster J Ann Selzer, who conducted the Iowa survey. “There’s nothing locked in about Iowa for Donald Trump.”
Haley is wrapping up a three-day swing through Iowa on Friday, and Trump is scheduled to visit the state on Monday to deliver a speech on education issues, which DeSantis has seized upon as a central focus of his gubernatorial tenure.
DeSantis has signed a bill banning lessons in Florida’s elementary schools on sexual orientation or gender identity, attacked by critics as the “don’t say gay” law, and Republican legislators hope to expand that policy to cover pre-kindergarten through eighth grade during this legislative session.
DeSantis is expected to wait to formally launch his presidential campaign until after Florida’s current legislative session, which began on Tuesday, concludes in May. But DeSantis’s latest events and remarks have left little question that he will soon enter the presidential race, with the hope of capturing the Republican nomination and defeating Joe Biden in November 2024.
“Now’s not the time to rest on our laurels,” DeSantis said in his state of the state address on Tuesday. “We will stand strong. We will hold the line. We won’t back down. And I can promise you this: you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
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