DeSantis Kicks Off Campaign in Iowa 05/30 06:09
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ron DeSantis plans to kick off his presidential campaign
in Iowa on Tuesday, the start of a busy week that will take him to 12 cities in
three states as he tests his pitch as the most formidable Republican challenger
to former President Donald Trump.
The Florida governor's two-day trip to the leadoff caucus state -- starting
at a suburban Des Moines megachurch and ending at a Cedar Rapids racetrack --
comes after a stumbling online announcement last week that formalized his
long-anticipated entry into the growing Republican field. It will be followed
by stops in early primary states New Hampshire and South Carolina.
DeSantis' scheduled Tuesday evening stop at Eternity Church in Clive is a
conspicuous nod to the evangelical Christians who wield outsize influence in
Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses. His visit will give voters an
opportunity to meet the new candidate just as he has been stepping up his
criticism of Trump.
"He's got a big hill to climb -- and I think everybody would agree with that
-- to be able to convince people that he can overcome Trump, that he can do a
job as good as, if not better than, Trump," said Bernie Hayes, the Republican
chair in Linn County where DeSantis plans to wrap up his Iowa jaunt Wednesday.
DeSantis, assailed by Trump for months, pivoted from oblique swipes to
direct questioning of the former president's conservative credentials during a
round of interviews with friendly media last week, notably his handling of the
coronavirus pandemic and record on criminal justice.
DeSantis called a bipartisan bill Trump signed in 2018 that reduced
mandatory minimum federal prison sentences and allows a pathway for non-violent
offenders to reduce prison time "a jailbreak bill." As a member of Congress,
DeSantis voted for an early version of the measure but had left Congress after
he was elected governor and before the final, less strict bill passed.
DeSantis also said Trump wrongly "turned the country over to Fauci,"
referring to Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases who helped lead the country's COVID-19 pandemic
DeSantis announced his campaign Wednesday night during an online
conversation with Twitter CEO Elon Musk. The audio stream crashed repeatedly,
making it difficult for most users to hear the announcement in real time, a
stumble campaign officials and others quickly dismissed as a minor setback.
DeSantis was undeterred in laying out his message, that conservative
legislative victories this year in Florida, chiefly on cultural topics such as
restricting sexual orientation discussion in schools, are the antidote for what
he calls a nation controlled increasingly by the extreme left.
"American decline is not inevitable -- it is a choice," DeSantis said during
the glitchy audio stream. "And we should choose a new direction -- a path that
will lead to American revitalization."
DeSantis has a running start in Iowa and other early voting states, thanks
to Never Back Down, a super political action committee that is using money the
group can receive in unlimited sums from wealthy contributors to begin
organizing support for him. Campaign finance law requires the group to do its
work without coordinating with DeSantis.
Iowans should see staff and volunteers for the group working the perimeter
of DeSantis' church event in Clive on Tuesday, as well as events Wednesday in
conservative western Iowa's Sioux City and Council Bluffs and the manufacturing
and college city of Pella in east-central Iowa before the finale in Cedar
Rapids. By making his bid official, DeSantis gives the group a rallying figure
whose events it can attend, even if cannot coordinate with DeSantis' official
The tack, untested and not without risks, is aimed at maximizing super PAC
dollars. It's also a way of helping DeSantis race in Iowa to catch Trump, whose
campaign says it has banked thousands of supporters thanks to a more
disciplined, data-driven outreach effort than Trump's seat-of-the-pants 2016
campaign. That operation landed him in second place but with thousands of
potential supporters left uncontacted by the campaign.
And Trump, besides his regular social media broadsides attacking DeSantis,
has attempted to shadow him in Iowa to demonstrate his own popularity. In
March, Trump headlined an event at a Davenport theater three days after
DeSantis spoke to an audience and took questions from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds
during the Florida governor's tour promoting his memoir.
Two weeks ago, Trump scheduled a rally in Des Moines to take place the same
day DeSantis was headlining Iowa Republican events in western and eastern Iowa
as the guest of Rep. Randy Feenstra and the state GOP. However, Trump scrubbed
the outdoor event the day he was to arrive due to threats of severe weather.
Turning the tables on Trump, DeSantis swooped into Des Moines that evening
for an impromptu appearance that helped his campaign create the desired
impression of him dancing in the ring with the heavyweight.
Trump is scheduled to return to Iowa on Thursday, the day after DeSantis'
tour, and is expected to hold events in the Des Moines area, meet influential
conservatives and sit for an interview that evening with Fox News Channel host