DES MOINES, Iowa — To hear Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is exactly the kind of winner Republicans here in Iowa, and across the country, look for in a presidential candidate.
He beat his Democratic opponent, a former governor, by almost 20 points in 2022, to put the exclamation point on turning a swing state into a Republican country. He defeated vaccination mandates, critical race theory and sexual orientation lessons for young elementary school students. He sent undocumented immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, where many Democratic luminaries spend their summers.
DeSantis even smacked Mickey Mouse in his cartoon can.
It was love at first sight for Iowa Republicans who came to hear DeSantis deliver stump-style speeches Friday in Davenport and Des Moines, vote-rich cities that will be among the keys to winning the GOP presidential caucuses here next year. . But love doesn’t always mean casting a vote for a candidate.
«They’ll show up, ask questions, call things out, or ask, ‘OK, give me more details,’ or ‘What’s up with this?'» Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said of the way voters are vetting presidential candidates over the course of months.
«I think they’re going to hold out and they just want to win,» Reynolds said in an exclusive interview with NBC News. «I think that’s where we are in Iowa. And probably, honestly, for most of the country. They want to make sure that we’re doing our best, so that we’re successful in 2024.»
Reynolds, who has not endorsed any candidate, helped introduce DeSantis to Iowa Republicans on Friday, holding question-and-answer sessions onstage and then working the crowd with him after his speeches. They both signed copies of DeSantis’ new book «The Courage to Be Free.»
For both voters and political leaders, DeSantis proved to be a huge draw Friday. Between speeches, before audiences of about 700 people at each stop, DeSantis met with Republican state lawmakers in the capital.
Typically, these legislators rush out of town at the end of a week when they’re not in session. But dozens stayed in Des Moines on Friday to get their own take on DeSantis.
“It’s a little hard to get a crowd on Fridays,” but between 40 and 50 Iowa Republicans from both houses turned out to hear from the Florida governor, said Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver. half of half of the Republican legislators on a Friday afternoon, that’s a pretty good turnout.»
Following the script of his speeches, he talks about making Florida a «model» for the rest of the states, DeSantis did not directly acknowledge the presidential aspirations to the group of legislators.
I didn’t have to.
“It certainly looks like they’re at least exploring it, but I guess after yesterday, they’d be pretty upbeat about the turnout they’ve gotten and the reception they’ve had here,” Whitver said.
By managing a bit of a maze of political skills — stump speeches, question-and-answer sessions from a stage, working a rope, and meeting with Republican officials in the state — DeSantis may have begun to get a feel for the rigorous campaign retail. it’s usually required to win Iowa. Unlike Florida, where campaigns are run primarily through expensive television markets, Iowa caucus-goers want to meet with candidates repeatedly.
On his first visit at least, DeSantis delivered many crowd-pleasing lines. Provoking perhaps the biggest response in Davenport was a controversial decision by the Florida governor to bring immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
“I am fed up with the elites imposing their vision of open borders on you and on us without having to face the consequences of it. So we thought it was worth sending 50 illegals to Martha’s Vineyard,” DeSantis said. At that, the crowd jumped to its feet, clapping, cheering, and whistling with enthusiasm, all so loud that the Florida governor had to raise his voice to deliver the following line: “They say they want sanctuary cities… you know what? what did you do? They were deported the next day!”
At another point, he again challenged Biden to allow tennis star Novak Djokovic into the country for a tournament in Miami despite Djokovic refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19. DeSantis said that if Djokovic «wants to meet us in the Bahamas, we’ll bring him here by boat.»
Similarly, he said he would order Florida builders to put up a wall on the southern border with Mexico if only Biden would allow it.
After the events concluded, DeSantis did not take questions from the media. But he was harassed with requests to sign copies of his new book (a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, he noted) and take selfies.
«We love you, Ron!» someone yelled in the crowd as he worked the rope in Davenport. Several attendees headed to the back of the room for a copy of DeSantis’s book, only to find dozens of empty boxes being loaded onto a gurney.
In Des Moines, Rob Corry, 55, a self-described consultant, said he is open-minded about the 2024 Republican field. But he praised DeSantis.
«He’s young. He’s fresh and smart. And he does a lot of good things for his state. And I think we need new blood,» Corry said. «There was a time for Trump. There was a great time for Trump. That time may have passed.»
Trump, who finished second in the Iowa caucuses in 2016 but won the Iowa general election that year and again in 2020, will begin making his case to the state’s voters at a rally in Davenport on Monday. Reynolds told NBC News that he plans to attend.