NEWTOWN, Iowa—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis concluded his 99-county tour of the Hawkeye State on Dec. 2, fulfilling a campaign promise that pins much of his White House hopes on winning the Republican Party’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest.
Mr. DeSantis marked the milestone with a rally before a crowd of about 150 gathered at the Thunderdome event center in Newtown, Iowa.
But with just over six weeks until the Iowa caucuses, Mr. DeSantis lags far behind former President Donald Trump and has former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley close at his heels. The Florida governor’s campaign has also suffered blows in recent weeks amid a growing rift with its main allied super PAC, Never Back Down. Both the organization’s CEO and chair have stepped down in the past two weeks.
Joined by FAMiLY Leader Foundation President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats, and Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, Mr. DeSantis told the crowd that President Trump had some good ideas and made some progress as president, but all of those accomplishments evaporated on President Joe Biden’s first day in office.
Fading PollsTo leave a legacy, Mr. DeSantis said, the next Republican president will need to serve a full eight years in the White House. No one has achieved that feat since President George W. Bush, who left office in January 2009.
To start on that ambitious assignment, Mr. DeSantis will need to win the nomination first. On Saturday, his chief rival for the GOP ticket President Trump said Mr. DeSantis was dropping like a dead bird in the polls during a competing campaign event 36 miles away in Ankeny, Iowa.
The latest poll of likely Iowa Caucus goers, conducted by Iowa State University and Civiqs, said Mr. DeSantis was the most popular Trump alternative in Iowa, with 17.3 percent of support, but still trails President Trump by at least 29 percent.
In April, a poll conducted by Cygnal, listed Mr. DeSantis’s support in Iowa at 30 percent. That was only 7 percent behind President Trump.
Likely caucus goers in attendance at the Saturday rally said they were not shaken by Mr. DeSantis polling figures.
Marv Goodyk, a Jasper County resident who said he’s been going to the Iowa Caucus for more than 15 years, said he hasn’t given up hope because of the polls. To him, the race isn’t over yet.
“I like (DeSantis’s) history of what he’s done in Florida and what he stands for: Good conservative principles,” Mr. Goodyk said. “I voted for Trump. I think he did a great job when he was there but I think he’s lost his effectiveness because of all the crap that’s going on around him. I want to see someone coming in fresh.”
Another DeSantis campaign supporter, Mark Doland, who is a DeSantis county leader in Tama County, said he’s no longer supporting President Trump, either.
Campaign PromisesMr. DeSantis said some of his supporters and consultants, as well as observers in the media, advised against visiting all 99 counties but he felt it was necessary to connect with the voters and demonstrate that he’s a man of his word. He said the tour has left him feeling optimistic.
“What I saw here in Iowa were people that are patriotic, that are hard-working, that are God-fearing, that really represent the backbone of what this country is all about,” Mr. DeSantis said. “I’m confident after going through these 99 counties, Iowa will begin the revival of the United States of America.”
A DeSantis administration, he said, would be fulfilling the founding fathers’ vision of a republic where the people and states hold power—not the federal government. He said he would ask federal agencies to move at least half of their footprint out of Washington D.C. to take control out of the Beltway and back to the people of the country. He promised first dibs on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Iowa.
Fresh off a made-for-TV debate against rising Democratic Party star California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Mr. DeSantis said he has the energy and the policy credibility to handle any nominee the Democratic Party would summon. He questioned whether Democrats will truly nominate President Biden, who turned 81 on Nov. 20. Mr. DeSantis said he suspects another, younger candidate like Mr. Newsom could be waiting in the wings.
The ideas of the current Democrat party, Mr. DeSantis said, are failing California and will fail America if applied nationally. He said his leadership in Florida should serve as an example of what a country committed to conservative principles, quality of life, and freedom would look like.
“I promised I would do all the big things in Florida that conservatives wanted to see done for years and years, and almost never got done ... yet we’ve done that,” Mr. DeSantis said. “So whatever I tell you, I’m going to do.”
After eight years in office, Mr. DeSantis said he would leave behind a country where the American dream has been restored. A country, he said, where people who work hard will get ahead and not be held back by inflation, high interest rates, or excessive government spending and bureaucracy and regulation.
Mr. DeSantis also promised to restore the sovereignty of the United States by wresting control of the southern border from Mexican drug cartels, revitalizing the U.S. military, and curbing the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party.
Furthermore, schools would be for “educating kids, not for indoctrinating kids” and criminals—as well as rogue prosecutors—would be held accountable for their actions.
Too Much Time in Iowa?The nation’s first primary contest—the GOP’s Iowa Caucus—will be held on Jan. 15, about six weeks from the 99th country rally. Some pundits say Mr. DeSantis has spent too much time in Iowa.
In a recent episode of his podcast “Inside the Numbers with the People’s Pundit,” pollster Rich Baris compared Mr. DeSantis’ campaign to that of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Mr. Cruz’s Iowa win in 2016 did not translate to a victory in New Hampshire. The “Iowa or bust model” is going to cost the Florida governor victories in New Hampshire and the following states, Mr. Buris said.
“It’s going to cost him South Carolina,” Mr. Barris said. “It’s going to cost him Nevada.”
Mr. DeSantis’s time in Iowa has earned him serious endorsements, such as from Ms. Reynolds and 41 state legislatures. According to his campaign, he has earned more than 300 publicly announced endorsements from state legislatures across the country, including those in New Hampshire and South Carolina.