Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be in Iowa on Friday to introduce himself to an expectant audience of Republicans, making a long-awaited visit ahead of a likely 2024 presidential bid.
DeSantis’ planned appearances in Davenport and Des Moines mark his first trip to the leadoff voting state and come as anticipation over his expected White House campaign has been building. With the Iowa caucuses less than a year away, Republicans in the state are ready to take a harder look at DeSantis, a top-tier presidential prospect viewed as a rival to former President Donald Trump.
“A lot of people are excited with DeSantis — people that I talk to. There has been so much talk. The expectations are really high for him,” said Emma Aquino-Nemecek, an eastern Iowa county Republican committee member who is curious about DeSantis but feels deep loyalty to Trump.
DeSantis is scheduled to appear with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday morning in Davenport and that evening in Des Moines to promote his new book, “The Courage to be Free,” which was released last week.
The book’s subtitle, “Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” suggests an opportunity for DeSantis to test a national message before Republican audiences critical to the early steps of the GOP nominating campaign.
“We defied the experts. We bucked the elites. We ignored the chatter. We did it our way, the Florida way,” DeSantis told Florida lawmakers Tuesday in a State of the State address in Tallahassee. “And the result is that we are the No. 1 destination for our fellow Americans who are looking for a better life.”
DeSantis is also expected to visit the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines between his public events to meet with a small contingent of Republican lawmakers.
DeSantis’ visit coincides with a trip to the state by former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her 2024 candidacy last month. Trump is scheduled to make a campaign stop in Iowa on Monday, his first visit to the state since launching his third presidential bid.
A new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows many Iowa Republicans remain committed to Trump, but the former president is seeing his support erode as campaigning begins to heat up.
Trump’s favorability numbers put him about on par with DeSantis. And they’re substantially higher than those for Haley and likely candidate Mike Pence.
As presidential prospects campaigned for Iowa candidates in last year’s midterm elections, activists like Nemecek routinely named DeSantis as someone they would like to see, especially as he has become a frequent national voice on Fox News Channel on conservative cultural fights.
DeSantis has begun to look beyond Florida, where his attention was fixed last year ahead of his commanding reelection victory over Democrat Charlie Crist and expanding Florida’s Republican legislative majorities.
In recent weeks, his team has begun holding internal conversations with a handful of prospective campaign staffers in key states. Late last month, he gathered privately with donors, elected officials and national conservative activists to discuss his vision, which includes limiting how race and sexuality are taught in schools.
DeSantis could announce his candidacy in late spring or early summer, after the conclusion of the Florida legislative session, which ends in mid-May.
DeSantis promised Tuesday that the upcoming legislative session will be the “most productive yet,” as he continues to build the infrastructure and out-of-state political travel that suggest a potential presidential campaign-in-waiting.
His agenda, which will technically be driven by the Republican supermajority in the state legislature in its 60-day session, could include a six-week abortion ban, limits or bans on transgender care, permitless concealed carry of firearms, litigation reform and several measures that impact how sexuality is addressed in education.
The anticipation for DeSantis is reminiscent, to an extent, of the clamor in Iowa for George W. Bush ahead of the 2000 election, though with significant differences, said veteran Iowa GOP activist David Oman.
DeSantis is seen, as Bush was, as a next-generation, big-state Republican governor who won reelection resoundingly, said Oman, who was among Iowa Republicans who sought to recruit Bush to run.
Bush swooped into Iowa amid fanfare in June 1999 and sailed to victory in the Iowa caucuses the following year en route to the 2000 GOP nomination and the White House. Not insignificantly, Bush enjoyed the hands-on campaign outreach in Iowa of his father, former President George H. W. Bush, who had built lasting relationships during his 1980 and 1988 Iowa caucus campaigns.
“There’s another former president in this cycle. Only he is not interested in helping a first time candidate,” Oman said, referring to Trump. “W was the overwhelming favorite in Iowa. I believe there is not an overwhelming favorite this time.”
Haley will be finishing up her second trip to Iowa as a candidate with stops in the western and central parts of the state on Friday. Trump will be stopping in Davenport, the site of DeSantis’ first appearance.
“Because his name has been out there for a while, people have been looking forward to Gov. DeSantis’ first visit,” said Jeanita McNulty, the Republican Party chair in Scott County, where Davenport is located. “But the activists are very excited about both Gov. DeSantis and President Trump, very excited that they are both coming.”
— Fin Gomez and Aaron Navarro contributed to this report