Ron DeSantis plans on Saturday to complete his campaign promise to visit each of Iowa’s 99 counties, a seasonal tactic for presidential candidates hoping to make their state mark in the leadoff months with voters in state dining, cookouts, and pizza ranches.
But the Florida governor’s term, like much of his campaign, will take place under the long shadow of former President Donald Trump.
At the same time DeSantis is scheduled to take the stage Saturday afternoon in Newton, Iowa, Trump will address cheering supporters about 100 miles away in Cedar Rapids.
There are just six weeks left before the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, which DeSantis said he “absolutely” expects to win. He staked his campaign on the state, winning key endorsements from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and high-profile evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.
“He showed up,” Reynolds said in an interview. “He doesn’t just land, do an event, and go out. He gave the time to the state. ”
But Trump is dominating national and early state polls and has held dozens of rallies and events to organize caucusgoers throughout the fall. And DeSantis faces new internal problems within his political operation—with two key officials leaving the major superPAC that supported him—and a stronger challenge from former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who rose in early state polls and took the support of Americans for Development, the political arm of the powerful Koch network.
Trump plans to speak at two events Saturday to encourage supporters to caucus for him, first in the Des Moines area and then in the eastern part of the state in Cedar Rapids.
Trump’s campaign said the timing of the Cedar Rapids event compared to DeSantis’ county’s 99th celebration was coincidental. The campaign dismissed DeSantis’ work and compared him to a little-known GOP presidential candidate, businessman, and pastor Ryan Binkley, who said he had visited all 99 counties.
“If Ron DeSantis can’t even keep up with Ryan Binkley in Iowa, how can he expect to compete with Nikki ‘Birdbrain’ Haley for a distant second place?” Trump’s campaign said this in a statement earlier this week.
Reynolds, who will appear alongside DeSantis on Saturday in Jasper County, suggested he still has time to cut into Trump’s lead.
“He’s a staunch conservative and brings that to the table without the drama,” he said. “Iowans tend to break late. We’ve seen it. I think he’s hitting his stride.”
DeSantis’ advisers argued that a county-by-county stop on Iowa’s sprawling checkerboard could withhold critical support from small, rural counties while also showing a commitment to courting all parts of the state.