By Tim Reid
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Republican presidential rivals Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis were holding competing events in the early nominating state of Iowa on Saturday, at a time when the former president overwhelmingly dominates opinion polls and the Florida governor is scrambling to reset his troubled campaign.
DeSantis, who has had two staff shake-ups in the past three weeks and is sinking in the polls, had long planned to attend the Iowa State Fair, a political must for aspiring presidential candidates in the state that kicks off the Republican nominating contest in January.
Trump’s late announcement on Tuesday that he was also going to attend the event on the same day as DeSantis amounted to a political gate-crashing of an appearance the Florida governor hopes will kick-start his stalled campaign.
DeSantis is making a high-risk bet that he can halt Trump’s march to the Republican presidential nomination by winning Iowa.
Asked about his governing style on Saturday, DeSantis said he cared more about protecting voters than his own fortunes.
“So we’ll do what’s right. We’ll take the consequences and let the chips fall where they may,” he said in an interview with Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds at the fair.
At the start of the interview, Reynolds reproached a group of protesters who were blowing whistles.
Later on, a large crowd cheered Trump as he arrived at the fair. He later made a speech inside a fairground bar, where he boasted about his current lead. “We’re way up in the polls,” Trump said.
Iowa holds the first of the state-by-state Republican nominating contests on Jan. 15. DeSantis hopes that a win in the Midwestern state will give him valuable momentum against Trump before primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Trump’s appearance at the fair could steal the limelight from the governor and dominate the headlines. It is held in the state capital Des Moines and runs from Aug. 10 to Aug. 20. Last year, it attracted more than 1 million visitors.
Trump’s appearance will also complicate efforts for the rest of the Republican field. Apart from Trump and DeSantis, nine other candidates will be attending the fair between Aug. 11 and Aug. 18, but all are languishing in single digits, over 40 points behind Trump according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll of likely Republican voters.
According to that Aug. 3 poll, Trump also leads DeSantis by 34 points, 47% to 13%.
Most of Trump’s rivals had agreed to be interviewed individually by Reynolds between Aug. 11 and Aug. 18. Trump turned down her invitation, angered by her public neutrality in the primary race and her appearance with DeSantis at several of his Iowa events.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)