Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis faced off with dueling events at Iowa’s state fair, taking their fight for the presidential nomination to the traditional political jamboree while avoiding a direct confrontation.
(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis faced off with dueling events at Iowa’s state fair, taking their fight for the presidential nomination to the traditional political jamboree while avoiding a direct confrontation.
Courting thousands of potential Republican voters, the two candidates didn’t cross paths but their appearances on Saturday had the feel of a showdown in the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state. But one in which Trump took aim at further diminishing DeSantis’s struggling campaign.
While DeSantis steered clear of attacking Trump, DeSantis barbs were fair game for the former president. He told reporters he didn’t think he had written off the Florida governor too early.
Asked whether he saw DeSantis as his main rival, Trump responded “I don’t see him.”
Trump, the GOP frontrunner by a large margin, brought along a large delegation of Florida Republicans who endorsed him over DeSantis.
It’s part of Trump’s strategy to starve his competition — and DeSantis in particular — of exposure needed to gain momentum. Trump ignored an invitation to sit for an interview-style event with Republican Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, as DeSantis and other candidates did.
Instead, Trump arrived to the fairgrounds with nine Florida Republicans backing his bid to return to the White House. His cadre started the afternoon by flipping burgers and pork at a grill. US Representatives Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz manned the grill and shook hands with voters.
“When the other candidates came here they had like six people,” Trump told supporters in a speech at a restaurant bar at the fairgrounds. “We stopped at three different places and we’ve never been treated so well.”
For DeSantis, the fair was an opportunity to reverse a slide in the polls and move past weeks of campaign turmoil that included replacing his campaign manager, firing a third of his staff and cutting operating expenses.
DeSantis, who trails Trump by more than 39 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics national average of polls, is looking to focus his campaign and message on early voting states such as Iowa. By the same measure, Trump leads DeSantis by 27 percentage points in Iowa.
DeSantis got a pre-fair boost by the endorsement of Steve Deace, a talk-show host influential with Iowa evangelical voters. But as he sat down with Reynolds, a small plane circled overhead trailing a red “Be Likeable, Ron!” banner. Detractors tried to drown him out with cowbells and whistles, and he was also briefly cut short by a microphone malfunction.
Reynolds, like DeSantis, signed a six-week abortion ban — making Iowa and Florida among the states with the strictest restrictions in the country. Trump has a contentious relationship with Reynolds, assailing her last month for remaining neutral in the primary race.
Attendees flooded the fairgrounds in the afternoon heat, arms filled with buckets of cookies, fried foods and massive lemonades in souvenir cups. Between catching glimpses of the Republican frontrunners, visitors rode carnival rides, marveled at livestock and the famed butter statue of a cow.
Sharing the streets at fair in Des Moines may be the closest the two candidates will get until the first Republican debate on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, which Trump hasn’t confirmed he’ll attend.
DeSantis is eager for a breakthrough and has sought to refocus his campaign message, speaking more about the economy and national issues his donors and supporters believe will help him climb back into the race.
The tensions in his reset were on display as he also sought to burnish his conservative credentials by citing the culture war fights that brought him national prominence. On stage with Reynolds, he avoided speaking about Trump, instead homing in on Biden’s economic policy.
“On day one, we take all Biden regulations and executive orders and throw them in the trash can,” DeSantis said. “Bidenomics is basically Americans have a lower standard of living so that he can pursue his political, ideological agenda, and that is not acceptable.”
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