By James Oliphant and Brian Snyder
CONCORD, New Hampshire (Reuters) -Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis offered a stinging rebuke of rival Donald Trump on Friday, arguing that Trump would attempt to “de-legitimize the results” if he loses in an early nominating state such as Iowa or New Hampshire next month.
“If Trump loses, he will say it’s stolen no matter what, absolutely,” DeSantis said at a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire.
Video from the event was posted on social media by Fox News Digital.
Former President Trump is heavily favored both in Iowa, which holds its Republican caucuses on Jan. 15, and New Hampshire, which holds its primary a week later. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has been campaigning relentlessly of late trying to close the gap in the final weeks.
In past interviews, DeSantis has made clear that he believes Trump legitimately lost the 2020 election, something that Trump still publicly disputes. Trump has been charged both in federal court in Washington, D.C. and state court in Georgia with multiple felonies connected to his attempts to undermine the election.
At the New Hampshire event on Friday, DeSantis noted that Trump also cried fraud when he lost the 2016 Iowa caucuses to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and likely will complain if he loses this time around. “I think that’s to be expected, but I don’t think people are going to buy it,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign, Steven Cheung, responded to the remarks by charging that DeSantis had “turned to conspiracy theories and Democrat talking points.”
DeSantis also slammed Trump, who tends to favor large rallies, for not doing more small-scale events with voters.
“When was the last time he stood on a stage and just took questions from voters? Has he done that at any point during this campaign?” DeSantis said. “How often has he been willing to go and really answer the tough questions?”
Recent opinion polls have shown DeSantis far behind Trump in Iowa and trailing both Trump and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley in New Hampshire.
The Republican nominee will face President Joe Biden, a Democrat, in the November 2024 general election.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)