DES MOINES, Iowa — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis enters the first crucible of the 2024 GOP presidential primary campaign Friday, with Donald Trump looming right over his shoulder.
Trump and DeSantis, first and second in national polling of the Republican presidential primary race, will nearly cross paths in Davenport, on the edge of the Mississippi River: DeSantis in his first trip to the first-in-the-nation caucus state as a prospective candidate on Friday, and Trump, on Monday, in his first visit since he announced his campaign last year.
The split screen of the two heavyweights signals the unofficial start of the Iowa caucuses.
“It’s in full force now,” Scott County Republican Chair Jeanita McNulty told NBC News of what DeSantis and Trump’s events, both in her county, signal for Iowa’s primary season.
“People are really excited and energized,” she added. “And most folks I talked to are going to both events. They’re not picking and choosing.”
While the former president faces a test of whether his dominance of the Republican Party has faded to the point where he is truly vulnerable, the stakes are inherently higher for DeSantis. The Florida governor is an intriguing but not-yet-familiar figure here, and Trump’s team is signaling a desire to put the screws to DeSantis on issues where his record puts him crosswise with GOP voters in the state.
“This is where candidates start to get out of their comfort zone and voters get a sense of whether candidates are up for it,” said longtime Trump adviser Jason Miller. “I would imagine that DeSantis’ efforts to cut ethanol, to cut Medicare, to cut Social Security — and his pro-interventionist postures on the global stage — are likely to get a lot of attention from the reporters covering him on Friday.”
As a congressman, DeSantis cast a series of votes that would have reduced or terminated federal aid programs for farmers. Those could prove relevant in a state covered in farmland. In 2018, for example, he was one of 34 House members to vote for a failed amendment to a farm bill that would have phased out federal crop insurance premium subsidies — a significant source of support for many Iowa farmers — over a decade.
A spokesman for DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment on the amendment or DeSantis’ aims for his trip to Iowa.
DeSantis, who is also scheduled to make an appearance in Des Moines on Friday, has not yet said whether he will run for president. He has largely avoided responding to Trump’s increasingly frequent public barbs, which include a mix of derisive nicknames and attacks on substantive policy matters. But if the governor hopes to win the Iowa caucuses and the Republican nomination, he will have to explain his positions to famously scrupulous Iowa voters.
Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, said he’s keeping an eye out during both DeSantis and Trump’s addresses for how the crowds react to their key messages and whether they are offering a “vision for the future” or “a rehash of the past.”