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DeSantis to stump in early voting states after rocky presidential launch

DeSantis to stump in early voting states after rocky presidential launch

By James Oliphant and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' fledgling presidential campaign was looking to push forward on Thursday after a troubled online launch event drew mockery from his rivals and renewed doubts about his viability as a national candidate.

DeSantis plans to barnstorm the early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina next week in his first series of public events since joining the 2024 race for the Republican nomination on Wednesday.

The Florida governor will make speeches and hold chats in a four-day swing across 12 cities and towns from May 30 to June 2, his campaign said.

A "campaign kickoff" event will be held on Tuesday in Iowa, a state that may be critical to his presidential hopes. Its sizeable evangelical voting bloc at times has been cool on former Republican President Donald Trump, helping to hand him a defeat in 2016 in party caucuses.

"Our campaign is committed to putting in the time to win these early nominating states," said DeSantis campaign manager Generra Peck. "No one will work harder than Governor DeSantis to share his vision with the country."

DeSantis' campaign was working in the meantime to try and put his glitch-marred launch event with billionaire Elon Musk on Twitter in the best light possible. The much-hyped forum featuring Musk, Twitter's owner, and others was beset with audio and connection woes.

In a radio interview on Thursday with conservative commentator Erick Erickson, DeSantis said the livestream of the event had now drawn more than five million listeners and that it had succeeded in creating "buzz" around his candidacy.

"I think it was the biggest story in the world yesterday, and so hopefully, we'll get some people interested in our campaign who may not have been otherwise," DeSantis said.

His campaign said he raised $1 million within an hour of his presidential announcement, and $8.2 million in the 24 hours after his campaign launch. DeSantis spent much of Thursday doing interviews with media in the early voting states.

As governor, DeSantis has signed a number of state bills targeting reproductive rights and teachers unions and imposing restrictions on immigrants lacking permanent legal status, LGBTQ expression, diversity and equity programs in schools, and pension funds considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) provisions in their investment decisions.

His entrance into the Republican contest sets up a showdown with Trump, his one-time ally, who lost the 2020 presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden. Polls show Trump with a commanding lead over DeSantis.

In a telephone discussion with conservative media on Wednesday, DeSantis took some of his strongest shots at Trump to date, suggesting that Trump helped balloon the federal budget deficit while president and supported legislation in 2018 that DeSantis says would have provided "amnesty" to immigrants who cross the border unauthorized.

In a later TV interview on the conservative Newsmax network, DeSantis said he was more electable than Trump in a general election. "I do believe that there's a limit to the number of voters that would consider the former president at this point. I think my ceiling is higher in a general election," DeSantis said.

Trump and others were quick to pounce on DeSantis' missteps.

On his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump called the launch a "disaster" and "fatal."

Biden's campaign also took a swipe with an email titled "This Link Works," providing a link for online donations to the Democrat's re-election effort.

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, another 2024 Republican candidate who was Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, issued a campaign ad that took a swipe at both rivals, mocking DeSantis as a "pit bull defender" of the former president.

"America deserves a choice not an echo," it said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and James Oliphant. Additional reporting by Tim Reid. Editing by Ross Colvin, Chizu Nomiyama and Aurora Ellis)