He’s made a close ally in the state’s governor. He attended the state fair, and yucked it up with Republican voters in person. But Ron DeSantis still can’t seem to make any headway against Donald Trump in Iowa.
Now, a DeSantis campaign official is telling Politico that the Florida governor’s campaign is preparing for the likelihood of a second-place finish in the first-in-the-nation caucus next year. Doing so, they say, would underscore the GOP primary as a two-person race.
“We believe it’s already a two-person race,” the official, described as being in a position of seniority in the campaign, told Politico: “But the reality is, on the ballot there are other choices, and our goal is to get this down to a two-person race on the ballot, especially as we head into South Carolina and beyond into March.”
The same official claimed that Mr DeSantis’s team would be happy with a “strong second-place showing” and rejected the idea that any specific state, even the governor’s own home state, was must-win territory.
They added: “I would say there’s a lot of pressure on the former president of the United States not to lose Iowa.”
The headline is the latest piece of bad news for Mr DeSantis, who has long sat behind Mr Trump in second place throughout polling of the 2024 GOP field. Most worrisome for the governor, that same polling clearly shows that his rivals are a lot closer to dethroning him for the runner-up spot than he is to taking the lead. The most recent survey from Iowa State’s polling outfit seems to show Mr DeSantis holding on for now, but the governor remains nowhere close to where he needs to be to come within striking distance of Mr Trump in the later rounds of caucusing, when lower-performing candidates are eliminated from contention.
And depending on just how far behind Mr Trump he winds up being, that two-person race may end up just being a coronation.
Mr Trump has sought to cultivate that exact image. He has reserved the vast majority of his attacks for Mr DeSantis, whom he clearly views as his only real competition at this point in time, while refusing outright to attend this summer and fall’s Republican debates. The contest, according to the Trump campaign, is already decided — and Mr Trump has no wish to give his opponents an on-camera opportunity to go after him.
Iowa, therefore, may not be “must-win” territory for Mr DeSantis, but the importance of a “strong second-place showing” becomes all the more clear.
Mr Trump has maintained his dominance over the GOP field in polling for months; that strength has only been cemented amid the four criminal indictments filed against him by prosecutors in several jurisdictions this year.
The ex-president was most recently charged in Georgia and Washington DC with crimes related to his attempts to alter the lawful results of the 2020 election; he remains adamant that he was the true winner of that election even as he has for years failed to produce any credible evidence of the fraud he says led to Joe Biden’s victory.