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DeSantis seeks to seize momentum from strong debate

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is looking to solidify his position as the No. 2 Republican in the primary, hoping to gain momentum from his strong performance in the fourth debate.

Unlike previous presidential debates, Mr. DeSantis avoided a low profile during Wednesday's debate in Alabama, taking a more aggressive stance against his toughest non-Trump rival, Nikki Haley. Ta. In a post-debate Washington Post/Ipsos poll, a plurality of voters said DeSantis won the debate. Mr. DeSantis' campaign manager praised the governor's debate performance in a statement Wednesday, calling him “the only strong conservative to take the stage.”

But with less than six weeks until the Iowa game and Trump still the clear front-runner, questions remain about how DeSantis can capitalize on that momentum.

“He certainly made a good argument, there's no doubt about that,” said David Kochel, an Iowa-based Republican strategist. “Iowa still has time. He certainly has the organization.”

The DeSantis campaign and its allies have made Iowa a top priority. Earlier this month, Florida's governor paid tribute to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as he completed the final stop in his tour of all 99 Iowa counties, also known as the “Full Grassley.” Along the way, the Florida governor secured support from the state's Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and prominent Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.

The latest pro-DeSantis super PAC Fight Right spent more than $1.7 million on TV ads, including $1.5 million in the Iowa market, according to AdImpact. Another major pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, spent $4 million between Oct. 1 and Nov. 14, according to AdImpact. DeSantis also marshaled support from 42 state legislatures in the state.

“There's no one else nearby,” DeSantis communications director Andrew Romeo told The Hill on Wednesday after the debate. “That’s the kind of grassroots support we need to win the Iowa caucuses.”

The state was also the governor's first stop after the debate, and a meet-and-greet hosted by Never Back Down was held in Cedar Rapids.

“He's doing everything he's supposed to do,” Kochel said. “The question is, can he get close enough to Trump to gain momentum? Iowa is where upsets often happen.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (D-Pennsylvania) made a remarkable jump from single digits in the November 2011 polls to winning the Iowa caucuses in January 2012. accomplished. Four years earlier, in 2008, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), a virtual unknown until that particular presidential cycle, won the Iowa caucuses. In the same year, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (Democratic) pulled off a major upset against then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (Democratic) in the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

Still, DeSantis and Haley don't have much time to close the gap with former President Trump in the polls. According to RealClearPolitics' average Iowa Republican caucus poll, Mr. Trump leads with 47.3% support, while Mr. DeSantis follows with 18.7% support. Haley received 15.7% support.

Additionally, Iowa has a mixed track record when it comes to predicting who will ultimately win the presidential nomination.

In 1980, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan (R) lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush, who later became the candidate and Bush served as vice president. Mr. Reagan won the caucuses four years ago, but lost the Republican primary to former President Gerald Ford and ultimately lost reelection. Former President George W. Bush won the caucuses and became the last Republican to secure the nomination.

And there are questions about how Mr. DeSantis can make a hard pivot from Iowa, a bastion of cultural conservatism, to New Hampshire, which is arguably more liberal.

Romeo said a caucus victory would provide campaign momentum from Iowa and would be enough to make a jump in New Hampshire.

“That’s why the governor continues to campaign there and spend time there as well,” Romeo said, referring to the Granite State.

Supporters of DeSantis in New Hampshire also point out that when it comes to candidates, the difference between Republican electors in Iowa and New Hampshire remains the same.

“I still don't think cultural conservatism is the problem. That's not what New Hampshire voters vote for,” said New Hampshire House Minority Leader Jason Osborn, a Republican who supports Mr. DeSantis. Told. “They can take it or abandon it, but they're not against it. What they care about is he's a guy who can get results, follow through and fix Washington.” Thing.”

But DeSantis and other candidates are likely to participate in at least two more debates before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. On Thursday, CNN announced it would host two debates in Iowa and New Hampshire. Additionally, DeSantis is scheduled to participate in a CNN town hall in Des Moines on Tuesday.

Republicans say such forums are important because undecided voters are paying attention.

“It was important,” Kochel said of Wednesday's debate. “I think the debate in Iowa on January 10th will be especially important.”

“There's a good chance that by that time the majority of Iowans still haven't fully made up their minds,” he says.

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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