By Nathan Layne
LACONIA, New Hampshire (Reuters) – When Casey DeSantis took to a stage in New Hampshire on Thursday to talk about her advocacy work and share stories about the struggles of raising young children, Lisa Teeman was among the women present whose face lit up with a smile.
“She’s a very strong woman,” said Teeman, a 62-year-old retired IT professional who came to hear Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ presidential address. “I think she can win votes for him.”
As the Republican governor makes his case for his fledgling 2024 campaign this week to voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, his 13-year-old wife emerges as a central figure in his bid to win over supporters of his rival Donald Trump.
On the trail in the first voting states, Casey DeSantis, 42, combined a fierce defense of her husband’s record as governor with anecdotes about the challenges of raising their three children, ages 3, 5 and 6. .
His remarks in New Hampshire’s working-class town of Laconia drew a mixture of laughs and applause.
“He doesn’t back down. He never takes the path of least resistance. He always stands up for what’s right,” she said, calling her husband her “better half.”
Some Republican voters said they viewed her personal story – she is a former TV host who beat breast cancer – as uplifting and thought it could help soften perceptions of her husband, who has been criticized for his stiffness and lack of charisma.
“She just came across as very warm, very caring, very supportive, very smart,” said Suzanne Nelson, president of a New Hampshire women’s club that works to support Republican candidates. “I like what I heard from him, but I think she could make a difference.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken May 9-15 showed Trump supported by 49% of Republicans, with Ron DeSantis in a distant second at 19%.
Casey DeSantis was credited by DeSantis and others around him as his closest adviser and partner in his political activities.
His involvement on the trail could mark a stark contrast to Trump, who typically holds rallies and other events without his wife, former first lady Melania. Trump’s daughter Ivanka has said she will not participate in his bid for a rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden in 2024.
Jeanette Hoffman, a Republican political consultant, said Casey and her husband also come across as young and energetic compared to the Bidens.
“She’s definitely an asset to his campaign,” Hoffman said. “I don’t know what difference it will make in the primary, but the campaign is smart to use it as an effective substitute.”
At Thursday’s Laconia event, Casey DeSantis stayed in the main hall longer than her husband, greeting voters and posing for photos.
Doug Lambert, vice chairman of the Republican Party in Belknap, New Hampshire’s most conservative county, said he was impressed with her focus on the issues facing children and families. He said his speech helped solidify his support for the governor.
“Tell me this isn’t the central cast of first lady material,” Lambert said. “She’s the real deal.”
(Reporting by Nathan Layne and Jim Oliphant in Council Bluffs, Iowa; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Christopher Cushing)