DeSantis kicks off presidential campaign in Iowa as he steps up criticism of Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ron DeSantis plans to kick off his presidential campaign in Iowa on Tuesday, the start of a busy week that will take him to 12 cities in three states as he tests his case as the most formidable Republican challenger. of former President Donald Atout.

The Florida governor’s two-day trip to the first caucus state – starting at a suburban Des Moines megachurch and ending at a racetrack in Cedar Rapids – comes after a stumbling online announcement last week that formalized his long-awaited entry into the growing Republican field. It will be followed by stops in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

DeSantis’ scheduled Tuesday night stop at Clive’s Eternity Church is a nod to evangelical Christians who wield outsized influence in Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa. His visit will give voters a chance to meet the new candidate just as he has stepped up his criticism of Trump.

“He’s got a big hill to climb – and I think everyone would agree with that – to be able to convince people that he can beat Trump, that he can do a job as good as, if not better than Trump.” , Bernie said. Hayes, the Republican chairman of Linn County, where DeSantis plans to wrap up his Iowa jaunt on Wednesday.

DeSantis, beset by Trump for months, went from sideways sweeps to directly questioning the former president’s conservative credentials in a series of friendly media interviews last week, including his handling of the pandemic. of coronavirus and its record on criminal justice.

DeSantis called a bipartisan bill Trump signed in 2018 that reduced federal mandatory minimum prison sentences and allows nonviolent offenders to reduce prison terms “a jailbreak bill.” As a congressman, DeSantis voted for an early version of the measure, but left Congress after being elected governor and before the final, less stringent bill passed.

DeSantis also said Trump wrongly “handed the country over to Fauci,” referring to Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who helped lead the country’s response to the pandemic. of COVID-19.

DeSantis announced his campaign Wednesday night during an online chat with Twitter CEO Elon Musk. The audio stream repeatedly crashed, making it hard for most users to hear the announcement in real time, a stumble from campaign officials and others quickly dismissed as a minor setback.

DeSantis was undeterred in delivering his message that conservative legislative victories this year in Florida, mostly on cultural issues such as restricting discussion of sexual orientation in schools, are the antidote. of what he calls a nation increasingly controlled by the far left.

“American decline is not inevitable – it’s a choice,” DeSantis said during the glitch audio stream. “And we should choose a new direction – a path that will lead to American revitalization.”

DeSantis has a strong start in Iowa and other early-voting states, thanks to Never Back Down, a super political action committee that uses money the group can receive in unlimited amounts from wealthy contributors. to start organizing support. Campaign finance law requires the group to do its job without coordinating with DeSantis.

Iowans are expected to see staff and volunteers from the group work around the perimeter of the DeSantis Church event in Clive on Tuesday, as well as events Wednesday in the conservative town of Sioux and West Eastern Council Bluffs. Iowa and the manufacturing and college town of Pella in east-central Iowa before the final in Cedar Rapids. By formalizing his candidacy, DeSantis gives the group a rallying figure that he can attend events, even if he cannot coordinate with DeSantis’ official campaign group.

The tactic, untested and not without risks, aims to maximize super PAC dollars. It’s also a way to help DeSantis run to Iowa to catch Trump, who the campaign says has cashed in on thousands of supporters with a more disciplined, data-driven outreach effort than the 2016 campaign. from the seat of Trump’s pants. This operation earned him second place, but with thousands of potential supporters left uncontacted by the campaign.

And Trump, in addition to his regular social media attacks on DeSantis, tried to follow him to Iowa to demonstrate his own popularity. In March, Trump headlined an event at a Davenport theater three days after DeSantis addressed an audience and answered questions from Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds during the governor’s tour of Florida to promote his memoirs.

Two weeks ago, Trump scheduled a rally in Des Moines the same day DeSantis was headlining Iowa Republican events in western and eastern Iowa as a guest of the representative Randy Feenstra and the state GOP. However, Trump canceled the outdoor event the day he arrived due to threats of severe weather.

Turning the tables on Trump, DeSantis rushed to Des Moines that night for an impromptu appearance that helped his campaign create the desired impression of him dancing in the ring with the heavyweight.

Trump is due to return to Iowa on Thursday, the day after DeSantis’ tour, and is expected to hold Des Moines-area events, meet influential conservatives and sit down for an interview that evening with the Fox host. News Channel, Sean Hanity.

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