By Tim Reid
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – As Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flipped chops for the cameras at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday, a plane appeared in the glowing blue sky.
It was Donald Trump’s Boeing 757 private jet. It circled the fairgrounds and thousands in the crowd looked up and went wild, cheering for the Republican former president.
An hour later, Trump arrived in a motorcade from the nearby Des Moines airport to a rock star reception. American political calendar.
It was a moment that epitomized the state’s 2024 Republican presidential nomination race: Trump is way ahead in the national polls, eclipsing Florida’s governor and the rest of the field, who until now haven’t figured out how to close that gap.
The Iowa State Fair is a political must for aspiring presidential candidates in the midwestern state, where the Republican nominating contest kicks off in January. But with Trump leading DeSantis by 34 percentage points among likely Republican primary voters in an Aug. 3 poll by Reuters/Ipsos, and the rest of the field languishing in single digits, this year’s stock market had the air of a coronation rather than a a beauty contest. .
Despite Trump’s legal troubles — he’s been indicted three times this year and could face a fourth indictment this week in Georgia — he has one of the largest primary polls in U.S. election history. No candidate in modern history has had such a big lead in a contested primary and lost the nomination.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has had two personnel changes in the past three weeks and is sinking in the polls as he desperately tries to recalibrate his campaign.
As Trump walked from the pork chop joint to the Steer N’ Stein bar to give a speech, supporters flocked in, chanting, “We love you Trump!” a reporter asked him about DeSantis.
“He’s doing really, really badly in the polls. He really should drop out of the race,” Trump said.
Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist who opposes Trump’s nomination, conducts focus groups with Republican voters throughout the year. During the last two she held, in the last two weeks, no one even mentioned DeSantis.
When asked directly about Florida’s governor during recent focus groups, one voter called him “sneaky.” Another dismissed him as just ‘another ordinary politician’. A third said he was part of the “deep state,” a term conspiracy theorists often use to refer to people in government who they believe are working clandestinely to manipulate national policy.
“DeSantis is in a death spiral,” Longwell said.
Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for DeSantis, told Reuters the Republican contest was between Trump and DeSantis, who is “the only candidate in the race who can beat Joe Biden and execute the agenda we need to reverse this country’s decline.” and revive its future.”
REDUCING TRUMP’S LEADING
As for the rest of the Republican field, Longwell said, it’s hard to see how any of them could catch Trump.
There is a narrow path for someone to beat the former president, “but they have to generate excitement and get first or second in Iowa to make it a two-person race and convince people that they are more eligible,” she said.
At the state fair, that uphill battle to overtake Trump was on display amid 90-degree Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) heat, pork chops on a stick, deep-fried, cream-filled Twinkies; foot-long corn dogs; and a staple of the event: a life-sized cow sculpted from butter.
In a dozen voter interviews, Reuters found that DeSantis was most liked, but not enough to support him behind Trump.
“I like what DeSantis did in Florida, but I want Trump, a businessman, to run the country, I want Trump to get a second term. He’s been great for our economy; he’s going to reduce the size of government. DeSantis can run around next time,” said George Knuckey, 67.
When asked about DeSantis, 68-year-old Carla Wilkinson said, “Hell no. He’s OK in Florida, but I don’t think he’s presidential material. I’m all Trump.”
On Saturday, tech billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and DeSantis all appeared for interviews with Republican Iowa governor Kim Reynolds.
They were politely and cordially greeted by about 200 people, though DeSantis had to address more than half a dozen women’s rights protesters who blew whistles and waved under an airplane a banner that read, “Be sympathetic, Ron!”
The governor of Florida has a reputation for being a wooden campaigner.
When Trump arrived, with Secret Service agents and sniffer dogs everywhere, his crowd was huge, with about 2,000 people waiting for him.
Chris Jackson, an opinion researcher at polling firm Ipsos, which conducts polls for Reuters and other media organizations, said the primary currently resembles a “coronation” for Trump.
But Jackson warned that could change, especially as Trump’s legal troubles mount. Primary voters may still worry about Trump’s eligibility in a general election, Jackson said, “and wake up and maybe think the Emperor has no clothes.”
(Reporting by Tim Reid in Des Moines, Iowa; editing by Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)