Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis made his debut as a presidential candidate in Iowa on Tuesday, rallying supporters outside of Des Moines as he looks to make up critical ground in the race for the GOP’s 2024 nomination.
His speech at a church in suburban Clive, Iowa played out as a showcase of the issues that helped slingshot him to national prominence in recent years. He railed against pandemic-era lockdowns and restrictions, derided so-called “woke” ideology in schools and cast himself as a bulwark against the Biden administration and a vast, liberal federal bureaucracy.
“Restoring sanity means we can’t have every major institution in our country going on ideological joyrides,” he said to cheers. “We have to be guided by reality, by facts and by our enduring principles.”
“No American should have to compete in the woke olympics just to get a job or just to get into school. We also must return normalcy to our communities. We are a sovereign country and our borders must be respected.”
The Tuesday evening speech kicked off a four-day, three-state tour for DeSantis, who formally announced his presidential candidacy last week in a glitch-marred audio livestream on Twitter that drew derision from across the political spectrum.
By beginning his inaugural swing in Iowa, DeSantis is hoping to jolt his campaign and find an opening in the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state as he looks to dethrone former President Donald Trump at the helm of the modern GOP.
Early polling shows DeSantis running well behind Trump. But his opening pitch in Iowa on Tuesday underscored how DeSantis plans on taking on the former president.
He opened his remarks by dubbing Florida the “Iowa of the southeast,” and leaned heavily into the culture wars, going after everything from diversity, equity and inclusion programs in schools and businesses to what he has described as “wokeness” in the U.S. military.
DeSantis also touted a six-week abortion ban in Florida that he signed into law last month, seeking to bolster his credentials among the culturally conservative Iowa Republican voters who play a pivotal role in the presidential caucuses.
He cast himself as the kind of politician who could get such policy priorities across the finish line in Washington.
“In Florida we didn’t lead with merely words,” he said. “We followed up our words with deeds. And we have produced a record of accomplishment that we would put up against anyone in this country.”
DeSantis didn’t take any direct swipes at Trump, who has attacked the Florida governor relentlessly in recent months in an effort to weaken his presidential prospects before his campaign ever managed to get off the ground.
Still, DeSantis took a few implied jabs at the former president.
He recalled during his speech how he made an impromptu stop in Des Moines earlier this month after Trump scrapped a planned rally there due to concerns about severe weather in the area. He also said that he was “frustrated on things like the border” after hearing “politicians talk about securing the border for years,” and vowed to complete the border wall that Trump long promised to finish.
DeSantis noted that accomplishing such tasks “really does take two terms as president.” If Trump were to win back the White House in 2024, he could only serve one more term in office.
DeSantis is set to make four stops throughout Iowa on Wednesday before traveling to New Hampshire and South Carolina on Thursday and Friday. He’ll return to Iowa on Saturday for Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) annual Roast and Ride fundraiser.
Trump, meanwhile, is slated to arrive in Iowa on Wednesday and attend events in the state on Thursday.