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DeSantis Puts Majority of His Focus on Iowa, Now Confronts Make or Break Trial There

One year ago, Ron DeSantis was leading in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, beating Donald Trump in some national polls and in the first-in-the-nation voting state. Now, after a fresh 20-point reelection win, the Florida governor is just hours away from the Iowa caucuses. However, he may be facing a potential third-place finish behind both the former president who attempted a coup and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.

Which, after having spent the better part of the last few months traveling back and forth across the state, would raise the question: What’s the point of staying in the race?

“I’m sure they will try to find a reason to stay in the race, but I really don’t see how that would be possible,” said David Kochel, a Republican consultant from Iowa with decades of experience. He points out that despite DeSantis’ weak position in Iowa polling, his situation is even worse in the upcoming states of New Hampshire and South Carolina. “He is so far behind in those states that I cannot imagine he will receive any significant attention over the next few weeks.”

Mike Murphy, a fellow longtime GOP consultant, had a more blunt assessment of a DeSantis third-place finish: “Get a fork. He would be done.”

Also read: MLK Was An Inadequate Pastor And ‘Communist,’ According To Top GOP Candidate For N.C. Governor.

DeSantis, for his part, at campaign stops in Dubuque and Cedar Falls did not mention Saturday’s Des Moines Register final pre-caucus poll that showed Haley moving past him into second place with 20% compared to DeSantis’ 16%. Trump held a large lead with 48%, although that was three points less than the last Register poll in December.

DeSantis did tell attendees that caucus night would be “fun” because he would be able to prove the media wrong with a strong finish.

One source in the campaign apparatus backing DeSantis, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said while a third-place finish would be disappointing, there were still good reasons for him to hang in there: “The uncertainty created by Trump’s age and legal challenges means that there is a strong rationale for the only candidate with broad support in the party to stay in the race.”

That analysis, of course, does not explain why DeSantis went from ahead of Trump a year ago to 30 points behind him, dropping steadily in the polls even as his campaign and his supporting superPAC spent at least $160 million boosting him.

“I don’t understand it either,” said Marylou Erlacher, a 76-year-old retiree who came out to the Chrome Horse Saloon in Cedar Rapids to hear him. She said one reason is probably that Haley is a more polished and empathetic speaker. “He just doesn’t have as much charisma.”

Scott Pinter, who is 58 and runs an industrial painting business and who also came out to the Cedar Rapids visit, said DeSantis had been drawing voters who liked Trump, but then abandoned DeSantis after Trump started getting indicted last year. He said DeSantis would have been better off waiting until 2028. “If Trump wasn’t there, he’d be my guy,” Pinter said, adding that he hoped DeSantis does not do anything to alienate Trump supporters like himself. “He’s just got to be careful he doesn’t ruin it for next time.”

Also read: Democratic Senator Criticizes Trump’s Claims Of Immunity: “Our Guy Gets To Commit Crimes”

A few hours and 135 miles west at Haley’s final pre-caucus campaign stop in Adel, Robb Ryerse said people are overthinking DeSantis’ fall.

“He’s a terrible candidate,” the 44-year-old pastor-turned-anti-Trump activist said. “Everything from his boots to the lifts in his shoes to his smile seems fake…. He doesn’t come across as a real person.”

The bitter cold weather forecast for Monday evening during the hours of the caucuses combined with DeSantis’ monthslong effort to build a massive operation to turn out his supporters could pay off with a performance that exceeds his polling.

Also read: Larry Hogan Resigns From No Labels, Sparking Speculation Of Possible 2024 Run

If not, though, even his supporters wondered what the point would be of continuing. “None,” said one backer who helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He added that even a second-place finish should persuade DeSantis to drop out. “That’s the best thing for him. Finish close enough to get out with some pride.”

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