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Iowa GOP voters weigh DeSantis’ Florida record as caucuses near: ‘Time to stand up’

Florida governor Ron DeSantis is upping his game on the campaign trail in Iowa, away from his home state in Florida. Voters in the two states say they support him — but for contrasting reasons.

Iowa residents who support DeSantis told Fox News they admired his willingness to be tough on the U.S. border and say his immigration policies have a national appeal.

“I like the fact that he’s supporting the border. You can’t just let people run through,” said Pam from Sigourney, Iowa.

Steve in Davenport, Iowa, agreed, adding the border is his top concern and that DeSantis caught his eye with his stance on containing the migrant flow.

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“We can’t keep having this invasion of people. We don’t know who is coming in here. Everybody forgets 9/11 and it can happen again. It only took 19 people to do it. And we just let 8 million people come in here. So, it’s time to stand up and get this thing shut down,” he said.

The border is among top concerns for voters nationwide too. A NBC News National poll shows 74% of registered voters support more funding for security along the U.S.-Mexico border. Voters overwhelmingly support funding the border instead of foreign aid packages.

David Kochel, a longtime Iowa-based GOP strategist says if candidates want to do well in Iowa, they need to be able to showcase their stance on securing the border.

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“To the extent that these candidates can get some traction on that issue and talk about it and show that they have a plan and that they care about how voters feel on this, I think they’re going to do well,” Kochel said. “And it certainly is a thing that Governor DeSantis talks about. It’s a high-profile issue for most voters and especially in Iowa.”

But in Florida, residents told Fox News they support DeSantis for his local accomplishments. None of the voters Fox News interviewed mentioned supporting DeSantis for his border or immigration policies.

Theresa from Madeira beach said she backs DeSantis for his unwavering conservative policies in the state.

“I just like that he tries to keep everything intact with how all of the state wants to continue as Republicans and go forward with all of the issues that we’re confronted with daily on,” she said. 

Harley from Treasure Island gave a specific example, saying he appreciates DeSantis taking a stand in his feud with Disney.

“I love what he did over at Disney. I’m with him on everything and there’s so many crazy things that are going on right now,” he said.

Kochel said Florida residents have seen his policies play out in front of them and DeSantis is able to tout his local successes to Floridians on the trail.

“They saw how he handled COVID. They see how he handles tax policy, education policy and everything else,” said Kochel. “In Iowa what he emphasizes, on the campaign, might be a little different, although he has talked quite a bit about his Florida record.”

As the first state to vote in the presidential nominating cycle, Iowa is key for GOP candidates ahead of the mid-January caucus. This week, DeSantis secured the latest endorsement out of the Hawkeye state from influential evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. Evangelicals make up nearly two-thirds of Republicans voters in Iowa.

Kochel said Vander Plaat’s endorsement is the last major endorsement out of Iowa.

“He [Vander Plaats] certainly has his finger on the pulse of where Iowa activists are,” said Kochel. “He’s had a pretty good track record of picking winners in the Iowa caucuses. You know, he’s been with the last three caucus winners.” 

But Kochel says candidates still have plenty of time to make their pitch to Iowa voters.

“Iowa voters like to wait until the last minute and make up their minds,” he said. “A lot of people will wait and make up their minds in the last 10 or 12 days. So, what we see right now may not be the way this race closes out in in a few weeks.”

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An NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll last month shows Trump’s strong lead at 43% and Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley tied for second at 16%.

“I think President Trump has made it into the finals already because of his national support,” said Kochel. “He’s almost running as an incumbent. But I think the real fight is for Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis to see who can emerge after the first 2 or 3 states as the primary challenger to Trump, because the only way to beat President Trump is to get him one on one.”

DeSantis has visited 98 out of 99 Iowa counties, one county away from completing the “Full Grassley”, a statewide tour named after longtime Iowa senator Chuck Grassley. Nicole Schlinger, an Iowa-based GOP strategist says DeSantis is in full Iowa mode.

“They’ve had the biggest ground game in Iowa for some time right now. And they’re you know, they’re running a very traditional grassroots caucus campaign,” said Schlinger.

With less than two months until the first-in-the-nation Iowa Republican caucuses, DeSantis has the endorsement from Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds. Reynolds is arguably the most prominent player in Iowa Republican politics and very popular among Republicans in the Hawkeye state. 

While endorsing DeSantis she said, “I just felt like I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer. We have too much at stake.”

Schlinger said Iowa voters value the endorsement because he was able to turn Florida red.

“I think in terms of why he has a strong showing, a person who has been a conservative, successful governor in a large state and has helped to turn a somewhat purple state very red, is going to be appealing to Iowa caucus goers,” Schlinger said.

One Iowa voter says Reynolds’ endorsement holds weight and will boost DeSantis in the caucus. 

“She is loved here and the work the work that she’s done, she is respected, and her endorsement is definitely going to swing things in his favor, I think. Definitely,” said Jake.

Schlinger says the Iowa caucus will set the stage for all primaries to follow.

“It’s long been said that there’s three tickets that get punched out of Iowa,” she said. “And so our job isn’t necessarily to pick the nominee. It’s to winnow the field. And if there are three tickets punched out of Iowa going into New Hampshire, that makes New Hampshire a much different race.”

Kochel says the winner in Iowa will remain up in the air and no candidate has the nomination secured yet.

“I think there’s probably a surprise in store. Iowa usually has one, and we’ll see who that benefits in 2024 on January 15th. So I think we’ve got to stay tuned and see what happens,” he said.

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