DeSantis Gets a Boost From Iowa Governor Reynolds’ Endorsement

(Bloomberg) -- Ron DeSantis stands to get at least a short-term bump from a long-anticipated endorsement from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, with roughly two months until Republican presidential primary voting kicks off with the state’s caucuses.

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The endorsement lands at a critical time. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has lost altitude in the polls and is facing a financial crunch after announcing his presidential run in May to lofty expectations. Polls show former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is close to supplanting him as the top challenger to former President Donald Trump — who still holds a wide lead.

DeSantis and Reynolds appeared at a Des Moines, Iowa, rally Monday night to officially roll out her endorsement.

“We need a president who has the skill and the resolve to reverse the madness that we see every single day,” Reynolds said at the rally. “That leader is Ron DeSantis.”

Reynolds and DeSantis have appeared on the campaign trail frequently throughout the year, prompting speculation an endorsement was imminent. Bloomberg News reported in September that Reynolds was leaning toward endorsing DeSantis.

“You can’t be like some of these Republicans, many of them in Washington, DC, that refuse to fight for our values,” DeSantis said at the rally. “In Florida, and what Kim has done here in Iowa, tells a different story.”

Read More: Five Candidates Qualify for Miami Debate as GOP Field Shrinks

He will return to Florida for the third Republican debate, in Miami, on Wednesday night. Four other candidates will also take part. Trump has declined to participate in any of the party debates.

Reynolds’s backing presents a chance to bolster DeSantis’s strategy of going all-in on Iowa. He is the only candidate in the race to promise to visit all 99 counties and has visited 87 so far. He has also made a $2 million ad buy in the state and relocated about a dozen of his staff there.

Reynolds has a formidable network in Iowa that she can deploy to generate support for DeSantis. And she’s popular with the state’s sizable evangelical base, whose ties with Trump have frayed in recent months.

Earlier: Iowa’s Governor to Back DeSantis in GOP Race, Snubbing Trump

Nationally, DeSantis trails Trump by more than 45 percentage points, with 13.3% support to Trump’s 58.5%, according to the RealClearPolitics average of GOP polls. Haley is in third place with 8.4%.

In Iowa, DeSantis trails Trump by a smaller margin — by about 30 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics average. A Des Moines Register survey last month, though, found Haley now tied with DeSantis in the first caucus state with each polling at 16% to Trump’s 43%.

Still, a person familiar with the matter said that even with the governor’s backing, the main problems the DeSantis’s campaign has revolve around his likability. Trump will likely pull from a familiar playbook where he forces Iowa political players to choose sides in a loyalty test, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the race.

Wednesday’s debate will have a greater impact than the endorsement, according to Iowa political operatives. Haley was regarded as the undisputed winner of the first two forums. Still, Reynolds’s endorsement could at least stymie some of the momentum that Haley, the only woman among the GOP aspirants, has enjoyed in recent months.

The DeSantis campaign declined a request for comment, but in a memo stated that its Iowa ground game has Trump “playing defense.”

Haley’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Reynolds’s warm, public appearances with DeSantis have caused tensions with Trump to bubble to the surface. The ex-president has repeatedly attacked her and questioned her loyalty in siding with DeSantis.

Tensions between Reynolds and Trump date back to their initial handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the dislike deepened over the past year, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Trump immediately took to his Truth Social platform following the endorsement news, saying it would be “the end of her political career.” But according to internal polling conducted by the Trump super political action committee in August and obtained by Bloomberg News, a Reynolds endorsement would only shift the race by a few percentage points.

Earlier: Trump Beefs Up Iowa Campaign as DeSantis Goes All-In on Caucus

Even if DeSantis obtains a strong showing in Iowa and avoids a knockout punch from Trump, New Hampshire, where Haley is polling in second place to the frontunner, awaits.

“Historically, winning in Iowa has not actually been a ticket to the Republican nomination for a long time,” said Chris Galdieri, a political science professor at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. “Even if you have your best case scenario of beating Trump, you have to ask yourself what is the next step in the strategy, and according to the calendar, that’s New Hampshire.”

Trump did get the endorsement of a governor on Monday evening. Sarah Huckabee Sanders who last year was elected governor of Arkansas, said in a statement that “time has come to return to the normal policies of the Trump era which created a safer, stronger, and more prosperous America, and that’s why I am proud to endorse Donald Trump for President.”

Sanders was a White House press secretary during his presidency. She plans to appear at a Trump rally near Miami, which takes place the same night as the debate.

--With assistance from Stephanie Lai, Christian Hall and Justin Sink.

(Updates throughout.)

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