SIOUX CITY, Iowa –– Ron DeSantis is trailing in early national polls, is under constant attack from Donald Trump, and donors keep pouring in cold feet about a potential 2024 led by the Governor of Florida.
On the ground, though, there’s one encouraging metric for DeSantis after touring the country for the past few months: He knows how to draw a crowd.
And that could serve as evidence of grassroots enthusiasm for his candidacy as he prepares to launch a presidential campaign soon.
At GOP events DeSantis has headlined across the country, including two this weekend in Iowa, the Florida governor sold out, broke local fundraising records or forced organizers to move to larger venues. .
A big turnout is expected at a couple of events in Iowa this weekend for DeSantis. A Saturday Republican state party fundraiser in Cedar Rapids has already sold out, only the second time in five years that such a regional event has done so, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said.
A fundraising picnic Saturday at the Sioux Center, hosted by Rep. Randy Feenstra, has the highest number of RSVPs since it began three years ago, according to a spokesperson. In Illinois, a Friday Lincoln Day dinner benefiting Tazewell and Peoria counties sold out, with 1,150 confirmed guests and a record number of tickets purchased.
“There is a lot of interest in a viable alternative to Mr. Trump, a lot of interest,” said Jeff Boeyink, a DeSantis supporter in Iowa.
Since March, DeSantis has traveled to eight states for 10 Republican events, raising more than $4.3 million for state and local Republican parties, according to his political arm. In that time, she has performed before some 10,000 people, from Dallas to Houston, Anaheim, California, Midland, Mich. and Birmingham, Alabama. (These figures do not include separate trips funded by the nonprofit group “And to the Republic,” where DeSantis has spoken about his book and his “Florida Blueprint.”)
In Rothschild, Wisconsin, last weekend, a central Wisconsin venue where Trump has long dominated, a Lincoln Day dinner headlined by DeSantis broke a record attendance, drawing about 200 more people than a record. previous, which forced to move to a center of conventions. according to the chairman of the Marathon County Republican Party. DeSantis too broke a fundraising record at the New Hampshire State Republican Party’s annual Amos Tuck Dinner, raising a quarter of a million dollars.
The crowds are nothing like the throngs of Trump loyalists who turn out for the former president’s marquee rallies, and since DeSantis is not yet a candidate, attendance does not necessarily equate to support for his candidacy. However, DeSantis is about to launch his campaign and he is expected to file paperwork in the next 15 days.
DeSantis has become a national political figure after repeatedly appearing on the national news, including after his ongoing battle with Disney, for keeping Florida businesses and schools open through much of the pandemic and, more recently, afterward. to sign a six-week abortion ban.
Anecdotally, local leaders say DeSantis is second only to Trump when it comes to enthusiasm on the field.
“It was the biggest fundraiser we’ve ever had,” Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl said of the party’s winter dinner in March, which had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate almost 1,700 guests.
When asked if other Republican candidates or potential candidates have drawn similar audiences, Wahl said, «I don’t think we’ve ever seen any speaker or political candidate draw a crowd this size except Donald Trump.»
It’s hard to tell if the interest is in DeSantis as a candidate or as a national figure, since he’s not an announced candidate, Wahl said.
“But I will say this: His policies and what he is doing in the state of Florida is incredibly, incredibly popular in the state of Alabama,” Wahl said.
The expected turnout at the Cedar Rapids event is a sign for Kaufmann, who will moderate a question-and-answer session with DeSantis on the fundraiser.
«This region [event] it is showing me that there is definitely a hunger to know more. And I have a feeling that this hunger to know more is not necessarily more about politics, but more about Ron DeSantis, as opposed to Governor DeSantis,” Kaufmann said.
Kaufmann said that GOP caucus attendees generally vet candidates in three stages: name recognition, testing conservative credentials and political stances, and finally, actual evaluation of the candidate. She said that because of DeSantis’ national recognition, she’s already cleared the first two hurdles that candidates like Nikki Haley and Tim Scott may still be working to overcome.
«I think people want to get to know him as a person,» Kaufmann said. «Some of the other candidates that are just running here in Iowa, deep down, I think they probably know that the odds are against them winning Iowa. But I guarantee you they’re looking at one of those tickets.