The popular governors of Iowa and New Hampshire have split their ticket as Republicans struggle to unite behind a single opponent to former President Donald J. Trump.
Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, which votes first in the Republican presidential primary, is supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, is backing Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor.
On Tuesday, Mr. DeSantis emphasized Ms. Reynolds’ support while criticizing Mr. Sununu’s and referring to Ms. Haley as an avatar of “the old failed Republican establishment of yesteryear.”
“Even a campaigner as good as Chris is not going to be able to paper over Nikki being an establishment candidate,” Mr. DeSantis said during a CNN town hall for Iowa voters on Tuesday, just hours after Mr. Sununu announced his support for Ms. Haley at an event in New Hampshire. “I mean, she’s getting funded by liberal Democrats from California like the founder of LinkedIn, people on Wall Street like the head of JPMorgan.”
Mr. DeSantis saw the town hall as an opportunity to make his case in front of a national audience without the name-calling and loud cross-talk of the Republican presidential debates. He had entered the election as the overwhelming favorite to dethrone Mr. Trump. However, since his campaign has been tarnished by numerous gaffes, some powerful megadonors have thrown their support behind Ms. Haley, whom they regard as more moderate.
Among them are Mr. DeSantis’s two benefactors, Reid Hoffman, the wealthy co-founder of LinkedIn, and Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase. (Ms. Haley is also supported by typical Republican donors.)
Mr. DeSantis and Ms. Haley are also polling far behind Mr. Trump, both nationally and in early voting areas. To overcome the gap, Mr. DeSantis has taken advantage of every opportunity to meet with Iowa voters, including a town hall held by CNN, a news organization he has regularly referred to as “corporate media.”
Many of the questions posed to Mr. DeSantis on Tuesday, both by the voters in attendance at Grand View University in Des Moines and by the moderator, Jake Tapper, were less than incisive, and he was able to maintain a fairly easy and confident stage demeanor.
One voter asked him which foods he liked best at the Iowa State Fair. “Pork on a stick,” Mr. DeSantis said, smiling, “but I did not do it in public because they said if they get a picture of it, you know, it’s a really bad thing.”
Mr. Tapper posed a question to Mr. DeSantis, who frequently speaks of “destroying leftism,” and asked him to name his favorite Florida Democrat. He responded by dispatching two county sheriffs from South Florida.
Mr. DeSantis, on the other hand, was given the opportunity to elaborate on some of his policy ideas. Mr. DeSantis stated his opposition to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. On Ukraine, he backed Republican efforts in Congress to connect aid for the country’s struggle against Russia to border security. He said seniors should preserve their Social Security benefits and urged for a bipartisan effort to ensure the program’s long-term stability.
“My grandmother lived till she was 91,” Mr. DeSantis added. “Her sole source of income was Social Security.” As a result, I understand what many individuals are going through.”
Nonetheless, he might be vague at times.
When asked when he will announce his proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, Mr. DeSantis replied, “We’re working on it.”
He went on to say, “You kind of campaign in poetry, then you govern in prose.”
Mr. DeSantis also chastised Mr. Trump, something he has rarely done on national television, albeit saving his sharpest words for Ms. Haley.
Mr. DeSantis stated in his first response that Mr. Trump had “dramatically” bungled the economy during the coronavirus crisis. He also claimed that Mr. Trump was “flip-flopping” on abortion by condemning Mr. DeSantis’s six-week ban in Florida. He also criticized Mr. Trump for failing to erect a wall along the United States’ southern border and have Mexico pay for it, as he had promised.
“It’s a different Donald Trump than ’15 and ’16,” he said. “He was colorful back then, but the policies were really America-first.” Much of it now revolves around him.”
Mr. DeSantis has stated that Republicans must defeat Mr. Trump in Iowa if they want to stop him elsewhere. He has dedicated significant efforts to capturing the state, traveling to each of its 99 counties, and relocating about one-third of his campaign team.
Outside organizations are also assisting him. One allied super PAC has created a large ground strategy in preparation for the Jan. 15 caucuses. Another is spending a lot of money on commercials aimed at Ms. Haley.
And he has frequently campaigned with Ms. Reynolds, who endorsed him last month. Mr. DeSantis referred to her as “a tremendous help” in a radio broadcast on Tuesday before the town hall.
Other candidates are also concentrating their efforts in Iowa. According to his campaign, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy plans to visit 29 counties this week alone. Mr. Ramaswamy will attend in a similar CNN town hall in Des Moines on Wednesday.
However, none of the attempts appear to have moved the polls. According to a Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll issued on Monday, Mr. DeSantis is now behind Mr. Trump by more than 30 points among Iowa Republicans.
Ms. Haley has now surpassed Mr. DeSantis in New Hampshire, where he has spent significantly less time. Mr. DeSantis has dropped to fourth or fifth place.