The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats endorses Ron DeSantis

The influential head of The Family Leader endorsed DeSantis just days after a presidential forum he moderated in Des Moines.
Emily Nyberg
President of The FAMiLY Leader, Bob Vander Plaats introduces three republican presidential candidates during the 2023 Thanksgiving Family Forum hosted by The FAMiLY Leader, an organization dedicated to advancing the role of religious values in government, at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. The event, moderated by Vander Plaats, began at 3:30 p.m. with a round table discussion, and was followed by meet-and-greet events with each of the candidates, which included Vivek Ramaswamy, Ron DeSantis, and Nikki Haley.

Bob Vander Plaats, an influential leader among Iowa evangelicals — one of Iowa’s most influential voting blocks — endorsed presidential hopeful Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, just days after hosting a presidential forum in Des Moines

Vander Plaats’s endorsement has shown to be potent in the Iowa caucuses, having endorsed the winners of the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Iowa GOP caucuses, but all three failed to win the final nomination. 

News of Vander Plaats’s endorsement comes with just under two months until the Republican caucus on Jan. 15. 

His endorsement of DeSantis comes just over two weeks after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced her endorsement for DeSantis, being the first Iowa Governor since 1996 to break convention and endorse a candidate before the caucuses. 

Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of the Family Leader, a Christian lobbyist group based in Des Moines, Iowa, said he chose to endorse DeSantis because of his track record of results. 

DeSantis has repeatedly boasted about his nearly 20-point win over a Democrat in the 2022 Florida Governor’s race and the red wave that accompanied it in the state. In the 2022 midterm elections, Iowa and Florida were an exception to the rule, when the two states saw a red wave that was largely not the case around the country. 

DeSantis also boasts about his ability to deliver conservative priorities in Florida, the once moderate swing state that has become increasingly Republican. 

Vander Plaats: We need a two-term president 

Vander Plaats was very clear with the reason he endorsed DeSantis over Trump on Tuesday during an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News’s Special Report. He said that the party needs someone who came be a two-term president and not a “lame duck.” 

Vander Plaats has been frank with his criticism of Former President Donald Trump and has said the party needs to coalesce around an alternative to Trump. He thinks that should be Ron DeSantis. 

“You need a president that is going to surround themselves with the best and brightest people versus having a hard time attracting them again,” he said. “And someone who’s actually going to do what they say they’re going to do. And I just think he’s got the spine to do it and I think he’s got the experience to win for us.”

Vander Plaats has pledged to join DeSantis on the campaign trail as the caucuses approach. 

Despite Vander Plaats’ endorsement, DeSantis has a large gap in polling to account for in his bid for the nomination. DeSantis polled neck and neck with Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as the first choice for 16 percent of respondents in the October Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll. While Trump holds a lead at 43 percent, 27 points ahead of DeSantis. 

DeSantis is the second choice for 41 percent of would-be Trump voters in the Iowa poll. Vander Plaats said he thinks many of those voters will choose DeSantis come caucus time. 

But, in an interview with The Des Moines Register, Vander Plaats said that most Iowans “break late” with their first choice, meaning DeSantis could win come caucus time. 

Trump rebuffs endorsement 

Trump’s campaign released an early November memo from Trump Super PAC pollster Tony Fabrizio that said Vander Plaats’s endorsement would have a “negligible” impact on the caucuses. 

Trump also announced his campaign gained the endorsement of over 150 Iowa faith leaders on Tuesday. 

“The overwhelming support from Iowa’s faith leaders is a clear indication of President Trump’s unwavering commitment to the principles and values that are important to people of faith,” said Pastor Dan McCoy, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Urbandale, Iowa, in a news release from the Trump campaign. “This announcement is not just a number; it’s a powerful message that faith communities trust President Trump to lead our nation forward with integrity and moral clarity.” 

Trump also released a video on Tuesday lambasting Reynolds for her support of DeSantis and her approval ratings. 

In a video posted by his campaign on X, formerly known as Twitter, Trump called Reynolds “the most unpopular governor in America” and lashed out at her for her support of DeSantis. 

“Her endorsement of Ron ‘DeSanctimonious,’ who is 50 points down to me in the polls, has given him exactly zero bounce,” Trump said in the video. “He’s a wounded bird falling violently from the sky. I wonder what position Kim was promised in order to back someone who is so far down in the polls.”

Reynolds responded to Trump in a post on X, where she reaffirmed her support for DeSantis. 

“It’s not about me. It’s about our country,” Reynolds said on Tuesday. “[DeSantis] follows through on his promises, can serve 8 years, and has a WINNING record. He’s the most effective leader I’ve ever seen.” 

Trump’s campaign also latched onto an August 2023 report that shows the DeSantis campaign and several organizations aligned with his candidacy donated $95,000 to The Family Leader. 

National Democrats diss DeSantis, Vander Plaats following announcement 

National Democrats spokesperson Sarafina Chitika criticized Vander Plaats and his anti-abortion stances. She also speculated on his ability to change the outcome of the race. 

“Bob Vander Plaats’ endorsement is the ultimate kiss of death for Ron DeSantis’ sinking campaign and guarantees DeSantis will never be the Republican nominee,” she said in a news release on Tuesday. “There is truly no one in politics with a worse endorsement record. With today’s endorsement, we can all rest easy – there’s one less candidate in the GOP race for the nomination.”

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About the Contributors
Liam Halawith, Politics Editor
Liam Halawith is a third-year student at the University of Iowa studying Journalism and Mass Communication and minoring in Public Policy. Before his role as Politics Editor Liam was a politics reporter for the DI. Outside of the DI Liam has interned at the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Southeast Iowa Union. This is his second year working for the DI.
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.