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

DeSantis boosts ground game in Iowa, completes 99-county tour of state

Less than two months before the 2024 caucus, DeSantis announces his commitment to move the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Iowa.
Shaely Odean
Republican presidential candidate and Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the 99th County Rally at the Thunderdome in Newton, Iowa on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. DeSantis’ 99th stop in Jasper County, Iowa rounds out the “full Grassley”.

NEWTON, Iowa — At a campaign stop on Saturday, GOP presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis finished off his 99-county tour of Iowa — colloquially termed a “full Grassley” — and announced a plan to move the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Iowa. 

As part of his plan to take power out of Washington, D.C., the Florida governor committed to requiring federal agencies to reduce their footprint in the nation’s capitol by 50 percent in hopes of getting agencies closer to those they serve. Held at the Thunderdome, the event hosted roughly 100 attendees. 

The announcement and the completion of his tour of Iowa come less than two months away from the Iowa caucuses in January. DeSantis was joined on stage by endorsers Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and CEO of Evangelical Christian lobby group The Family Leader Bob Vander Plaats. 

DeSantis is among a flurry of presidential hopefuls to visit the state on Saturday. Former President Donald Trump held two events in the state on Saturday in Ankeny and Des Moines, and Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy held events in Iowa City. 

DeSantis vows to decrease bureaucrats’ footprint in Washington

DeSantis said there has never been a bigger gap between politicians in D.C. and the American people, with leaders following their agendas and not governing with people’s best interest at heart. 

His solution is to order all cabinet secretaries to reduce their agencies’ footprint by at least 50 percent and take power out of Washington by moving agencies to other parts of the country. 

As part of the effort, DeSantis promised to give Iowa “first dibs” on the federal Department of Agriculture by moving its headquarters to the state. 

DeSantis said completing the “full Grassley” gave him the chance to speak with Iowans, and he heard from several people that they dislike USDA, Washington bureaucrats interfering with Iowa farms, and they would prefer that the agency be run by locals. 

DeSantis said after his term in the Oval Office, he would establish “a limited government that works alongside us, not an unaccountable, unlimited bureaucracy that imposes its will on us or is weaponized against us. We will have re-constitutionalized the federal government, we will have returned this government to its rightful owners, we the American people.”

DeSantis’ endorsers rally Iowans ahead of Jan. 15 Caucus

DeSantis’ celebratory rally was flush with people of varying ages who held DeSantis signs and sported campaign shirts, buttons, and stickers. 

Attendees were encouraged to sign DeSantis’ tour bus before entering the venue — a room draped in blue curtains leading to a speaker’s platform backdropped with American flags. 

Roughly 100 people crowded to listen to Reynolds and Vander Plaats, Iowa Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, and Iowa Rep. Jon Dunwell, R-Newton. 

Iowa endorsers held a theme of highlighting DeSantis’ career as Florida governor, specifically his policies during the pandemic, and America’s need for a two-term president. 

“If you like what we’re doing here in Iowa, you’re going to love what Ron DeSantis will do for this country,” Reynolds said. “Ron is the most effective leader that I have seen in a long, long time, and he will be the best president that we have seen in decades.”

Abandoning her history of neutrality at the Iowa caucuses, Reynolds officially endorsed DeSantis at a Des Moines rally on Nov. 6. 

In a speech at the event, Reynolds expressed the GOP’s need for a strong candidate to beat out President Joe Biden. 

Reynolds’ endorsement was soon followed by Vander Plaats’ on Nov. 21, days after hosting a presidential forum in Des Moines. 

At the rally, Vander Plaats spoke about his decision to endorse DeSantis despite his long-standing friendship with former President Donald Trump. 

Vander Plaats, who has endorsed the last three winners of the Iowa GOP caucus, said he looks for someone with a strong character he can trust, and who fears God but does not believe they are god. 

Vander Plaats said if voters check the box for DeSantis, they are not acting against Trump, but are looking to the future of the country. 

“[DeSantis] can lead for two terms and not be a lame duck on day one. And he can spend his time defending this country versus defending himself,” Vander Plaats said. 

Local leaders voice mixed feelings for DeSantis 

Mark Hallam, a Newton city councilor, said at the event that he was excited to hear DeSantis’ promise to locate the USDA office in Iowa but remains undecided on who he will caucus for. 

Hallam said the event gave him more things to consider regarding how he will vote, including the concept of a two-term Republican president. 

Jasper County GOP co-chair Michael 2Kaldenberg has been a supporter and endorser of DeSantis throughout his campaign. 

Kaldenberg said he believes DeSantis will satisfy the ability to create good policy without the chaos of Trump. 

“I voted for [Trump] twice. I would vote for him again if he is the nominee, but I don’t want him to be,” he said. 

DeSantis’ platforms on the economy, border and immigration policy, and crime stand out to Kaldenberg. 

More than a half-dozen party leaders are listed on DeSantis’ roster of supporters, notable names including Iowa Senate President Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, Iowa Senate Majority Whip Waylon Brown, R-Osage, Windschitl,  and Dunwell, among others.

DeSantis’ rally follows Thursday’s Fox News debate against California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, in which the two governors traded personal jabs and disputed over policy.

During the rally, DeSantis said his reason for debating Newsom — even though he is not a confirmed presidential candidate — was to show Republicans that he can stand on the debate stage with Democrat’s “most coveted rising star” and “do the job.”

DeSantis completes “full Grassley,” beat to it by Binkley

In the months leading up to the caucus, DeSantis has made campaign stops in all 99 counties in Iowa, known colloquially as the “full Grassley.” 

The term comes from Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, known for visiting all of Iowa’s counties every year since first taking office in 1981. This led to the coinage of the term, used to describe when a presidential candidate visits all 99 counties before the Iowa caucuses. 

GOP candidate, Ryan Binkley, achieved the goal before DeSantis, completing the “full Grassley” in early November. 

Ahead of the rally on Friday, Grassley congratulated DeSantis on completing the task, as stated in a press release. 

DeSantis’ stop in Newton completed this goal, having visited each of the other 98 counties during his trips to the Hawkeye state. 

This includes notable visits to the Iowa State Fair in August, the Lincoln Dinner in July, Joni Ernst’s “Roast and Ride” event in June, and his first visit to Iowa back in March for the “Freedom Blueprint” event.

In addition to opening campaign offices in Des Moines and Urbandale, DeSantis has made 130 stops in Iowa throughout his campaign. However, he is not the only GOP candidate devoting time to the state. 

A Nov. 26 CBS News article reported on candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s announcement that he rented an apartment in Iowa intending to hold over 200 events leading up to the caucus. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been to over 60 Iowa events and is now polling closely with DeSantis in the state. 

Former President Donald Trump, in contrast, has held 17 Iowa events since March. 

In the most recent Nov. 21 data from FiveThirtyEight, DeSantis’ Iowa poll numbers average 17.5 percent with Haley following at 15.3 percent and former president Donald Trump leading with 44.7 percent. 

According to the same source, national Republican primary polls as of Nov. 30 show DeSantis following behind Trump’s 60 percent with 12.6 percent. 

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About the Contributors
Roxy Ekberg, News Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.
Shaely Odean, Photojournalist
Shaely Odean is a transfer student at the University of Iowa, currently in her third year. She is pursuing double majors in Journalism and Strategic Communications, as well as Sustainability Sciences. Shaely works as a photojournalist for The Daily Iowan, and her passion lies in environmental issues. Before joining the University of Iowa, she attended Kirkwood Community College, where she served as the photo editor for the Kirkwood Communique.