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 follows far behind Trump with second place in caucuses

The Florida Governor beat Haley by a slim margin, winning 2 percent more of the vote on Monday.
Florida+Gov.+Ron+DeSantis+waves+during+DeSantis+Caucus+Night+Watch+Party+at+the+Sheraton+in+West+Des+Moines+on+Monday%2C+Jan.+15%2C+2024.+
Ayrton Breckenridge
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves during DeSantis’ Caucus Night Watch Party at the Sheraton in West Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024.

DES MOINES — In the political tug-of-war for second place, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came out on top during the Iowa Republican caucuses.

In the days leading up to the caucuses on Monday, DeSantis and former ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley had been vying for second behind former president Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner.

On the night of the caucus, DeSantis garnered 21.2 percent of the vote, while Haley received 19.1 percent. Trump overwhelmingly won the caucus having received 51 percent of the vote, a record high for a non-incumbent Republican.

Despite beating out Haley, DeSantis’ win was marginal and was closely tied throughout the night as results trickled in.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in Johnson County, which Haley won by only one vote.

DeSantis had been polling 15.8 percent and Haley 18.7 percent in the Projects FiveThirtyFive poll updated Monday afternoon, hours before the caucuses.

Results for the caucuses were called by the Associated Press around 7:30 p.m., only half an hour after doors had been closed for the caucuses, naming Trump as the big winner on the night.

The speed of the results led to DeSantis’ Communications Director, Andrew Romeo, alleging “election interference” from the media in an X, formerly known as Twitter, post.

“It is absolutely outrageous that the media would participate in election interference by calling the race before tens of thousands of Iowans even had a chance to vote,” he said. “The media is in the tank for Trump and this is the most egregious example yet.”

DeSantis 

DeSantis walked onto the Des Moines Ballroom stage at the Sheraton hotel in West Des Moines to roars of support and a crowd full of DeSantis signs after “earning a ticket out of Iowa.”

When speaking to the crowd of around 250 people, DeSantis criticized the media for calling the race so early in the game. 

“The media was against us,” DeSantis said. “They were writing our obituary months ago. They even called the election before people even got a chance to vote.”

View more on how supporters of DeSantis reacted to the race:

DeSantis also used his speech to thank the Iowa crowd for their support throughout the primary battle in Iowa.

“We thank you for your effort. We thank you for your support. You helped us get a ticket punched out of the Hawkeye State,” DeSantis said. “We have a lot of work to do, but I can tell you this as the next President of the United States. I am going to get the job done for this country. I am not going to make any excuses. And I guarantee you this: I will not let you down.”

DeSantis and his supporters celebrated the second-place finish in Iowa, but still trailed Trump by 30.1 percent at the end of caucus night in Iowa. 

DeSantis worked to win over Iowans by completing a full tour of the state, dubbed the “full Grassley” after Iowa’s senior U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who visits all 99 Iowa counties every year. 

Sam Brown, 19, of Des Moines, said DeSantis benefitted from touring the state, meeting and greeting several people to gain voters. 

Banding together as red state governors, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds formally endorsed DeSantis on Nov. 6. Reynolds followed closely behind DeSantis and the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, as well as a “book banning” law that’s currently facing a legal challenge.

Reynolds endorsed Trump in 2020, so her public support for DeSantis ruffled the former President’s feathers. 

Following the election results, Reynolds took the stage at the caucus watch party before introducing DeSantis to the stage. 

“This is the man that can step in on day one and reverse the madness that we see happening from the Biden administration … He has the resolve, he’s a bold, principled leader; he is a hard worker. This guy will take it to the end.”

Brown said the endorsement from Reynolds helped his second-place lead and believes helped direct other Iowans to put their support behind the Florida governor. 

“I also think Iowans vote on character, and I think that he’s definitely spent a lot of time here and an endorsement from the governor means a lot,” Brown said. “Considering Iowa and Florida are pretty similar in policies, I think that it is very compatible.” 

DeSantis also received an endorsement from Bob Vander Plaats, the President and CEO of The Family Leader, after Plaats hosted the 2023 Thanksgiving Family Forum

However, the endorsements from Reynolds and Vander Plaats did not pave the way for much additional polled support for DeSantis.  

DeSantis joined the Republican presidential primary race as a strong secondary choice behind Trump. 

When Projects FiveThirtyEight released its first poll of the 2023 primary race in May, DeSantis was proven to be a strong second choice for Iowa Republicans behind Trump. Trump led with 48.1 percent of respondents, DeSantis a far second with 23.8 percent.

Several caucus watch party attendees came to support the Florida governor from all over the country. Many traveled from Florida, as well as other closer states like Kansas.

As governor, DeSantis has signed a number of controversial bills into law, paving the way for other red states in a fight against “woke” ideologies. For example, he signed House Bill 7 into law in 2021, which banned the education of critical race theory. 

Benedictine College student John Welty, of Kansas, drove with two of his friends to DeSantis’ caucus watch party because they believe the Iowa caucus sets the tone for the remainder of the primary race, as well as simply supporting DeSantis.

“I really like what he’s done in Florida … And if he was able to do that for the rest of the country, I think that’d be great,” Welty said.

Haley offers moderate conservative option

On a closely contested caucus night, Nikki Haley failed to beat out DeSantis for second place.

Haley only fell 2 percent short of DeSantis, having won 19 percent of the vote overall compared to DeSantis’ 21 percent. Despite the loss, the result cemented Haley’s status as a rival to DeSantis.

At her event at the West Des Moines Marriott Monday night, Haley walked onstage with a beaming smile to thunderous applause.

During her speech, Haley thanked Iowans for turning out to support her, and said Monday’s results turned the race for the Republican nod into a “two-person race.”

“We deserve a new direction under new conservative leadership,” Haley said. “We deserve a president who will focus on the needs of our people, not on themselves.”

Haley said her focus would now shift to the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23

View more on how Haley and her supporters are feeling ahead of New Hampshire:

Before joining the race to the White House, Haley served as a U.N. Ambassador under the Trump administration and governor of South Carolina.  

Haley’s campaign is centered on foreign policy, economic issues, and immigration. Haley called for an end to “Bidenomics” and said she would deport illegal immigrants come her time in the Oval Office. 

Haley also supports American aid to Israel and Ukraine, ending Congressional earmarks — federal spending for a specific project or program in a congressional district — and considers herself to be a unifier opposed to Trump’s chaos. 

Haley has stated that she is “unapologetically pro-life,” but believes that the issue of abortion needs to stop being “demonized.”

In her campaign, Haley has participated in all five Republican primary debates and remains largely unscathed from the typically brutal arguments. 

Most recently, Haley and DeSantis traded insults at a CNN debate in Des Moines

Despite being the only woman in the Republican race, Haley has not geared her campaign toward women and has clearly stated she doesn’t believe in identity politics. She has also made several comments throughout her campaign and in debates about not allowing trans women to participate in women’s sports. 

Her stances on key issues have garnered strong support among voters. Jeff Naftzger, 57, of Iowa City said in an interview with The Daily Iowan that he liked Haley’s stance on border security and China.

“I just think that she’s fresh, and I think we need that,” Naftzger said. “I think Trump will do a great job, too. I don’t want to be anti-Trump because I love Trump, but I really, I just really like what I see.”

In an interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Dave Anderson, a caucusgoer in Cedar Rapids, said he liked Haley for her civility and lack of negativity compared to other candidates, a priority for him.

Polls

In Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Polls, Haley surpassed DeSantis in a neck-and-neck fight in which she typically lagged. 

Haley polled at 20 percent in the poll released Saturday, pulling ahead of DeSantis’ 16 percent in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. 

Polling at 11 percent nationally, Haley is behind DeSantis by 1 percent and has reached the highest polling numbers in her campaign. Her rise in poll numbers is mainly driven by college-educated Republicans, according to a study by ABC News. 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential campaign suspension last week was expected to shift the dynamics of the race to the White House. His campaign centered on stopping Trump, so the two former governors’ campaigns likely would have split the anti-Trump vote.

Haley still trails Trump in polls of New Hampshire voters, the nation’s first primary state. But Christie supporters are anticipated to switch to the former U.N. ambassador, which could help her give Trump a run for his money in the primary. 

Haley’s campaign headliners 

When she announced her campaign in February 2023, Haley was originally labeled an underdog to the Republican favorite, Trump. 

Haley’s debate performance convinced some Republican voters and several Wall Street donors that she is the party’s best hope to boot out President Joe Biden. Buoyed by a slow and steady rise in the polls, Haley has branded herself as a Republican alternative to Trump who would unite Americans rather than cause chaos. 

Haley’s momentum attracted major donors and key endorsements, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Americans for Prosperity Action, a Koch-supported organization that committed roughly $30 million to her campaign. 

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Alejandro Rojas, News Editor
he/him/his
Alejandro Rojas is The Daily Iowan's news editor. He previously worked as a news reporter covering Johnson County and was the summer executive editor in 2023. He is a senior, double majoring in journalism and political science.
Natalie Miller, Politics Reporter
(she/her)
Natalie Miller is a second-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications. Prior to her position as a Politics Reporter, Natalie was a News Reporter focusing on Higher Education.
Roxy Ekberg, News Reporter
she/her/hers
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
(he/him/his)
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.