DeSantis, Trump set to visit Iowa, ramping up 2024 moves

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump are each headed to Iowa in the coming weeks, making their first trips of the year to the leadoff Republican voting state as the 2024 campaign ramps up.

DeSantis has scheduled events on March 10 in the eastern Iowa city of Davenport and the state capital, Des Moines, to promote his new book, “The Courage to be Free.” His plans were confirmed by two aides to Republican officials who spoke on condition of anonymity Thursday because they were not authorized to preempt DeSantis’ announcement.

Trump’s campaign announced Thursday that the former president would be making an education policy speech in Davenport on March 13, his first Iowa visit since he launched his 2024 campaign in November.

“It’s going from ground zero right to the moon,” said Gloria Mazza, the Republican party chair in Polk County, Iowa’s most populous county. “It sure gets us excited.”

Although DeSantis is not yet a candidate, his trip is a significant step for a governor who has positioned himself as a top alternative to Trump. Until now, he has largely been content to lead conservative cultural fights on cable TV and from the Florida statehouse, where he is focused on expanding his rightward agenda in the legislative session that runs through May.

The closely timed Iowa visits would draw the two leading Republicans closer toward direct competition. Trump has escalated his attacks on DeSantis in recent months as he increasingly views him as a major threat, deriding the governor on social media and trying out insulting nicknames. For his part, DeSantis responded to questions about one such Trump jab last month by saying he does not spend his time “trying to smear other Republicans.”

Trump attended events last month in early-voting states New Hampshire and South Carolina, and this month’s Iowa visit would be his first trip to the state as an official 2024 candidate.

He would face pressure to do well in Iowa next year, having finished in second place in the 2016 caucuses en route to the Republican presidential nomination and carrying Iowa by healthy margins in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.

After a quiet start to the year, Republican presidential prospects have been flocking to Iowa in recent weeks and making plans for future visits.

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her candidacy last month, was in Iowa in late February and plans to return next week to host two town halls and participate in a foreign policy event with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in Des Moines.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is considering a bid, was in the state last month rallying conservative parents against a gender-affirming policy in an eastern Iowa school district at issue in a federal lawsuit. Pence is expected back in Iowa on March 18.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, another likely 2024 candidate, was in the Des Moines area last week to deliver a speech at Drake University and headline a Polk County Republican Party fundraiser.