DeSantis Wins Endorsement of Iowa Evangelical Leader

(Bloomberg) -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis secured the endorsement of influential Iowa conservative Bob Vander Plaats, a boost to his bid to upset former President Donald Trump in the early voting state.

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Vander Plaats formally backed DeSantis on Tuesday, saying in an interview on Fox News that he was “thrilled” to throw his “personal endorsement and support” behind the Republican presidential hopeful.

“We need to find somebody who can win in 2024,” he added, calling DeSantis a “bold and courageous leader.”

Vander Plaats’s backing is the second major endorsement for DeSantis in Iowa this month, following Governor Kim Reynolds. Both Vander Plaats and Reynolds are influential among evangelical voters, a sizable bloc in the state and a group whose support will be crucial in the caucuses in January.

With less than two months to go before Republican presidential primary voting officially kicks off, DeSantis is making a make-or-break push in Iowa, banking on a strong showing that can give him momentum to stay in the race.

Polls show DeSantis trailing Trump, the GOP frontrunner, by over 45 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of national polls. In Iowa, Trump only has a 30-point lead over DeSantis. But the Florida governor also faces a threat from former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has surged in the polls in recent weeks and gained new donor interest thanks to strong debate performances.

The DeSantis camp has moved more staffers to Iowa and expressed confidence in its ground game. A new super PAC linked to DeSantis allies from Florida is also ramping up ad spending in the state.

A senior adviser to the campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss their thinking, said the race is still a two-way contest between DeSantis and Trump, and Haley has likely peaked.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, DeSantis hailed the endorsement.

“His support tells Iowans they can trust me to fight and win for them,” the governor said.

The DeSantis campaign and a super PAC linked to him paid $75,000 in recent months to Vander Plaats’s Family Leader Foundation, according to campaign finance reports.

The endorsement comes days after Vander Plaats’s Family Leader Thanksgiving forum, a tradition for Iowa evangelicals to hear from candidates. Trump opted to skip the event entirely, as well as an event hosted by Vander Plaats earlier this summer — decisions the evangelical leader criticized.

Evangelical voters helped power Trump to the White House in 2016 but the former president’s ties with that group have become strained after he criticized the party’s messaging on abortion for the GOP’s underwhelming 2022 midterm showing.

--With assistance from Bill Allison, Gregory Korte and Stephanie Lai.

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