CLIVE, Iowa — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis received an energetic welcome at his first Iowa event as a 2024 candidate Tuesday, with crowds cheering as he spoke about bringing his fight against “woke” ideology to the White House.
More than 500 people filled the Eternity Church auditorium Tuesday, with people standing along the edges of the room after the seats filled more than an hour before the event began. Even more sat watching his speech on televisions and chairs set up in the Clive church after the room reached capacity.
While DeSantis has already made several trips to the first-in-the-nation state in 2023, the visit was his first stop in Iowa since announcing his presidential candidacy. He spoke about his track record as governor, garnering applause and cheers for signing laws from a six-week abortion ban, reinstating the death penalty for sexual battery of children and banning vaccine work requirements.
He received multiple standing ovations for talking about his fight to “protect children’s innocence.” DeSantis signed into law educational changes including banning removing “adult” materials and limiting discussion of LGBTQ+ issues and “critical race theory.” He talked about his fight against Disney in recent months over their opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“People told me … If Disney weighs in, they’re the 800-pound gorilla, you better watch out, they’re going to steamroll you,” DeSantis said. “Well, here I stand.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced DeSantis, saying that she took Iowa being called “the Florida of the North” as a compliment. Reynolds has signed many similar measures into law in Iowa this year that DeSantis touted in his speech, such as a law banning books with written and visual depictions of sex acts from school libraries, and a ban on gender-affirming care such as hormone replacement therapy and puberty blockers for minors.
DeSantis said he disagreed with critics categorizing these laws as book bans, saying that opponents were proliferating a hoax by calling the act of taking “hardcore pornography” out of schools a book ban. Many of the books brought up as inappropriate by parents during the Iowa legislative session were narratives about LGBT people and people of color. A Florida principal resigned after sixth-grade students were shown a picture of Michelangelo’s David, after parents criticized the school for exposing their children to pornography.
DeSantis said that as a father to three young children, he is concerned about how schools are using children to advance a political agenda.
“I’ll tell you this: We stand for the protection of our children,” DeSantis said. “We will fight those who seek to rob them of their innocence and on that point, there will be no compromise.”
The church stop is the first of multiple events DeSantis will hold in Iowa this week. He is scheduled for events Wednesday in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Pella, and Cedar Rapids. He’s also expected to attend U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s “Roast and Ride’ alongside several other 2024 hopefuls Saturday. His trip follows his official campaign launch Thursday in a Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk the week prior which was complicated by technical issues.
While some national media have said DeSantis’ campaign will be set back by its launching troubles, Iowans like Derian Baugh of Johnston said he did not believe these issues will have a bearing on how Iowans respond to DeSantis as a candidate.
Baugh said he is not concerned by online criticisms calling the candidate awkward. Baugh said he is more concerned about candidates’ ability to accomplish a conservative, Christian agenda in office.
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“He’s made it extremely clear where he stands on the issues,” Baugh said. “And he’s shown that he’s able to follow through, and not end up moving left to appease polls or Democrats.”
Former President Donald Trump and DeSantis are the current frontrunners in the growing Republican 2024 field. The former president is “wishy-washy,” Baugh said, pointing to Trump’s changing his stance on companies like Disney that have recently drew criticism from conservatives. While he plans to support the Republican ticket in the general election regardless of candidate, Baugh said that he prefers DeSantis over Trump because he wouldn’t “fold” to other influences.
“He knows what he believes and he sticks to his guns,” Baugh said.
Trump will also be in Iowa this week. He’s scheduled to have a radio interview in Des Moines Wednesday; Thursday, he’s scheduled to speak to the Westside Conservative Club and at a Fox News town hall moderated by Sean Hannity. His last Iowa trip was canceled on May 13 because of weather.
Others at the event are still considering supporting Trump in the caucuses. Jayne Hawkes, a Des Moines resident, said she “loves” the former president, but started looking into DeSantis because of his COVID-19 successes on issues like removing vaccine mandates and reopening schools and businesses in Florida.
Hawkes said she is evaluating 2024 candidates on their plans to unify the Republican Party, and how to bring conservative values back to Washington. While she’s still deciding, she said DeSantis has shown a strong moral compass in pursuing the fight against Disney and “woke” ideology.
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“I like the stance he’s taking against the woke way of the world and I want to know more,” Hawkes said. “… I am a Christian conservative and I want to hear somebody take that stance.”
DeSantis did not mention Trump in his speech, but said that a Republican president must be in office for two terms to accomplish their goals. He said the America is headed in the “wrong direction,” and told attendees he would put the country back on a path to “revival” if elected president.
“It’s time we impose our will on Washington, D.C.,” DeSantis said. “You can’t do any of this if you don’t win.”
This story first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a States Newsroom affiliate.