Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds endorsed Florida Gov.on Monday and cited a need to have a candidate "who looks to the future and not the past" and "who can win," suggesting the GOP frontrunner in the race, former President Donald Trump, could be a liability for the party in 2024.
"As governor, I felt like it was my responsibility to provide all of the candidates a platform to share their message and vision to help put their best foot forward," said Reynolds, who has done multiple events with other candidates this cycle and initially said she would not endorse. "But I also believe... I could not and can not sit on the sidelines any longer."
"We need someone who won't get distracted, that will stay disciplined, who puts this country first and not himself," she said.
DeSantis and his campaign staff are banking on the Reynolds endorsement to boost his presidential campaign, which has anchored itself in Iowa — touring all 99 counties and moving a majority of campaign staff there. DeSantis has consistently trailed Trump in all polling.
"I'm asking you to talk to your friends, your family, your neighbor, follow Governor Reynolds' lead. Caucus for us in January," DeSantis told voters Monday.
Throughout the event inside a packed Des Moines venue space usually used for weddings, Reynolds and DeSantis traded praise for each other's style of governing and compared similar records in their state on COVID-19, education and abortion restrictions. Reynolds called DeSantis "one of the most effective leaders" she's ever seen, while DeSantis called her "one of the greatest governors [Iowa] has ever had."
Iowa Republican voters before and after the event said they were excited to see Reynolds endorse the governor, but seemed hesitant to weigh in on whether it'd be enough for DeSantis to close the gap with Trump.
Joel Lewarne, who said he leans toward DeSantis, said Reynolds' endorsement won't impact his ultimate decision. "I pretty much make up my decision for myself," he said. Lewarne added he doesn't think other candidates can narrow Trump's lead, which he called "way too big." He viewed his potential vote for DeSantis as a type of insurance policy in case acould make him ineligible to appear on the ballot.
"We need somebody there," he said, adding it is still a possibility he could vote for Trump.
Ben Toal, who is undecided, said the two governors "share a pretty common political philosophy, so that [endorsement] doesn't surprise me."
"It's still pretty early in the campaign cycle. What I hear is that people just haven't really made up their minds yet," Toal said.
Robin Spencer, who voted for Trump in the 2016 Iowa caucus but is leaning towards DeSantis this time around, said the Florida governor has "an advantage" with Reynolds supporting him, "there's no doubt about that."
Asked if her support would be enough to help DeSantis beat Trump, Spencer replied, "I don't know that's tough... And he was such a great president I believe. So he's going to be tough to beat."
Iowa State Representative Taylor Collins, who has endorsed DeSantis, said before Monday evening's event that the timing of Reynolds' endorsement should be a sign for other candidates "who are not picking up traction" to exit the race. "As we get closer here, she just felt that it's her time to step in and send a clear direction to Iowans," Collins, a former campaign staffer and advisor to Reynolds, said.
A pre-debate memo from former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley's campaign manager Betsy Ankeny seemed to pre-empt the Reynolds endorsement on Monday, and said even if DeSantis "were to do well in Iowa... he is in such a weak position in New Hampshire and South Carolina that it doesn't matter."
Reynolds will also appear at another stop with DeSantis on Tuesday morning in Davenport and then travel to Miami on Wednesday for theto help him fundraise, according to a source familiar with the planning. Iowa's Republican caucus on Jan. 15 is the first nominating contest of the .
Reynolds has also appeared at his campaign events earlier in the summer, and at one separate event with just his wife, Casey DeSantis.
Asked in late October by Iowa reporters what an endorsement from Reynolds would mean for his campaign, DeSantis said it'd be a "huge get."
"I think any candidate running would be a fool. Not to want to have the support of Reynolds," he said.
Trump has criticized Reynolds for appearing close to DeSantis, and called her disloyal on in a post on Sunday. "She is now America's most Unpopular Governor, and Ron DeSanctimonious is Second. That's what happens when you are disloyal to those that got you there!" Trump wrote.
Reynolds spoke out against Trump for criticizing DeSantis' six-week abortion ban as a "terrible thing." Reynolds has signed a similar abortion ban in Iowa that is currently being challenged in the courts. On Monday she took a parting shot at his administration's handling of COVID, saying it "let" former Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci "lead their response."
DeSantis'Trump's animosity towards the Iowa governor, who is popular among Republicans, could create an opening to cut into his lead.
In August, a Des Moines Register poll found that Reynolds had an 81% approval rating among likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa. She has endorsed DeSantis as his campaign trails Trump's, and as he confronts another obstacle in Haley.
An October Des Moines Register/NBC poll showed 43% of Iowa's likely Republican caucus-goers picked Trump as their first choice for president, while DeSantis and Haley were tied at 16% a piece. Another poll commissioned by a nonprofit that has hosted events for DeSantis showed him leading Haley, 20% to 12%, but still trailing Trump who registered 46%.
A late August poll from Trump's super PAC, MAGA Inc., suggested an endorsement from Reynolds wouldn't bolster DeSantis' odds enough to get past Trump, with the former president still capturing 42% of likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers and DeSantis getting 20%.
In a reaction to the endorsement, Trump's campaign put out internal polling showing that 72% of Iowa respondents said her endorsement wouldn't impact their vote. "Kim Reynolds apparently has begun her retirement tour early as she clearly does not have any ambition for higher office," his campaign wrote in a press email.
Asked by CBS News after an Iowa event in July if he'd pick Reynolds as a potential running mate, DeSantis replied, "of course" and defended his fellow GOP governor on some of Trump's criticisms.
"The number one thing people have come up to me and shaking their heads about was Donald Trump attacking Kim Reynolds. They couldn't believe it," he said in July.
— Musadiq Bidar contributed reporting.
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