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Ron DeSantis looks ahead after placing distant second in Iowa caucuses

What happened at the Iowa caucuses?
Trump wins, DeSantis gets 2nd, Ramaswamy drops out: What happened at the Iowa caucuses? 11:45

West Des Moines, Iowa — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis insisted he is staying in the 2024 race after he finished a distant second to former President Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses and only narrowly coming out ahead of former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley.

"You helped us get a ticket punched out of the Hawkeye state," DeSantis told a crowd of supporters at a caucus watch party in West Des Moines on Monday night. 

The road after Iowa is unclear for DeSantis. DeSantis has trailed both Trump and Haley by increasing margins in both New Hampshire and South Carolina — states he has invested much less time in this cycle compared to Iowa. But his campaign is aiming to outlast Haley in this race, and get to a one-on-one matchup with Trump.

"This is shaping up to be a two-person race soon enough, it may just take a few more weeks to fully get there," wrote DeSantis communications director Andrew Romeo in a press release Tuesday.

Ron DeSantis Holds His Caucus Night Event In Iowa
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis greets supporters at his caucus night event on January 15, 2024 in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

The mood inside the West Des Moines building before DeSantis was projected to be in second place and appeared on stage Monday was a mix of anger and nervousness about a tight battle for second place. Campaign staff, Iowa precinct captains and allies equated the quick projection by news organizations for Trump with election interference, noting the news broke before people cast their ballots at precincts – and as DeSantis himself was speaking at a caucus location in Dubuque, Iowa. 

On Tuesday in South Carolina, DeSantis also voiced frustration with the projection but acknowledged the order of the finishers would not have been different had the projection l come later. 

The campaign and allies felt they overperformed expectations in Iowa going into Monday, noting the amount of money spent by Haley's super PAC and her placing higher than DeSantis in Iowa polls this month. But the ultimate outcome of Trump clearing 50% and DeSantis only barely beating Haley, despite the investment in the ground game organization from DeSantis' super PAC, had been a concern some fundraisers raised going into Monday night.

"If she's close to DeSantis that makes our job a lot tougher. We have not seen a lot of new money in the past month. The new money has been going to her," one bundler supporting DeSantis said before caucus night. 

Other fundraisers were optimistic DeSantis avoided falling behind Haley.

"I don't think it was a good night for [Haley]. That's the donor base that we're kind of competing with, who we're trying to get donor dollars from," said Hal Lambert, a donor who serves on DeSantis' national finance committee.

DeSantis campaigned in both South Carolina and New Hampshire Tuesday, starting in Greenville, South Carolina where he focused a majority of his attacks on Haley. 

He questioned the effectiveness of her tenure as governor, said he debated California Gov. Gavin Newsom in November to "practice debating somebody who's almost as liberal as Nikki Haley," and told reporters that Haley would not be able to win New Hampshire, a state she's invested time in and where she has steadily risen in the polls. 

"She hasn't performed well in debates," DeSantis said. "She would not take questions from voters like I just did. They basically have her hermetically sealed."

DeSantis has criticized Haley's decision to forego the WMUR/ABC debate in New Hampshire this week, after she indicated she wouldn't do it unless Trump showed up. On Tuesday,  ABC News and WMUR-TV announced the debate had been canceled after candidates were unwilling to participate. 

Haley has looked to ignore DeSantis going forward. She told CBS News on Tuesday the race is about "differences between Trump and with me," and dismissed DeSantis' efforts in New Hampshire and South Carolina, noting his single digit positioning in the polls. In a state-of-the-race memo released late Monday night, Haley's campaign did not even mention DeSantis. 

"The field of candidates is effectively down to two, with only Trump and Nikki Haley having substantial support in both New Hampshire and South Carolina," wrote Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankeny. 

But DeSantis indicated Tuesday he's still looking to make a play in South Carolina, Haley's home state, New Hampshire and in Nevada, where DeSantis is on the caucus ballot and eligible to get delegates.

"This is her home state. If she can't win this, then I don't see how she could say she's gonna win Super Tuesday or any of those other states," he told reporters in Greenville. "This is a great state for us. We haven't spent a lot of money here yet. We're gonna start to let us be known a little bit more."

John Barkman, a Republican South Carolina voter who attended DeSantis' event in Greenville but leans towards Trump for his vote in February's primary, said he believes the dynamics in South Carolina "are similar to Iowa in that Trump is way, way, way ahead."

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