TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Who won the Saturday showdown at the Iowa State Fair? Was it Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spent hours working crowds, or did former President Donald Trump swoop in and suck up all the oxygen? Both campaigns have claimed victory -- but each faced challenges.
On Monday, the DeSantis campaign said their full day on the ground in Des Moines helped secure caucus commitments that now total more than 10,400 Iowans. That's a fifth of what Ted Cruz had when he won in 2016— and there are five months to go.
“What we're doing is laying the foundation by doing the fundamentals well so when Iowans start paying attention," Sam Cooper, the campaign's national political director, said in a statement. "We have the organization built to capitalize and turn those folks into caucus-goers for governor.”
DeSantis did stumble into some familiar faux pas, so say critics. While greeting Iowans, at times, he looked a little distracted. During one interaction he began walking away from a 4-year-old girl midsentence, acknowledging the next voter.
"He says, 'I have a 3-year-old,'" University of South Florida professor Josh Scacco said. "But is already looking at another person."
Scacco is a political communications expert who says DeSantis isn't doing himself any favors with ongoing awkward or dismissive moments. That's especially true when compared to the former who can appear more at home in large crowds.
"They're heavily watched," Scacco said. "They’re heavily taped. While some candidates might dismiss them, the really important thing here is this sort of notion of personality is actually a critical component to how individuals are judged for any office, particularly higher office.”
Trump had some of the biggest crowds of the day. His campaign claimed he "dominated" and "overshadowed" the GOP field at the fair, touting his $20,000 contribution to attendees in fair food. The media took notice, and Iowans too.
"I think the other ones don't have the name recognition," Angela Goble, an Iowan planning to caucus in January, said. "I think that's what it's going to come down to. Whether you agree with him or not -- he has name recognition."
Even so, Trump's stop was brief, maybe around an hour, which critics considered was too short. Some blasted the campaign online. The former president also seemed to focus many of his comments on 2020 -- not 2024. A frustration for those who wanted to look forward.
Trump remains the frontrunner in the latest national polling. Kaplan Strategiesreported, Monday, Trump was 37 points ahead of his closest rival, no longer DeSantis, but Vivek Ramaswamy. The entrepreneur held a one-point margin over Florida's governor.