A prominent Iowa Christian evangelical leader has endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his efforts to become the next U.S. president.
Bob Vander Plaats, the CEO and president of The Family Leader conservative group, revealed his endorsement during an interview with Fox News on Nov. 21.
Mr. Vander Plaats is the second major backer of the Republican governor to come out of Iowa this month, joining Gov. Kim Reynolds, who threw her support behind the GOP candidate earlier this month, saying that he stands a better chance of winning the 2024 general election than former President Donald Trump.
“I’m thrilled to throw my personal endorsement and support behind Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida,” the evangelical leader told the outlet.
“We need to find somebody who can win in 2024,” Mr. Vander Plaats said, before pointing to the 2022 midterms and noting that a highly-anticipated “red wave” never materialized in many states.
In contrast, Mr. DeSantis easily won reelection in Florida in a sweeping victory, with Mr. Vander Plaats noting the Republican was able to win “in demographics we haven’t won in” and crediting his “bold and courageous” leadership.
The evangelical leader said Mr. DeSantis “closed the sale” on his endorsement during his appearance at The Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum event in Des Moines, Iowa, last week.
Mr. DeSantis appeared at that event alongside most of his 2024 GOP White House rivals, including former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
President Trump, who is currently the frontrunner in the Republican White House race, did not attend despite being invited.
Don’t Need a ‘Lame Duck’ President
“We need a president who can serve two terms, not one term,” Mr. Vander Plaats said. “We don’t need a president that’s going to be a lame duck on day one, we need a president that’s going to surround themselves with the best and brightest people versus having a hard time attracting them again and someone who’s actually going to do what they say they are going to do, and I just think he has got the spine to do it and I think he’s got the experience to win for us.”
Evangelicals are a crucial voting bloc in Iowa’s Republican caucuses and Mr. Vander Plaats has endorsed the eventual winner in every GOP caucus since 2008, although his latest endorsement will no doubt test his sway among Iowa evangelicals, many of whom continue to back President Trump.
Still, the religious leader said Tuesday he firmly believes Americans will not reelect President Trump to serve in the White House.
“I think America would be well served to have a choice, and I really believe Ron DeSantis should be that guy,” he said. “And I think Iowa is tailor-made for him to win this.”
In a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, Mr. DeSantis thanked Mr. Vander Plaats for his endorsement, and said his support “tells Iowans they can trust me to fight and win for them.”
‘Road to America’s Revival Starts in Iowa’
“As I’ve made my way through 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties, Iowans have shared what a critical role @bobvanderplaats plays in engaging Iowa’s faith community in the key battles that matter,” he wrote. “We’re thrilled to have Bob and Darla on Team DeSantis and are thankful for their friendship as we’ve gotten to know them throughout this campaign. The road to America’s revival starts in Iowa, and we will get the job done.”
The Trump campaign, however, criticized the endorsement Tuesday, and said the Florida governor will “never be President.”
It also noted President Trump is backed by more than 150 faith leaders in Iowa and implied that Mr. DeSantis paid for the latest endorsement from Mr. Vander Plaats.
“Kim Reynolds’ endorsement won’t save Ron DeSanctus, and neither will Vander Plaat$’ endorsement,” the Trump campaign statement said. “Over 150 faith leaders in Iowa are organizing their congregations for President Trump and not a single one demanded nearly $100k like Bob Vander Plaat$ did from Ron DeSanctus.”
“When you are actually the leader of a movement like President Trump is, people are willing to support you for free,” the statement added.
The Trump campaign also shared a report from Reuters published in August which said that Mr. DeSantis and his backers paid $95,000 to The Family Leader Foundation, which is led by Mr. Vander Plaats.
Mr. Vander Plaats, however, said his endorsement is not for sale, and payments from Mr. DeSantis’s backers to his organization were for ads at a candidate forum in July.
Multiple polls show President Trump maintains a significant lead over his fellow Republican presidential candidates and is performing better than Mr. DeSantis in matchups against President Joe Biden.
Caden Pearson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.