Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis both appeared at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12 in what has been described as a rare convergence between the two GOP candidates for president.
President Trump, in fewer than two hours on the steaming fairgrounds in Des Moines, attracted thousands of supporters to his stops at the Iowa Pork Producers tent, a baby farm animal exhibit, and a popular Grand Concourse pub, according to reporters on the scene.
Just as Mr. DeSantis and his family were wrapping up their day at the fair, meeting with Iowa Republican leaders and activists, President Trump descended into the huge scrum of backers accompanied by about a dozen Florida U.S. House members.
Right after the Florida governor was flipping burgers at the Iowa State Fair, President Trump’s plane passed overhead. Supporters of the former president then chanted “We want Trump” and “We love Trump,” according to footage posted online. At one point during the event, Mr. DeSantis was seen walking through a crowd of Trump supporters who were chanting “We love Trump.”
In another instance, a plane flew over the fair with a banner that read “Be likeable, Ron.” It’s not clear who commissioned the plane.
The moves made by the frontrunner and the overwhelmingly positive reaction can be seen as a stark reminder to Mr. DeSantis, who polls show is behind President Trump both in Iowa and nationally. A New York Times-Siena poll released earlier this month shows support of President Trump at 44 percent as compared with Mr. DeSantis’ 20 percent. A poll from Cygnal, released Aug. 10, shows President Trump at 53 percent nationally and Mr. DeSantis at 10 percent.
Mr. DeSantis and other candidates at the fair called out President Trump for his recent criticism of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has taken a pledge of neutrality and hosted a series of one-on-one conversations that most GOP candidates accepted, but that the 45th president declined.
“That’s just how he operates, to attack one of the best governors in the country,” Mr. DeSantis said. “I think as Republicans we should be thankful and proud to see other Republicans doing well.”
Most of the candidates effused praise on Ms. Reynolds throughout their appearances at the fair and enjoyed her company on walks around the fairground or flipping pork burgers.
President Trump on Aug. 12 also sought to soothe the tension between himself and Ms. Reynolds, even though he didn’t appear with her. But in addressing the drama with the governor, President Trump repeated his claim that he was responsible for her election. He campaigned with Ms. Reynolds during her 2018 bid, which she won narrowly. She won reelection by a much larger margin in 2022.
“I have a very nice relationship with her,” he said. “I got her elected.”
After President Trump arrived at the fair, Mr. DeSantis briefly met with a gaggle of reporters. When asked about how he can close the gap with President Trump, the Florida governor said: “You work hard. We’ve now done 38 of the 99 counties. We did six counties yesterday. They did six counties with us and had fun.”
The Iowa State Fair appearance comes after Mr. DeSantis recently reshuffled his campaign, replacing his manager, Generra Peck, according to another official, James Uthmeier. Mr. Uthmeier, who’s now Mr. DeSantis’s campaign manager, said last week that the move would come immediately.
Later, DeSantis campaign spokesman Andrew Romero told outlets that Mr. Uthmeier “has been one of Gov. DeSantis’s top advisors for years, and he is needed where it matters most: working hand in hand with Generra Peck and the rest of the team to put the governor in the best possible position to win this primary and defeat Joe Biden.”
“David Polyansky will also be a critical addition to the team given his presidential campaign experience in Iowa and work at Never Back Down. We are excited about these additions as we continue to spread the governor’s message across the country. It’s time to reverse our nation’s decline and revive America’s future,” Mr. Romero said.
Florida’s 44-year-old governor saw his popularity rise among Republicans across the United States over the past several years after he forcefully pushed back against COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. He also gained praise for going after media outlets, large corporations, and teachers unions before he won by about 20 percentage points during the 2022 midterm election.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.