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After second place finish in Iowa's caucuses, DeSantis sets sights on South Carolina

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally on Tuesday in Greenville, S.C. DeSantis stopped in South Carolina first, after his second place finish in the Iowa caucuses, before heading on to New Hampshire.
Jeffrey Collins
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally on Tuesday in Greenville, S.C. DeSantis stopped in South Carolina first, after his second place finish in the Iowa caucuses, before heading on to New Hampshire.

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The skies above the airplane hangar where Ron DeSantis spoke to a packed crowd in Greenville, S.C., Tuesday morning were muted and gray, but the Florida governor spoke with rays of optimism after his performance in the 2024 Iowa Caucus the night before.

Presidential contenders usually trek straight to New Hampshire, the next state on the nominating calendar, but DeSantis' stop in the Palmetto State was a targeted message to rival Nikki Haley, South Carolina's former governor who finished just behind DeSantis in Monday's contest. The overt part of that message is that he plans to compete — and win — on her home turf.

"This is an important state," DeSantis told reporters after delivering a stump speech and answering questions from voters who braved the cold to hear his message about "woke ideology" in the military, mass firing of federal government employees and other plans for if he becomes president.

"Nikki Haley, this is her home state, if she can't win this then I don't see how she could say she's gonna win on Super Tuesday or those other states," he added.

The subtext delivered throughout his remarks is that DeSantis views himself as the only viable candidate to take on former President Donald Trump who handily won in Iowa with just over 50% of the vote, enjoys leads in virtually every state-level and national primary poll and earned more delegates than DeSantis and Haley combined.

"Half the people wanted somebody else," DeSantis argued.

In South Carolina, DeSantis attacked Haley as "liberal," said she had no major achievements while serving as governor and argued her support in the presidential race doesn't come from conservatives.

"Her fundamental problem is that she does not have support amongst Republicans," he said. "She's relying on non-Republicans, which is not the way you win a Republican nomination."

But DeSantis faces a difficult path towards winning the nomination himself. Running a campaign that has emphasized many of the same culturally conservative stances and issues that have drawn much of the party's base to support Trump, DeSantis has failed to convert a meaningful share of Trump's voters to support his campaign and alienated some moderate elements of the Republican Party worried about competitiveness and viability in the general election.

DeSantis is also trailing both Trump and Haley in polling of the New Hampshire primary slated for next week and risks not earning delegates from that state. Candidates are required to meet a 10% threshold of votes to be awarded delegates.

In Nevada later this month, DeSantis and Trump are the only candidates at the delegate-earning caucus while Haley is the only major candidate on the state-run primary that will not count towards earning the nomination. Effectively, this means Haley is not contesting Nevada, something DeSantis was quick to point out.

"Nikki Haley is not competing in Nevada at all," DeSantis said. "She's just not going to win any delegates in Nevada."

"We're gonna win delegates in Nevada," he pledged.

There will be more than two weeks between Nevada and the South Carolina contest, which could see last-ditch efforts for Haley and DeSantis to break out and mount a serious challenge to Trump, by virtue of South Carolina's delegates being awarded to the winner in each of its seven Congressional districts as well as the overall statewide winner.

Tuesday night, DeSantis is slated to appear at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, while Haley and Trump have both indicated they will skip a planned debate in New Hampshire later this week.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.
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