What’s the most important credential the next president of the United States of America needs? According to 21-year-old college student Chandler Todd, “Come to Iowa. … As a political candidate, if you come and visit Iowa, you will be successful.”
That’s what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did on May 31 just outside Sioux City.
In a dusty welding shop in Salix, roughly 120 voters crowded into folding chairs to hear the Republican governor tout his reputation for combating woke policies. The eager audience represented a small portion of the base every GOP candidate is vying to win ahead of 2024.
With a green John Deere tractor parked behind him, DeSantis tried to make a personal connection with the conservative audience.
“This country is going in the wrong direction,” he said. “We all know it, we feel it.”
One of the earliest primary states, Iowa holds outsized influence in Republican presidential nominations. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former President Donald Trump (the current GOP front-runner), and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley are among the hopefuls who have jumped into the race—former Vice President Mike Pence kicked off his own campaign in Des Moines on June 7. All are maintaining a regular presence across the Hawkeye State, hoping voters will latch on to their vision for America’s future.
Gov. DeSantis soared to public prominence when he removed COVID-19 restrictions and prevented Florida business closures during lockdowns in 2020. He’s known for policies such as the Parental Rights in Education Act—which eliminated gender and sexuality teachings from elementary schools—and his regulation of Disney, the largest taxpayer in Florida.
At the welding shop, DeSantis said being a parent of three young children motivated his education policies. DeSantis last year also signed a bill commonly known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” preventing public school teachers from promoting critical race theory.
DeSantis said, “[We need] to have institutions grounded in truth and facts, not going on ideological joyrides like so many of them are.”
Exactly one week earlier, just up the street in Sioux City, Sen. Tim Scott made a campaign stop of his own. Kurtis Kull was one of about 200 locals who gathered at a warehouse to hear Scott speak.
“I respect his faith and bringing that into politics,” said Kull, who was wearing a checkered button-down. “I like his small-town roots.”
Tim Scott speaks during a town hall meeting in Sioux City.Charlie Neibergall/AP
Scott has canvassed Iowa and other early-voting states on a “Faith in America” listening tour for months. Born in North Charleston, S.C., and raised by a single mother, he frequently refers to his Christian faith during political appearances.
At the town hall–style event, the senator answered audience questions on policy subjects ranging from renewable energy to U.S. relations with China and Ukraine. He said he supports strengthening U.S. businesses, building a wall at the southern border, and opening the Keystone XL pipeline.
John Olson, owner of the WestRock warehouse hosting the event, said he hadn’t decided how he would vote in the Republican primary, but he paid close attention to what Scott said about China and its economic competition with the United States.
“When you’re at their mercy, you’re in a very awkward position,” Olson said. “We need to be less dependent on China.”
Other Republican presidential hopefuls have also crisscrossed the state, including former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and talk show host Larry Elder.