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Ron DeSantis’ Most Important Iowa Pal
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Ron DeSantis’ Most Important Iowa Pal

Plus: Nikki Haley raises money and impresses Republicans in Connecticut.

From left, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Randy Feenstra flip meat on the grill for a photo op during the annual Feenstra Family Picnic at the Dean Family Classic Car Museum in Sioux Center, Iowa, on Saturday, May 13, 2023. (Photo by Rebecca S. Gratz/Washington Post /Getty Images)

Happy Friday! If you thought former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reelection loss marked the end of her public-facing career, think again! Per the Chicago Sun-Times, Lightfoot’s “next chapter will take her to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she will teach a course tentatively titled ‘Health Policy and Leadership,’ drawing heavily on her experiences steering Chicago through the COVID-19 pandemic and grappling with health equity issues.”

Up to Speed

  • Stay tuned for a jam-packed week ahead on the Republican presidential announcement front. On Tuesday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will formally launch his presidential campaign during a town hall event at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics Auditorium at Saint Anselm College. Then a double whammy on Wednesday: Former Vice President Mike Pence will kick off his campaign with a speech and CNN town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum will announce his campaign in Fargo.
  • The Senate on Thursday passed bipartisan legislation that pairs a debt ceiling suspension with federal spending caps in a 63-36 vote, ending a months-long standoff between President Joe Biden and House Republicans over raising the country’s borrowing limit to avoid default. The bill now heads to Biden’s desk, where he is expected to sign it this afternoon before delivering a rare primetime Oval Office address.
  • The Labor Department said Friday that the U.S. economy added 339,000 seasonally adjusted jobs in May. “Today is a good day for the American economy and American workers,” President Biden said in a statement.
  • President Biden tripped and fell on stage Thursday during a U.S. Air Force Academy commencement ceremony in Colorado Springs. The 80-year-old president suffered no injuries and is “fine,” according to a White House spokesman Ben LaBolt. Ceremony footage shows Air Force officials helping him stand up after the fall.
  • Trust in the Mission PAC, the outside group supporting Sen. Tim Scott’s presidential campaign, is spending $7.5 million on TV and digital ads in Iowa and New Hampshire to build Scott’s brand as the race’s positive-message candidate. “We live in the land of opportunity, not the land of oppression,” Scott says in the ad. “And that’s why I say, from cotton to Congress in one lifetime—only in America.”

DeSantis Stocks Up on Reynolds Wrap

DES MOINES, Iowa—As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tries to catch frontrunner Donald Trump in the crucial 2024 Iowa caucuses, he has a not-so-secret weapon in the contest: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Reynolds is committed to neutrality. As a growing field of Republicans vying for the nomination traverses Iowa stumping for votes, the governor regularly hosts almost any candidate who campaigns here. But Reynolds and DeSantis have a special camaraderie that’s hard to miss when they’re together. Reynolds likes to brag in introductory speeches for her colleague that Iowa is the Florida of the North, and DeSantis delights in gushing at every Hawkeye State stop that Florida is Iowa-Southeast.

This mutual admiration, plus a personal seal of approval from the well-liked Iowa governor pursuing a similar agenda in her state, could help DeSantis overtake Trump, the former president. It also could give him an advantage over other competitors positioned to make headway with likely GOP caucus-goers. In five events over 24 hours across Iowa this week, DeSantis wrapped himself in Reynolds’ popularity—generating hearty applause everytime. It seemed just as much political strategy as professional courtesy.

And the strategy just might work, say some Iowa Republicans who support DeSantis or are uncommitted but considering him. 

“What he has done for the state of Florida, like what Reynolds has done for the state of Iowa, will help him—if they can get that message out,” Bob Benton told The Dispatch while attending a DeSantis campaign rally in Council Bluffs on Wednesday. Benton, 72, a farmer in Southwest Iowa, is co-chair of the Fremont County GOP and is neutral.

“People are looking at what Iowa is and what it stands for, and if they can equate it with Florida, that pulls it all together,” Sharon McNutt, 77, added after seeing DeSantis in Council Bluffs. McNutt, who manages a thrift store and is an officer in the Mills County GOP, is also neutral.

Some Republican insiders in Iowa cautioned against overinterpreting Reynolds’ relationship with DeSantis, emphasizing the governor has been a big cheerleader for the other candidates running in the Republican primary. That includes Trump, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, wealthy biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former U.N. Ambassador and Gov.  Nikki Haley.

“She praises everyone in their own way—she personalizes, versus just offering blanket good statements,” a senior GOP operative said.

Reynolds, 63, has been a mainstay in Iowa politics since 2010, when she was elected to the first of two terms as lieutenant governor. She took over the top job in 2017, after Trump appointed Republican Terry Branstad United States ambassador to China. Reynolds was narrowly elected governor in 2018, defeating Democrat Fred Hubbell by less than 3 percentage points amid heavy losses for her party nationwide sparked by a midterm rebuke of Trump. DeSantis’ margin of victory in Florida that year was even smaller.

Last year unfolded differently. 

Like DeSantis, 44, the effervescent Reynolds won reelection in a landslide, rewarded by the voters of her state for resisting lockdowns and school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. Also like DeSantis: Reynolds pushed election reforms, tax cuts, limits on abortion rights; universal school choice; proposals to give parents more authority over their childrens’ education in public schools; prohibitions against providing gender affirming medical services to minors who identify as transgender; and a ban on transgender girls participating in female sports.

Haley Woos Donors and Connecticut Republicans

STAMFORD, Connecticut—Former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley looked out Wednesday evening at the crowd of hundreds at the Connecticut Republican Party’s annual Prescott Bush Dinner and marveled at the turnout. 

“It’s so great to see so many people,” she said. “Who knew Connecticut had this many Republicans?”

But why was Haley in Connecticut, with its presidential primary scheduled for April 30, long after the early states and Super Tuesday? While Haley kicked off the week with events in New Hampshire and will spend the weekend in Iowa, campaign aides confirmed her midweek detour to the New York metropolitan area also included multiple fundraising events, both in New York and Connecticut. 

The busy schedule reflects the dual tasks Haley faces as she seeks to remain a contender for the GOP nomination: retail politicking in the early primary states and raising enough money to stay in the race. (Much like others in the running not named Trump or DeSantis, as Michael Warren outlines.)

Since joining the presidential contest in February, Haley has reported raising just $3.3 million plus another $5 million across two additional committees supporting her campaign.* Her campaign will be looking for a bigger haul for the second quarter, which ends June 30.

And while her appearance in Stamford was not a fundraiser for her own campaign, Haley’s remarks—well received by the audience—revealed a bit more of her likely pitch to donors: I’m a candidate for the party’s future, and one who can win.

“Don’t complain about what you get in a general if you don’t play in this primary,” she said. “Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president. That’s nothing to be proud of. We should want to win a majority of Americans.”

Haley took no direct shots at any of the other candidates, including former President Donald Trump. (Connecticut GOP chair Ben Proto, who introduced her on Wednesday, was a Trump delegate in 2016.) She did obliquely suggest that the mainstream media might be pumping up a frontrunner who doesn’t serve the best interests of the party.

“Don’t let the media tell you who to be for and who not to be for,” Haley said. “The polls you see today are not the polls you’re gonna see a year from now.”

Haley will join other candidates and soon-to-be candidates in Iowa this weekend at Sen. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride event, followed by a town hall forum in Des Moines on Sunday, which will air on CNN.

Rolling with Ramaswamy

Former presidents, senators, and governors aren’t the only ones angling for Iowa Republicans’ votes this time around. Last weekend, Andrew spent a couple days rolling across Iowa on the bus with Vivek Ramaswamy, the biotech founder turned anti-woke commentator who’s running a campaign you could sum up as “Make America Purposeful Again,” and who’s become increasingly impossible to ignore. 

They talked about why Ramaswamy jumped straight from the private sector to running for president, his vision for fighting the administrative bureaucracy by claiming extremely (and perhaps unsettlingly) broad discretionary spending authority, and his Hindu faith. Read the whole thing here.

Eyes on the Trail

  • Wisconsin Republicans aren’t fretting about 2024: We wrote to you last month about how Wisconsin’s Republican Senate primary field is shaping up ahead of 2024, when Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is up for re-election. There hasn’t been much movement since, though former Senate candidate Eric Hovde, businessman Scott Mayer, and GOP Reps. Mike Gallagher and Tom Tiffany are still being floated as prospective candidates. Two-term Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said there’s no rush for Republicans to jump into the fray. “First time around I didn’t even decide ‘til May, and announced that same month,” Johnson told The Dispatch Wednesday. “This last time I didn’t really decide ‘til the end of 2021 and announced in January, so there’s plenty of time.” First-term GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin said Wednesday that he hasn’t “talked to anybody about Senate stuff”—though he made clear he isn’t interested in running. “Someone asked me if I was running for Senate and I laughed so hard I almost vomited,” Van Orden added.
  • Same goes for Montana? The Club for Growth—an anti-tax advocacy group that spends heavily in Republican primaries on behalf of pro-growth candidates—is putting immense pressure on GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale to throw his hat in the Senate primary race to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2024. But Rosendale, who lost to Tester by three and a half points in 2018, isn’t giving any clues about his plans at the moment. He deflected questions Wednesday about whether the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s preferred yet still undeclared candidate—Montana businessman and former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy—is influencing his thinking. “The people in Montana will be replacing John Tester,” Rosendale said in a brief interview on the Capitol steps Wednesday. “He doesn’t represent them. And we’ve got plenty of time to figure out who’s going to do that.” 

Notable and Quotable

“I don’t like the term ‘woke,’ because I hear ‘woke, woke, woke’—you know, it’s like just a term they use. Half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is.”

—former President Donald Trump speaking to Iowa voters, Thursday, June 1, 2023

*Correction, June 2, 2023: This article originally misreported the Haley campaign’s fundraising totals.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.