SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Ron DeSantis’ campaign announcement was exploding on the launch pad, but in a sweaty warehouse of an old machine supply company in western Iowa late Wednesday night, it was hard to find anyone among some 300 voters gathered for a Tim Scott town hall who knew it happened.
Let alone cared or thought it would alter the race.
Not Clinton Vos, a 63-year-old agricultural sales professional who wore a cowboy hat and milled around before the town hall began — just as official Washington was still gawking at the Twitter app crashing several times amid DeSantis’ highly anticipated campaign launch.
“I knew that it was going to happen today on Twitter,” he acknowledged, “but I’m not a Twitter follower.”
Not Curtis Kull, a 30-year-old behavioral health professional who showed up with his girlfriend around 6 p.m. to hear Scott speak.
“I did not,” he said, when asked whether he had heard the news.
And not Scott Bowman, a 65-year-old UPS union steward who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 but came here looking for a fresh face, and cited DeSantis as someone he could support.
The DeSantis rollout was, without question, a disaster for the Florida governor. To see it from Iowa, the events on the trail cast into sharp relief the risks of an untested social media extravaganza compared with traditional retail campaigning, a competency in which DeSantis is already perceived by rivals as lacking. It also threatened his image as the candidate of calculated competence, a narrative that — if it takes hold — could seriously damage his campaign.
And yet here in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, it did not appear to be immediately harming him — even in a crowd of people who had come to see Scott, a rival in the campaign. Among nearly a dozen voters interviewed by POLITICO, just two had caught wind of the news.
Bowman — versed enough in the early rhythms of the race to trot out talking points like saying DeSantis was “going to be the body bag for Trump,” the candidate Trump most wanted to take out — looked befuddled when informed of the social media spectacle unfurling on timelines across America.
“I think that DeSantis is going to get a lot of heat, and I just don’t know if DeSantis can hold up to the questions,” he was saying seconds earlier. “It’s a fumble by his campaign,” he acknowledged.
And then there was Gwen Sturrock, a substitute teacher in her 50s who drove 2½ hours from Marshall, Minn., to take the measure of Scott, but found herself leaning toward DeSantis.
“I just heard that he did,” Sturrock said. “And that it kept stalling or whatever.”
What would the news mean for his campaign? She replied, “It might mean that a lot of people were very interested.”
The voters at the Scott event were discerning , too — people engaged enough to find their way to a town hall on an otherwise gorgeous spring evening in Iowa, but not dopamine-addled enough to follow every twist and turn in a race in which the first votes will not be cast for another seven months.
It was one of the most eventful days of the Republican primary contest so far, the field growing every week — a split screen between the Twitter-verse and a part of the country where people on Wednesday were more concerned with meeting their sales quotas, getting their kids to school on time, and talking about the weather than the Washington scandal du jour. And it offered a remarkable window into the political moment, with Trump and DeSantis at each other’s throats in the digital firmament while their rivals such as Scott and former Vice President Mike Pence had the caucus state all to themselves, pressing the flesh in more traditional ways while fighting for scraps.
Eyeing the evangelical vote in Iowa, Scott and Pence both attended events at Christian schools roughly three hours apart Wednesday, Scott hitting Siouxland Christian and extolling school choice while Pence went to Des Moines Christian School, where he shared his faith with a room full of fawning and rapt middle and high school students and signed autographs after.
Both Pence and Scott lingered with voters at their respective events as Trump world carpet-bombed DeSantis on yet another online platform, Truth Social, for his rocky launch.
Neither Pence nor Scott mentioned Trump or DeSantis, but both namechecked Ronald Reagan. And minutes after DeSantis had finished talking about obscure academic studies on Covid and the NAACP travel ban, Scott was talking about economic opportunity and sharing his “life verse”: Ephesians 3:20, which he quoted, “But God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or imagine.”
Both Scott and Pence got more than they could ask for on Wednesday, even if Trump and DeSantis still remain the heavy favorites in the race. If DeSantis and Trump were content to wage war online, Pence, in particular, blanketed traditional media across the Des Moines market.
Pence sat with the Des Moines Register editorial board for a story leading their homepage and the largest local television station. He recorded an interview with Bob Vander Plaats, the powerbroker and president and CEO of The Family Leader, an influential conservative Christian organization. That’s not to mention an Omaha affiliate that bleeds into an Iowa market. The former conservative talk show host himself even hit the studio of the largest conservative talk radio show in the state.
There were no glitches with the interview.
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