The Republican primary race revved up Saturday as eight GOP candidates hit the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines for Sen. Joni Ernst’s annual motorcycle-themed fundraiser.
With former president — and current front-runner — Donald Trump conspicuous by his absence, Ernst’s Roast and Ride shindig gave the rest of the Republican field a chance to practice their stump speeches and angle for support ahead of the Hawkeye State’s crucial first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and wife Casey, with all three of their kids in tow, used the event as the family’s first foray on the presidential campaign trail.
Daughter Madison, 6, clambered on a shiny green John Deere tractor as her dad, holding 5-year-old Mason on his hip, chatted with voters.
Casey DeSantis, sporting a leather jacket that touted Florida as the state “where woke goes to die,” tended their youngest, Mamie, 3.
Noted hog fan Mike Pence, decked out in a leather vest emblazoned with patches honoring his home state of Indiana and the American flag, rode his Harley-Davidson Road King in a parade of 250 bikers before he hit the stage.
“I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order,” Pence – who will formally announce his presidential bid Wednesday – told reporters, as he hammered “the failed policies of the Biden administration …. that have weakened America at home and abroad.”
But the former veep refused to criticize his ex-boss, Donald Trump.
“The president and I have our differences,” Pence said carefully.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott circulated through the crowd, snapping selfies and glad-handing prospective voters
“It’s been exciting, it’s been fun,” Scott said of his 10-day-old presidential campaign. “The crowds are bigger and the enthusiasm’s higher, and that’s good news for me.”
“I love people,” he added. “So this is an easy job.”
Former governors Nikki Haley and Asa Hutchinson, businessmen Vivek Ramaswamy and Perry Johnson, and radio personality Larry Elder joined DeSantis, Pence, and Scott for 10-minute on-stage stints at the old-school “cattle call” event.
A Yahoo News/YouGov survey this week found Trump, 76, leading DeSantis by 28 percentage points among likely GOP primary voters — 53% to 25% — with the rest of the field mired in the low single digits.
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