When Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds took the stage this week to endorse Gov. Ron DeSantis in her state’s 2024 presidential caucuses, she called Florida’s governor “the person that we need leading this country.”
DeSantis’ staff and supporters called the endorsement a “game changer,” “massive” and “historic.” DeSantis himself told NBC News it was “obviously very meaningful” in his uphill race against former President Donald Trump.
“I believe he can’t win,” Reynolds said of Trump, “and I believe Ron can.”
It was a shot of good news for a campaign that all too often seems to need it. Almost from the day DeSantis entered the race with a glitchy social media Q&A, he’s been beset by dragging polls, negative headlines and a persistent inability to pry potential voters away from Trump. The week before Reynolds’ endorsement, one poll indicated he’d fallen into a tie for second in Iowa with former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. In the first few days of November, the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down submitted federal paperwork showing it planned to spend more than $2 million on anti-Haley messaging in Iowa. That’s not exactly the argument his campaign imagined he’d be making two months shy of the Iowa caucuses.
Despite all this, Reynolds’ endorsement is a reminder that the race for the presidency isn’t over yet. Even with long odds, he still has a path to the Republican nomination. You just have to look a little harder to see it.
Here are five reasons it’s still premature to count DeSantis out.
Reynolds’ endorsement might actually matter.
DeSantis and his wife, Casey, courted Reynolds for her backing, bringing her to various campaign events and suggesting she’d make a good vice president. The motivation behind the VIP treatment is clear.
“Kim Reynolds is literally the most popular politician in Iowa, with like 80% approval,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, professor of political science and co-director of the Center for Public Democracy at Drake University in Des Moines. “Iowa at this point only has one statewide elected official who is a Democrat, so Republicans have been extremely successful in Iowa at really consolidating support.”
DeSantis already had the backing of more than three dozen Iowa state legislators. Reynolds’ endorsement could spur even more. And it will help DeSantis tap into Reynolds’ statewide network of donors and volunteers.
It likely won’t be enough to overcome the 27-point lead held by Trump in a recent NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll. But it could move the needle by a point or two. The Messenger reported in September that late-summer polling from a Trump super PAC suggested a Reynolds endorsement could mean a four-point swing for DeSantis. That would help separate him from Haley, whom DeSantis wants to go away so he can focus on Trump.
Even in tough polls, there are bright spots.
Like most candidates, DeSantis tends to dismiss polls that show him far behind Trump.
“I think our voters know these polls are used to drive narratives,” he told NBC News. “Unfortunately, they don’t have a great track record, particularly this far out.”
His supporters, however, are eager to share polls casting DeSantis in a positive light.
One from this month showed DeSantis up three points on President Joe Biden in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, whereas Trump was down four. October’s NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll found that 67% of Iowa voters saw him as a top candidate or were actively considering him, a number dead even with Trump.
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Even some polls that are unquestionably bad for DeSantis contain bright spots. For example, a University of North Florida poll released this week found that Trump held a 39-point lead over DeSantis among Republican voters in Florida. But that poll says more about Trump’s popularity than DeSantis’ brand, said Michael Binder, faculty director of the university’s Public Opinion Research Lab. Binder pointed to another poll question asking Florida Republicans who they might consider backing for governor in 2026. Coming in first, well ahead of Reps. Matt Gaetz and Byron Donalds, was Casey DeSantis.
To be clear, by just about every polling metric, Trump remains an enormous favorite. But if DeSantis did make up a ton of polling ground before the primaries, it wouldn’t be unprecedented. In November 2007, Pew Research Center polling pegged Sen. John McCain’s chances of winning the 2008 general election at 16%. By January, he was at 42%
“I’m not saying never, because if Trump ends up in jail, who knows?” Binder said. “But it would take something like that.”
Trump’s legal problems aren’t going away.
Speaking of polls and Trump, a New York Times/Siena College poll of swing state voters this week indicated that Trump — despite facing a plethora of state and federal charges tied to election interference, classified documents and more — would still be favored in a head-to-head matchup against Biden. But if he were convicted of any of those charges, his support in those states could drop by as much as six percentage points, putting Biden in the lead.
That can only be seen as encouraging for Trump’s rivals in the GOP primary, which is likely to overlap with at least one Trump trial.
DeSantis hasn’t said much about Trump’s legal woes. But one could argue they’ve always played into his strategy. Trump has led every poll since DeSantis entered the race, but the governor has consistently ranked No. 2. Should Trump drop out for any reason, legal or otherwise, DeSantis would likely inherit the mantle of front-runner. That’s as true today as it was when he entered the race in April.
At a convention, anything can happen.
Say Trump romps through primary season, but DeSantis or another candidate siphons enough votes that it’s not an absolute blowout. And say Trump’s legal troubles worsen between the early primaries and the Republican National Convention in July. That could open the door for something the United States hasn’t seen in decades: a brokered convention.
At presidential conventions, not all delegates are legally bound to vote for the candidate that won their state. And if no candidate gets 50% of the delegate vote on the first nominating ballot, delegates can switch to another candidate for the next, and the next, until the party finally coalesces around one nominee.
“These conventions, many a time, the leader has walked in leading, and walked out losing,” said R. Craig Sautter, who teaches at DePaul University and has written three books on U.S. presidential conventions. “And the nominee has come out of nowhere.”
Brokered conventions have traditionally been the result of tight primary contests, and at this point, the race between Trump and DeSantis is anything but. But considering the turmoil surrounding congressional Republicans’ search for a House speaker, it’s far from unthinkable.
“There’s been a lot of hidden Republican voters who haven’t come out — the traditional Republican voters,” Sautter said. “And if they get activated somehow, there could be a challenge, I would think, because Trump seems weakened.”
He’s not done padding his resume.
DeSantis is one of two sitting governors left in the race, which puts him in a position to act on national and international issues before the primaries. He’s called a special legislative session focused on Hamas’ attacks on Israel, paid for Americans stuck in Israel to be flown back to Florida, and just this week had a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’ll have another opportunity to bring his platform priorities to the forefront in Tallahassee during the next legislative session in January, days before the Iowa caucuses.
DeSantis’ executive authority does leave him vulnerable to criticism. At Wednesday’s GOP primary debate in Miami, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy hit DeSantis over his banning of pro-Palestinian groups on college campuses, and Haley reiterated accusations that DeSantis and Enterprise Florida hid efforts to lure Chinese businesses to the Sunshine State.
The governor still has a sizable fundraising operation at his disposal to help highlight any legislative victories and draw direct, immediate comparisons between himself, Trump and Biden. Between April and September, DeSantis’ campaign and related political committees raised about $35 million. That’s well below the more than $45 million Trump raised from July to September alone, but it’s more than most Republican candidates, including Haley.
At Wednesday’s debate, DeSantis was asked why he, and not Trump, was the best person to lead the Republican Party. He pointed to Tuesday’s election, when Republicans lost a number of high-profile races and conservative ballot measures — then to his own landslide gubernatorial victory in 2022.
“In Florida, I showed how it’s done,” he said. “One year ago here, we won a historic victory, including a massive landslide right here in Miami-Dade County. That’s how we have to do it.”
Times staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.
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