DeSantis receives ‘participation trophy’ for Iowa heckler

A comedian carrying a gold trophy interrupted to walk up and thank Ron DeSantis for his ‘participation’ in the 2024 presidential race.

As Ron DeSantis braved Iowa’s icy roads and well-below-freezing temperatures to rally with supporters in a small community room, he faced an awkward encounter.

A comedian carrying a gold trophy interrupted to approach and thank the Republican presidential candidate for his “participation” in the 2024 race.

“Governor DeSantis, I want to present you with this participation trophy,” he said.

“Now, [you’re] He probably won’t win the election, right? But we are proud that he tried,” the man added. “He is special, he is unique and he is our little snowflake.”

DeSantis did not accept the gift. It was the latest humiliation for the 45-year-old governor of Florida in his painful bid to reach the White House.

Once seen as the candidate who could finally loosen Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, DeSantis’ support has been slipping amid months of stiff campaigning and personnel problems.

But he still believes he can surprise critics and the polls. “I’ll take on anything they throw at me,” she said. “In life they don’t give you anything.”

He faces his first electoral test on Monday, when Republicans across Iowa will venture into blizzard-like conditions to cast their ballots and kick-start the race to crown the party’s 2024 nominee.

But if the final Iowa campaign poll, highly regarded among experts, is to be believed, DeSantis could have a humiliating night.

The Des Moines Register poll found that DeSantis has been surpassed by Nikki Haley, who jumped to 20 percent, while he fell three points, to 16 percent. Trump continues to dominate with 48 percent.

The poll is particularly stinging because DeSantis has gone all-in on a strong showing in Iowa, hoping it would give him the momentum to catapult through the other early states and break Trump’s aura of invincibility.

Since his landslide re-election as governor of Florida in 2022, DeSantis, a Navy veteran with a telegenic family and an Ivy League education, has been hailed as a possible future Republican president.

The 2022 elections were disastrous for the Republican Party, whose planned “red wave” in the United States Congress did not materialize.

Defy the odds

DeSantis was one of the few Republicans who defied the odds, not only winning re-election but also taking over districts that Democrats had held for years.

With the result he achieved what was previously unthinkable: surpassing the 77-year-old former president in the polls.

Since then, his presidential bid has followed a time-tested formula for success. He has toured all 99 counties of Iowa, a state that is larger than England.

He has courted the state’s large and influential evangelical base with his promotion of a six-week abortion ban and attacks on transgender rights, earning support from key figures on the Christian right.

Kim Reynolds, the popular Republican governor of Iowa, even risked incurring Trump’s ire by throwing her endorsement at DeSantis.

But Trump, defying convention, has broken the Iowa ticket, building a commanding lead in the state despite campaigning largely from his home in Florida.

DeSantis knows that the humiliation in Iowa will prematurely doom his 2024 bid and could even jeopardize a second attempt in 2028.

Some experts speculate he could drop out of the race immediately if he places third in the Hawkeye State.

David Polyansky, deputy campaign manager, insisted that would not be the case.

He told The Telegraph: “He continues to get better and better and when we get a chance against Donald Trump, which we will when Nikki Haley leaves South Carolina, and she will, then we’ll see.”

To signal his intent, DeSantis will head directly from Iowa to South Carolina, the fourth state to vote in the race and Haley’s home.

Nikki Haley leads DeSantis in final polls before Iowans vote MondayNikki Haley leads DeSantis in final polls before Iowans vote Monday

Nikki Haley leads DeSantis in final polls before Iowans vote Monday – Win McNamee/Getty Images


“We are not going to stop. We’re finally excited and excited about the opportunity,” DeSantis told a group of reporters, including The Telegraph, at an event at Jethro’s BBQ restaurant in Ames, central Iowa.

He had just completed a question-and-answer session with voters, answering questions about Joe Biden’s attacks on Houthi rebels, how he would negotiate with Congress and education policy.

The event in the back room of the BBQ restaurant was interrupted three times by climate protesters, but those who had endured high winds to come hear DeSantis were not disappointed.

Mike Powers, a 65-year-old business owner, said DeSantis and Trump “are not that far apart” on key issues.

He believes the governor has demonstrated “much more success in implementing the changes that need to happen” than the former president, and would bring “much less chaos” to the White House.

Retiree Kent Haten, on the other hand, was not convinced. He had never participated in a caucus before, but at 74 years old he decided to venture out on Monday night to cast his vote, probably for Trump.

‘Disturbing times’

“I really liked DeSantis,” he said, but notes that Trump has four years of experience in the Oval Office, which is a comfort in these unsettling times.

The Iowa caucuses, Haten jokes, are on his “bucket list.” A quirk of the American electoral system, they have set the pace of the presidential race since 1972.

Unlike states that hold primaries, Iowa requires voters to gather in person to hear speeches from a representative of each candidate and then vote for the one who convinced them.

Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis campaigning with his son Mason in IowaRepublican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis campaigning with his son Mason in Iowa

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, campaigning with his son Mason in Iowa – CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA//AFP via Getty Images

The nature of the system means that the strength of a candidate’s grassroots organization — recruiting volunteers to ensure voters show up that night and advocating for them — is critical.

DeSantis’ allies believe he has the advantage here. They have at least one “precinct captain” to mobilize voters in each of Iowa’s more than 1,600 precincts.

“We’re still pushing for the first or second,” a source in DeSantis’ orbit told The Telegraph.

It remains to be seen whether this is wishful thinking. Regardless of what happens Monday, those who know DeSantis believe he will remain in the race until early March.

One source said they would be “surprised” if DeSantis dropped out soon, even if he came in fifth in Iowa. “He’s very stubborn,” the source said.

“I don’t see him doing anything different until after South Carolina,” they said.

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