LACONIA, N.H. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis kicked off his first visit to New Hampshire as a declared presidential candidate on Thursday by turning his focus to President Joe Biden and criticizing him for championing a move to demote the early-voting state from its prominent role picking presidential candidates.
The appearance by DeSantis before New Hampshire voters comes as former President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail in Iowa, marking the first time both Republicans were pitching themselves before voters as official candidates.
The governor, appearing in Laconia, repeated an oblique jab he’s made lately at Trump, a celebrity and former reality show star, saying that “leadership is not about entertainment.”
But he focused more on Biden and said the president was wrong to back a Democratic National Committee move to have New Hampshire hold a primary the same day as Nevada to vote on Democratic presidential candidates. The Republican Party’s calendar is separate but the Democrats’ changes have irked members of both parties in New Hampshire.
“I’m glad Republicans are holding the line and committed to New Hampshire,” DeSantis said.
He used a similar line tailored to the local voters when acknowledging that New Hampshire, like Florida, does not collect personal income taxes. “You’ve got this one little outpost in New England that’s holding the line,” he said.
Trump is in Iowa nearly three weeks after canceling his last event, a large rally near Des Moines, due to a tornado warning, reluctantly ceding the spotlight to DeSantis as the governor crisscrossed the state ahead of his campaign launch. Trump has spent the last few weeks attacking DeSantis on social media and mocking his glitch-filled kickoff announcement. The former president has a series of events scheduled around Des Moines followed by a town hall airing on Fox News Channel on Thursday night.
DeSantis is coming off a two-day burst of stops around Iowa, which leads off the GOP presidential primary contest next year. His New Hampshire swing includes events scheduled in Laconia, Rochester, Salem and Manchester, before taking his campaign on Friday to South Carolina, another state high on the presidential voting calendar.
His first appearance before about 100 people inside a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Laconia came on an unusually steamy spring day, with DeSantis acknowledging the heat when he took the podium.
“I did my part — I brought the Florida sunshine for you,” he joked.
The dueling appearances between Trump and DeSantis come as each man is portraying himself as the stronger fighter for conservative policies.
Although DeSantis had largely avoided hitting back at Trump’s constant attacks before he announced his presidential run, the governor pledged in Iowa this week that he would “fight back.” He accused Trump of discarding “America First” immigration principles and having “moved left” on issues.
Trump and his allies have continued to attack DeSantis on social media, with the former president sharing polls that showed him the heavy favorite in the GOP primary, criticizing DeSantis’ leadership during the pandemic. Trump in recent days has also pledged to end the constitutional right to citizenship for babies of noncitizens and unauthorized immigrants born in the United States, something he’s called for since he first campaigned for the White House in 2015 but didn’t do in his first term as president.
Trump, after appearing Wednesday night at a GOP legislative dinner in Des Moines, is set to appear Thursday morning at one of the twice-monthly breakfasts of a conservative club at a restaurant in Urbandale. The Westside Conservative Breakfast events are a long-standing stop for Republican candidates for all levels of elected office, including presidential hopefuls.
The former president is later expected to have lunch with faith leaders, visit with activists and supporters and then participate in a town hall with Sean Hannity taped late afternoon in the Des Moines suburb of Clive. The town hall will air at 9 p.m. Thursday on Fox News.
DeSantis’ stop in New Hampshire is scheduled to look similar to his Iowa swing, with a series of appearances around the state and one event billed as a “fireside chat” with his wife, Casey DeSantis.
As Trump and DeSantis make their pitch to GOP voters, the Republican presidential field is shaping up to become even more crowded.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to launch a Republican presidential campaign June 6 in New Hampshire. The next day, both Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum are expected to announce campaigns of their own.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and biotech entrepreneur and “anti-woke” activist Vivek Ramaswamy are among the other candidates already in the race.