As the raucous clash between the Iowa State Cyclones and the Iowa Hawkeyes played out on the turf of Jack Trice Stadium this Saturday, an equally intense competition was taking shape beyond the field’s perimeters. The high stakes football game in Ames, Iowa, served as the backdrop for a burgeoning rivalry within the upper echelons of the Republican Party. Both former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis marked their presence at the annual sport event, seizing the opportunity to woo voters in this pivotal early nominating state as they vie for the GOP presidential nomination.
Governor DeSantis has emerged as the Republican challenger nearest to unsettling Trump’s commanding lead in the race, as illustrated by recent polls. Their contrasting tactics while campaigning in Iowa have been hard to miss. Governor DeSantis has embarked on a tireless campaign venture, encompassing key figures like Governor Kim Reynolds, repeated stops across the Hawkeye State, and interactive town halls with voters. In contrast, President Trump, eschewing the routine of primary debates and interactive campaign events, has preferred to maintain a high profile through grand rallies and notable appearances, such as his surprising stop at an Iowa State University fraternity tailgate.
Trump made waves by visiting the Alpha Gamma Rho, an agriculture fraternity’s tailgate—his arrival, marked by resounding applause, muted the country music blaring in the background. His visit included flipping burgers, flicking campaign-branded footballs into the crowd, and expressing, “I guess the youth likes Trump.” Public interaction concluded with his signature on one of the thrown footballs.
Governor DeSantis made his presence known at a tailgate hosted by the Iowa State Wrestling Club. As he appeared in the tent adjacent to the stadium, a throng of backers followed him, brandishing placards and chanting, “We want Ron!”. The signs bore the name ‘Never Back Down’, the super PAC contributing heavily to DeSantis’s bid for presidency.
In a marked departure from customary practice, this political action committee has been instrumental in planning many of DeSantis’s visits to Iowa. This arrangement is part of an interesting relationship between the governor’s campaign and the PAC.
When reporters questioned DeSantis on his strategy to set apart his campaign from Trump’s, his reply pointed at Trump’s continued fixations, legal imbroglios, and a focus on the future. The Florida governor emphasized, “Iowans want the campaign to be about their future and the future of this country. And that’s what I represent.”
In the midst of the game, as attendees sought to capture his attention, Trump ensconced himself in a box suite. He left post-half time, much to the enthusiasm of the crowd who thronged to bid him farewell. Integral to the proceedings, DeSantis chose to experience the game seated among the crowds, accompanied by Reynolds and US Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa.
Governor DeSantis voiced his optimism regarding the impending Iowa caucuses come January, attributing it to his commitment to the campaign. He mentioned, “People are recognizing what we’ve done here has been very effective. We got a lot more to do, but we’re actually putting in the work that you need to win.”
The day also witnessed the presence of other Republican presidential aspirants including Vivek Ramaswamy, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, and former Alabama Governor Asa Hutchinson, using the opportunity presented by the tailgating event to make their own compelling pitches.