Influential Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, the second major endorsement Mr. DeSantis has secured this month in the state.
Kim Reynolds, the popular Republican governor of Iowa, announced her support two weeks ago, giving Mr. DeSantis a key surrogate in a state that will hold the first vote of the Republican primary season with its caucuses on January 15.
“We have to find someone who can win in 2024,” Mr. Vander Plaats said on Fox News on Tuesday. “What we saw in 2022, the so-called red wave, actually only happened in Florida and Iowa. Governor DeSantis took a reliable state in Florida and turned it completely red.
Mr. Vander Plaats has supported the last three Republicans who won the contested Iowa caucuses — Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012 and Ted Cruz in 2016 — although none of them won the inauguration. But it is far from certain that his support will be enough to prop up Mr. DeSantis, who is far behind former President Donald J. Trump in polls in Iowa as well as nationally.
As of Tuesday, Mr. DeSantis was more than 25 points behind Mr. Trump in the FiveThirtyEight average of Iowa polls — a huge gap to close in less than two months. And he barely holds second place ahead of Nikki Haley.
Mr. Vander Plaats did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Mr. Vander Plaats is well known for his influence among evangelicals, who constitute a powerful voting bloc in Iowa and have previously championed socially conservative candidates there.
He is also a divisive character. His organization once encouraged Republican candidates to sign a pledge that included a lament that “a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than an African-American baby.” born after the war. election of the first African-American president of the United States.
The Democratic National Committee highlighted a recent report on that pledge on Friday, as several Republican candidates prepared to appear at an event with Mr. Vander Plaats.
On Tuesday, a DNC spokeswoman, Sarafina Chitika, said: “Vander Plaats’ endorsement should come as no surprise – he and DeSantis share the same desire to ban abortion and strip millions of women of their freedoms . They both promoted the insulting idea that slavery somehow benefited black families.
At a recent event, a Saturday gala for the anti-abortion group Pulse Life Advocates, Mr. Vander Plaats said opposition to abortion was the most important factor in supporting a candidate.
“If they’re not very clear about where they stand on the sanctity of human life, you can’t trust them on anything else,” Mr. Vander Plaats said, adding: “The The sanctity of life is not something that needs to be qualified. This is not something that should be sample tested. This is not something where the heart rate bill was too harsh to pass at the state level in Florida.
That comment about the “Heartbeat” bill, a common conservative name for the six-week abortion ban, was a clear criticism of Mr. Trump, although Mr. Vander Plaats did not name him. Mr. Trump called the six-week ban signed by Mr. DeSantis in Florida “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
Mr. Trump is, more than any other Republican, responsible for the Dobbs decision that ended Roe v. Wade and allowed such laws to go into effect, since he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who made the decision.
Mr. Trump has not courted Mr. Vander Plaats, and the former president’s supporters have been dismissive of the extent of his support. A statement from the Trump campaign Tuesday said: “While the DeSantis camp will try to claim that supporting Vander Plaats will reignite their spray-and-shrink campaign, the cold, hard data tells a much different story. These GOP caucus-goers have mixed feelings about Vander Plaats, if they have an opinion, and very few, if any, decide to vote for DeSantis because of his support.
Shane Goldmacher And Nicolas Nehamas reports contributed.