DES MOINES, IOWA — Eight Republican hopefuls, including Ron DeSantis, appeared at a rally on Saturday in Iowa hosted by U.S. Senator Joni Ernst. The political event – Roast and Ride – combined motorcycles with barbecue and kicked off a busy summer campaign season ahead of the state’s early caucuses next year.
“ROAST AND RIDE”
Ernst and former Vice President Mike Pence – the only presidential candidate to ride a motorcycle – led more than 200 bikers on an eight-mile ride from the Big Barn Harley-Davidson dealership in Des Moines to the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
Ernst and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds are the two most influential Republicans as the early primary race heats up in the Hawkeye State. But as presidential contenders descend to pitch themselves to voters, both officials have pledged to remain neutral and not endorse a specific candidate during the precinct caucuses.
CHATTED WITH VOTERS
DeSantis, who arrived at the fairgrounds with his wife Casey and their three kids in tow, signed autographs, chatted with local voters and even signed the Bible of a man who thanked Florida’s governor for “standing up to Disney.” Casey DeSantis wore a black leather jacket with an outline of Florida on the back that read “Where Woke Goes to Die.”
Before his speech, DeSantis meandered the parking lot where rows of Harley Davidson motorcycles were parked next to his super PAC’s “Don’t Back Down Bus.” People took turns riding on a mechanical bull sponsored by the super PAC, which also distributed forms so attendees could sign a pledge to caucus for DeSantis early next year.
While sharing stories of his military experience with members of the Freedom Foundation, DeSantis reflected on his time at a base in San Diego.
The presidential candidate told the Des Moines Register that he loved San Diego at the time but now laments that so many of the city’s residents are moving to Florida because of California’s liberal politics.
“I mean how could you drive people out of San Diego?” he joked.
“HAPPY TO BE HERE”
During their remarks, the candidates tiptoed around mentions of former President Trump, who was notably absent after spending two days in the state this past week. Trump has avoided events that would have him sharing the stage with his 2024 rivals.
Off stage, DeSantis did not hesitate to criticize Trump when a reporter asked him about Trump’s social media post on Friday congratulating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for his country receiving a spot on the executive board of the World Health Organization.
“I was surprised to see that. I mean, I think, one, Kim Jong Un is a murderous dictator,” DeSantis told the reporter.
When asked how he felt about Donald Trump’s absence at the event, DeSantis redirected.
“I’m just happy to be here,” DeSantis said. “I love the people here.”