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Republican Rivals Converge at Iowa Football Game

The high-profile rivalry between Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump filled the air in a small college town north of Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday.

AMES, IOWA – On Saturday, in a small college town north of Des Moines, Iowa, the high-profile rivalry between Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump filled the air as the Iowa State Cyclones prepared to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.


With a different approach to campaigning in Iowa, DeSantis has maintained a grueling schedule through 99 counties. He’s engaged with voters at town halls and is courting key Iowans like Governor Kim Reynolds as he works to earn votes in the early state.

Trump has not held any campaign events allowing voters to question him but has opted for larger rallies and appearances like his stop at an Iowa State University frat house tailgate on the way to the big game. “This is some turnout. I guess the youth likes Trump,” he told reporters as he tossed a football into the crowd.

Wearing jeans and a vest, DeSantis participated in a tailgate hosted by the Iowa State Wrestling Club, whose members marched behind him as he entered the stadium holding up signs and chanting, “We want Ron!”


Before joining the stands to watch the game alongside Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, DeSantis worked a small crowd, shaking hands and telling reporters that his grassroots campaigning in the Hawkeye State was paying off.

Asked about Trump’s presence at the game, DeSantis said people want a Republican candidate who can “deliver on the needs and the issues affecting Iowans and Americans” and “all the other stuff … people are sick of” because they don’t “want any drama.”

Trump, who has insulted Reynolds, attended the game in a full suit and tie and watched the game from a private box. Despite few visits to the state, Trump remains at the top of the polls – though his campaign has acknowledged that the former president needs to spend more time in Iowa as the caucus heats up.

One teenage girl inside the stadium was not impressed: “Wow, he’s so old,” she said before droves of fans gathered chanting “USA!” Other groups of people shouted out boos and some flipped Trump off.


Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis, ran targeted online ads at the stadium, hitting Trump on issues important to conservative voters, such as allowing men dressed as women to compete in the beauty pageant he previously owned. Trump spokesman Steven Cheung dismissed the move as “desperate attacks.”

During the game, a plane flew over the crowd, towing a banner asking, “Where’s Melania?” – a reference to Trump’s wife. Fliers circulated among the crowd declaring Melania “MISSING” and asked anyone who found her to call a number that went to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Palm Beach.


Running a distant second in the polls, DeSantis is courting key influencers like Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and working to meet as many voters as possible in the early state where he believes Trump is vulnerable. With only four months until the Iowa caucuses in January, will DeSantis’ constant visits – with his wife Casey and their three young children in tow – resonate with Iowa voters?

Three other 2024 presidential candidates made appearances at the game on Saturday. Vivek Ramaswamy greeted voters at a tailgate. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson – who have both struggled to gain traction with voters, also attended.