Well, there is no other way of putting it – the Ron DeSantis campaign is in freefall. Months of dwindling polling numbers, subpar fundraising, staffing cuts and increasingly sceptical media coverage has left the campaign a shell of itself as it slips closer and closer to being dragged back into the main chasing pack of presidential hopefuls.
Seemingly, DeSantis has opted to get back to basics in an attempt to wrestle back some momentum. He has been largely camped out in Iowa for the last two weeks where he is pulling a classic early-state campaign move – visiting all 99 counties in the state. He and his wife, Casey, are bouncing from county fair to small-town diner to evangelical church, securing photo ops with local officials and small businesses whilst clearly still angling for the endorsement of Iowa governor Kim Reynolds. Casey DeSantis remains by his side at most events and is clearly seen as a major asset for the campaign, especially with an apparent lack of high-profile campaign surrogates.
DeSantis did have to return to national issues to address the latest indictment of Donald Trump, stating that he would end the “weaponization of government” as president. DeSantis, like many of the other candidates, is still trying to thread the needle between making the case against Trump and not angering his base – a task which has proved impossible so far.
Polling continues to slide for DeSantis, with him now sitting at just 14.1% in the FiveThirtyEight national average. There was a rare New Hampshire poll released this week courtesy of the NH Journal which is arguably his worst poll since he got in the race. He dipped to just 9%, a fall of 4 points from the previous (already weak) poll in June. In the poll he was tied with Chris Christie, whilst Nikki Haley reached 7%, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott hit 5% and Doug Burgum got 4%.
Even more damning was the fact that Trump actually dropped six points to 43% from the last poll, something that DeSantis failed to capitalise even as most other candidates are outperforming their national polling within the Granite State.
Whilst his position in New Hampshire seems perilous, DeSantis does at least seem to be holding up a little better in Iowa. There has been a severe lack of high-quality polling of the race so far, but we did recently get a new Iowa poll from the New York Times/Siena College. They found Trump at 44% and DeSantis at 20% with Tim Scott moving into a decisive third on 9%. It is still far from ideal for DeSantis but is notably better than the potentially fatal positions he is in in New Hampshire as well as South Carolina.
We also saw a rare non-early state poll from Emerson College or Arizona. It demonstrated a major problem for DeSantis and the other challengers to Donald Trump. In the poll Trump received 58% whilst DeSantis hit just 11% with Chris Christie in third on 6%, mirroring other polling from other later states like Ohio and Michigan.
The problem here is that in later primary states which will not see much campaign action until much deeper in the race, Trump defaults to a comfortable majority in polls, meaning that candidates planning to be in it for the long haul are going to have a tough time making a play and cannot rely on any inherent Trump scepticism. Months of campaigning in the early states have dragged Trump down into the 40s but that has taken an enormous weight of campaigning from so many candidates. This just not seem possible to replicate across dozens of later states.
It is now a familiar story, but nothing that Ron DeSantis is doing is resonating with the Republican primary electorate right now and he continues to fall further behind Donald Trump. It seems inevitable that more state level polls will show DeSantis dropping into third over the next few weeks. We are now not far from the first primary debate and once that is out the way, the campaign intensity is only likely rise as we reach the autumn. We have almost reached crunch time for the DeSantis campaign.