In New Hampshire, DeSantis takes subtle digs at Trump, attacks progressives

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigning in Rochester, N.H. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigning in Rochester, N.H. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

Taking aim at progressives and promising to send President Biden back to "his basement in Delaware," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigned across New Hampshire Thursday, in his first visit to the state since officially announcing his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

DeSantis is hoping to use his conservative record as governor to catapult him into the White House. At campaign events in Laconia, Rochester, Salem and Manchester, he touted tax cuts, parental rights, gun rights and plans to shut down the southern border. He also doubled down on his favorite campaign pledge, to end what he calls “woke ideology," from the classroom to the board room.

"We made Florida the place where 'woke' goes to die," DeSantis said at the American Legion in Rochester. "And we will ensure that ... woke ideology ends up in the dustbin of history where it belongs."

DeSantis did not mention by name Donald Trump, who's leading in early polling some eight months ahead of the New Hampshire primary. But there were echoes of the former president in DeSantis' gloomy take that the country is in a "state of decline" and that it needs "to start winning again." He said he has the record to turn things around and "restore this country to greatness."

DeSantis was well received by the mostly Republican audience in Rochester.

Ron DeSantis talks with voters in Rochester, N.H. on Thursday. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)
Ron DeSantis talks with voters in Rochester, N.H. on Thursday. (Anthony Brooks/WBUR)

"Because of his record, he's proven that he will do what he says he's going to do," said Clayton Harrington, a Rochester resident who said he voted for Trump in 2020, but now believes the former president "has too much baggage."

Karen Donaher, another former Trump supporter, said she is "sick of the way he insults people." She said she was impressed with DeSantis: "He has a good grasp of what the country needs right now."

In a rapid-fire speech, DeSantis ticked off a series of policies that he has promoted as governor, including tax relief, cracking down on crime and combatting illegal immigration. He boasted of his controversial gambit last fall to fly a group of "illegal aliens to beautiful Martha's Vineyard" — a move that sparked outrage in Massachusetts and beyond. DeSantis is being sued by the migrants in federal court in Massachusetts.

DeSantis touted his record of resisting vaccine mandates, while keeping many schools and businesses open during the height of the pandemic. He went so far as to criticize Anthony Fauci, the former chief medical advisor to the president, in a state with much higher vaccination rates than Florida's. He declared without evidence that "Fauci's policies were wrong" on COVID.

Notably absent from the Florida governor’s stump speech was any reference to the six-week abortion ban he signed into law last year. That would be unlikely to win him much support in New Hampshire, where a majority of adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

In a not-so-veiled swipe at Trump, DeSantis said, "Leadership is not about entertainment, and it's not about building a brand." He added that it's time for Republicans to "dispense with a culture of losing."

In a growing field of Republican presidential hopefuls, recent polls suggest that DeSantis might be in the best position to catch Trump, though he remains a distant second.

Other Republicans already running for president include Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the U.N.; former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson; biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy; and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence are both expected to join the race next week.

"Trump is still in the lead," said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire polling center. "We'll see how much that holds over the summer."


Anthony Brooks Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.



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