Calls mount for DeSantis to visit New Hampshire more amid wavering support

"It's just too bad," one DeSantis backer said of his prioritizing Iowa.

September 27, 2023, 11:28 AM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has barnstormed Iowa in recent months, making the Hawkeye State, the first to vote in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, the focus of his campaign.

But his commitment to Iowa, where he plans to visit all 99 counties by the end of the fall, has meant spending less time in another key state, New Hampshire, which votes second and where experts and allies of the governor suggest his decreased time on the ground is hurting his chances there.

Some polling indicates DeSantis has seen a steep drop in his support among Granite Staters in recent months. He was the first choice of 10% of likely GOP primary voters in New Hampshire, a drop of 13 points since July, according to a CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released last week.

He closely trailed three primary opponents -- entrepreneur and commentator Vivek Ramaswamy (13%), former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley (12%) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (11%) -- and was 29 points behind former President Donald Trump, who remains the primary front-runner.

Other polls show DeSantis barely outpacing his non-Trump rivals in New Hampshire but still far behind the former president.

DeSantis last campaigned in New Hampshire on Aug. 19, appearing as a "special guest" of the super PAC supporting his campaign.

Overall, he has spent at least eight days campaigning in the state since he launched his presidential run in late May, according to an ABC News calculation of public candidate events -- less than Ramaswamy's 16 and Haley's 13 in the same span.

"Gov. DeSantis needs to spend more time in New Hampshire," Greg Moore, the New Hampshire director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative grassroots group which has not yet endorsed a candidate for president, told ABC News.

"He has a solid infrastructure here of supporters, but his visits have been too infrequent to keep him from developing the type of traction he could be. Granite Staters have always rewarded the folks who show up and we're just not seeing a lot of DeSantis in-state," Moore added.

The underlying message from New Hampshire voters, according to experts who spoke with ABC News: Show up.

"Gov. DeSantis has only made a handful of visits to New Hampshire. With fewer candidates running in 2024 than in previous cycles, voters are eager to engage with candidates. If DeSantis wants to regain his footing after an underwhelming start to his campaign, he needs to be taking more active steps to meet, speak with and listen to voters," Chris Galdieri, a political science professor at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, told ABC News.

Andrew Dow, a 58-year-old independent voter from Farmington who plans to vote in the Republican primary but is undecided, said, "If you want to win in New Hampshire, you have got to come to New Hampshire, and I haven't seen him in a long time.

"New Hampshire voters are temperamental and if you aren't here pounding the pavement, you get forgotten," he added.

Even some of DeSantis' own allies in New Hampshire say they want to see the governor more often.

"I wish he was here in New Hampshire more," Rockingham County Commissioner Brian Chirichiello, who has publicly endorsed DeSantis, told ABC News.

"I get what he's doing. He's trying to get to every county in Iowa," he added. "It's just too bad."

State Rep. Mike Harrington, another DeSantis endorser, said the governor's lack of time in New Hampshire "is the part that's hurting him" but added, "I expect to see a lot more of him up here and I think that will help change things, because then people really start to be concentrated on this."

DeSantis's campaign dismissed concerns about the governor's schedule and pledged he would return to New Hampshire in the coming weeks.

"Ron DeSantis has maintained the most aggressive campaign schedule of anyone in the field and we are excited to be returning to New Hampshire soon," campaign communication director Andrew Romeo told ABC News in a statement.

DeSantis is scheduled to attend events in New Hampshire the weekend of Oct. 13, and supporters have indicated that the governor will be freer to visit other states after he achieves his goal of visiting the Hawkeye State's 99 counties.

"I think, fundamentally, we've just spent a lot of time [in Iowa] because we committed to doing 99 counties, and we're at 58 and by next month, we should be nearing 80, if not a little higher. And once we get there, that's going to just free up our ability in November and December and January to go wherever the heck we want," a source familiar with his strategy told ABC News.

"We're going to be back very soon and pretty aggressively next month," the source added.

DeSantis said on the "Ruthless" podcast in August that he's on track to complete all 99 counties in Iowa by the end of October.

According to Jason Osborne, the New Hampshire House Majority Leader who has endorsed DeSantis, that leaves more than enough time for the governor to regain ground.

"There are still three or four months before the New Hampshire primary, plenty of time to make the rounds. While other candidates may be putting their eggs in the New Hampshire basket, Governor DeSantis is the one candidate setting the stage to go the full distance all the way to the White House," he told ABC News.

An official with Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis, stressed that New Hampshire "is not one that Ron has to win," unlike, the official said, its importance to Haley, Ramaswamy and Christie.

"New Hampshire is a live or die state" for those three, the official argued.

A spokesperson for Christie, presented with the official's comments, told ABC News, "Sounds like he's giving up on New Hampshire to me. The last time an Iowa caucus winner became the GOP nominee was 23 years ago." (In 2000, George W. Bush finished first in Iowa before winning the nomination -- the last time a Republican candidate achieved both in a competitive election year.)

Spokespeople for Haley and Ramaswamy did not respond to requests for comment.

Never Back Down has spent at least $520,000 on paid media in New Hampshire, according to Federal Election Commission filings, and has organized several events there for DeSantis. The political action committee has also knocked on 250,000 doors in the state, hitting all of its targeted voters at least once, according to a spokesperson.

The group has four offices in New Hampshire. It employs nine political staff there and boasts 150 volunteers, while the DeSantis campaign has more than 100 additional ones.

The governor has been endorsed by 63 state legislators, according to the campaign.

Dan Eberhart, a DeSantis donor and fierce supporter of the governor's campaign, told ABC News that Iowa is where DeSantis "needs to be focused because it's going to be the first real challenge of his candidacy."

"If he doesn't perform well there, he's in real trouble," he added. "He needs to focus on connecting with voters, and Iowa voters specifically, and that's what he's doing. New Hampshire only matters if he survives Iowa."