Just hours after the new Emerson College poll put him in third place behind Chris Christie in the Granite State, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters New Hampshire voters don’t know him yet.
“Going around New Hampshire, people want to see you, they want to be able to ask you questions, they want to be able to shake your hand,” DeSantis said. “When we do that, when we get in front of people, we’re able to marshal good support.
“That takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of time, but we’re committed to doing it.”
DeSantis made his comments during a Tuesday press call with local reporters covering the First in the Nation primary. DeSantis insisted his campaign doesn’t “pay much attention to the polls” and that he is on course.
“We don’t want to be peaking in August; we want to be peaking in January. We’ve got so much work we’re going to do … to earn the support.”
However, DeSantis’ decline in New Hampshire over the past six months is indisputable. In the new Emerson College poll, Trump is at 49 percent, while DeSantis has fallen to eight percent, behind Chris Christie. In March and April, polls regularly showed DeSantis had the support of 20 or 30 percent of New Hampshire GOP voters.
His average in the past six polls going back to mid-July is 13.2 percent, compared to Trump’s 41 percent.
“What I’ve found when I go around [New Hampshire] is people know I’ve done a good job as governor, but they don’t know very much about me. They don’t know I was a blue-collar kid who had to work minimum wage jobs to get through school. They don’t know I volunteered to deploy to Iraq alongside Seal Team One. They don’t know I’m a father with three young kids, and that’s something that’s very important to me and my wife.”
And then there is the barrage of negative ads and media coverage targeting DeSantis. Sources close to the campaign note more than $20 million in negative ads attacking the governor have aired, more than any other candidate — including Joe Biden.
And DeSantis has several Granite State events scheduled this weekend, beginning with the Nashua GOP’s “Steak Out” fundraiser Friday evening. He also went out of his way during the press call to praise Gov. Chris Sununu, viewed by some pundits as a potential kingmaker in the Granite State primary.
“I disagree with Donald Trump’s attacks on Gov. Chris Sununu. I think New Hampshire is the best-governed state in New England,” DeSantis said. “I think Chris has done a great job up there, and you can see with the fact that people flee to New Hampshire, just like people flee to Florida.
“As Republicans, we should be supporting Republican governors, whether it’s Kim Reynolds in Iowa or Chris Sununu in New Hampshire. When they can get elected with big victories and then deliver. So just as a fellow governor, I appreciate that very much,” DeSantis added. It was the same message featured in a TV ad run by pro-DeSantis Super PAC Never Back Down.
Asked by NHJournal if campaigning on the ground in New Hampshire had impacted his view of any major campaign issues, DeSantis mentioned the opioid crisis and veterans issues.
On New Hampshire’s opioid overdose problem, which has surged to a five-year high, DeSantis said talking to Granite Staters “really underscored how national this problem of the border is.”
“You can go to a state like New Hampshire — tucked away in New England, thousands of miles from the southern border — and yet you have these lives that are shattered by things like fentanyl overdose, and it really resonates in New Hampshire. We’ve got to stop what’s happening at the southern border, and I’ll be able to get that done.”
DeSantis also said his campaign will present its policy proposals for veterans issues “very, very soon,” and it will “incorporate what we’ve been hearing on the campaign trail.”
“A lot of people don’t realize what a huge percentage of the population in New Hampshire are veterans. This is a really big deal in New Hampshire,” DeSantis said. He said there has been an increase in concerns about mental health over the past decade, “so we’re going to tackle that head-on, particularly when it comes to our veterans and particularly when it comes to our first responders.”
But for Republican voters both in New Hampshire and nationwide, the top political topic is the latest round of indictments targeting Trump. Asked about Trump’s legal woes, DeSantis continued his strategy of deflecting on whether he believes Trump is guilty and instead focusing on concerns about the “criminalization of politics.”
“I don’t think that this is something that is good for the country,” DeSantis said. “And I’ve already said, as president, we are going to end the weaponization of federal agencies like the [Department of Justice] and FBI. We’ll have a new director. We will have new leadership in the DOJ. We’re going to make sure that there’s a single standard of justice in this country.”
Can a renewed focus on retail politics turn around the DeSantis campaign that appears to be drifting toward single digits in the Granite State?
“He’s going to need a hell of a debate performance,” one GOP operative not affiliated with any presidential race told NHJournal. “This has been one of the worst-run campaigns I’ve ever seen. That’s one reason Trump’s lead is getting bigger. So far, DeSantis has just convinced more Republicans to stay with Trump.”