Bob Vander Plaats, the President and CEO of The Family Leader organization, is expected to make the endorsement during an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News' "Special Report." DeSantis, who is currently campaigning for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, expressed hope that he would secure Vander Plaats' endorsement during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
DeSantis, along with his Republican rivals for the White House, former ambassador Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, appeared alongside Vander Plaats at a presidential forum hosted by The Family Leader in Des Moines, Iowa.
The Florida governor noted that the forum demonstrated the support he received from Vander Plaats' followers, stating, "I think that if you saw that Family Leader forum, clearly his folks there gravitated to me. I don’t think there’s any question about that. We have a good relationship."
Former President Donald Trump, who is currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, declined an invitation to attend the forum. Vander Plaats, who has had a contentious relationship with Trump, interpreted the former President's absence as a significant message to their shared base. He told Fox News Digital in an interview, "There’s definitely a shot that the former President can be beat here." Vander Plaats has been vocal about the need for new conservative leadership, asserting that Trump is not the way forward.
DeSantis received a major boost earlier this month when he secured the endorsement of Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who is highly popular among Republicans in the state. Vander Plaats, who has consistently praised DeSantis, acknowledged that Reynolds' endorsement would factor into his decision but would not be the sole determinant. DeSantis emphasized the significance of the support he has received from Iowa's governor, state lawmakers, officials, and the potential endorsement from Vander Plaats, stating that it would create a powerful machine to propel his campaign.
DeSantis expressed confidence that the conventional wisdom about the primary race would be upended by the results in Iowa and New Hampshire. Taking a swipe at his rivals, he argued that Republican primary voters did not want to support an establishment candidate who would be unable to bring about significant change. Vander Plaats, as a prominent social conservative leader in Iowa, holds considerable sway among evangelical voters who play a crucial role in Republican politics in the state.
In previous election cycles, Vander Plaats endorsed Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Ted Cruz in 2016, all of whom won the Iowa caucuses but failed to secure the GOP presidential nomination.
Trump's allies have downplayed the importance of a Vander Plaats endorsement, with veteran Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio arguing in a memo that it would have no significant impact on the caucuses. Fabrizio cited polling conducted in September to support his claim that a Vander Plaats endorsement would not revive DeSantis' struggling campaign.
Vander Plaats responded to the criticism by stating that his endorsement only represented one vote and that its impact remained to be seen. However, he suggested that the obsession with his endorsement indicated a fear among DeSantis' rivals.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) characterized Vander Plaats as a "far-right extremist" and claimed that his endorsement would be the kiss of death for DeSantis' campaign, ensuring that he would never become the Republican nominee. The DNC's national press secretary, Sarafina Chitika, accused Vander Plaats and DeSantis of sharing a desire to ban abortion and restrict women's freedoms.
Just hours before the Family Leader presidential forum, Haley received a surprise endorsement from another social conservative leader in Iowa, Marlys Popma. Popma, the former executive director of the Iowa GOP and former president of the Iowa Right to Life, announced her support for Haley during a town hall event in Newton, Iowa. The question now is whether the endorsements from Reynolds, Vander Plaats, and Popma can make a dent in Trump's commanding lead over the other candidates.
Nicole Schlinger, an Iowa-based strategist with close ties to evangelicals, suggested that endorsements have their limits. She argued that what matters most to Iowa caucus goers is the opportunity to meet with the candidates and have their questions answered about their policy positions. While endorsements can bring attention to a campaign, it is ultimately up to the candidates to seal the deal with voters.