‘Iowa Caucus kingmaker’ endorses Ron DeSantis for president 

‘Iowa Caucus kingmaker’ endorses Ron DeSantis for president 

The “Iowa Caucus kingmaker” is Team DeSantis.

Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent Iowa Christian evangelical leader, announced his endorsement of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president on Tuesday.

Vander Plaats, the CEO and president of the Family Leader conservative group, argued that DeSantis, 45, is the best chance Republicans have at winning the 2024 general election and said his endorsement shouldn’t come as a surprise. 

“What we saw in 2022, the supposedly ‘red wave’ really only happened in Florida and in Iowa,” Vander Plaats told Fox News “Special Report” host Bret Baier.

“Gov. DeSantis took a reliable toss-up state in Florida and made it completely red — won by 20 points, won in demographics that we haven’t won in — but he’s also done that by being a bold and courageous leader.

“So right away, it was kind of his endorsement to lose,” he added. 

Vander Plaats noted that DeSantis “closed the sale” with his performance at The Family Leader’s Thanksgiving Family Forum last week in Des Moines, which featured a roundtable discussion between Vander Plaats, DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, 38, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 51.

Former President Donald Trump, the 77-year-old Iowa caucus front-runner, was not invited to the event by Vander Plaats’ group. 

“I’m thrilled to throw my personal endorsement and support behind Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida,” Vander Plaats said Tuesday.
X / Ron DeSantis

“He was very clear about [how] we need a president who can serve two terms, not one term. We don’t need a president that’s gonna be a lame duck on day one. You need a president that’s gonna surround themselves with the best and brightest people, versus having a hard time attracting them again. And someone who’s actually going to do what they say they’re going to do, and I just think he’s got the spine to do it. And I think he’s got the experience to win for us,” Vander Plaats explained. 

The last three candidates that Vander Plaats has endorsed have gone on to win the Iowa caucuses, but none of them became the GOP nominee. 

He endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016. 

DeSantis secured Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ endorsement earlier this month.

“I think the country needs to look at Iowa a little bit more,” Vander Plaats said of his past endorsements. 

The evangelical leader also predicted that if Trump wins in Iowa “he’s going to be your eventual nominee.” 

“I think America would be well served to have a choice, and I really believe Ron DeSantis is that guy and I think Iowa’s tailor-made for him to win this,” he added. 

The DeSantis campaign celebrated the endorsement of the “Iowa Caucus kingmaker,” noting in a statement that Vander Plaats’ support comes just days after the Sunshine State governor secured the endorsement of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds — the first time since 1996 that a sitting Iowa governor has endorsed a GOP presidential primary candidate. 

The DeSantis campaign called Vander Plaats an “Iowa Caucus kingmaker.”

“As I’ve made my way through 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties, Iowans have shared what a critical role Bob Vander Plaats plays in engaging Iowa’s faith community in the key battles that matter,” DeSantis said. “His support tells Iowans they can trust me to fight and win for them.

“We’re thrilled to have Bob and Darla [his wife] on Team DeSantis and are thankful for their friendship as we’ve gotten to know them throughout this campaign. The road to America’s revival starts in Iowa, and we will get the job done.” 

The Trump campaign accused Vander Plaats of demanding money for his endorsement, a claim the faith leader denies. 

“Over 150 faith leaders in Iowa are organizing their congregations for President Trump and not a single one demanded nearly $100K like Bob Vander Plaat$ did from Ron DeSanctus,” the campaign said in a statement. “When you are actually the leader of a movement like President Trump is, people are willing to support you for free. Kim Reynolds’ endorsement won’t save Ron DeSanctus, and neither will Vander Plaat$’ endorsement.” 

“President Trump knows better than anybody, anybody that my endorsement has never been and never will be for sale,” Vander Plaats told Baier. “So it has nothing to do with any type of money that is being paid or anything like that.” 

He explained that candidates, including DeSantis, Ramaswamy and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), had paid his organization in order to attend dinners and be promoted in the group’s programs.

“They had to pay for that,” Vander Plaats acknowledged.

DeSantis is currently polling in second place in the Hawkeye State, well behind Trump, who leads the Florida governor by nearly 30 points, according to a RealClearPolitics average of surveys. 

Vander Plaats argued that the key for DeSantis in the Jan. 15 caucuses will be getting the “60% to 65%” of Iowans “open to choosing somebody” other than Trump to coalesce behind the Florida governor. 

“And that’s going to be up to Gov. DeSantis and for those of us like Kim Reynolds and myself and others who have endorsed the governor to rally around him and see if we can get him over the finish line in the state of Iowa so America has a real choice,” he said. 

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