DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Amid plates of sliced pork, report-making leather bands and piles of political T-shirts, eight Republican presidential hopefuls descended on Iowa to pitch themselves to voters, including Mike Pence. Case in point, get on a motorcycle.
Former Vice President and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis One of the White House contenders appeared at a rally at the state fairgrounds near Des Moines hosted by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. His annual political event, the “Roast and Ride” — a barbecue-rally and motorcycle ride — is a busy summer campaign season leading up to the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses early next year.
Former President Donald TrumpThe leading GOP presidential candidate was notably absent after spending two days in the state last week. He largely avoided any events where he would share the stage with his 2024 rivals.
DeSantis, accompanied by his wife, Casey, and three young children, chatted with voters, signed autographs and signed someone’s Bible thanking DeSantis for standing up for Disney..” DeSantis ended his first week as an official candidate C campaign stops in three early voting states.
Casey DeSantis wore a black leather jacket with the words “Where Vogue Goes to Die” and an outline of Florida on the back in the 86-degree weather. It drew comparisons to first lady Melania Trump, who famously sent her own message in 2018 with a green-hooded jacket that read, “I really don’t care for you. While leaving the White House to visit immigrant children in Texas.
Pence was the only White House hopeful to take part in the morning motorcycle ride for charity, a staple of Ernst’s annual “Roast and Ride” event. He wore jeans, boots and a leather vest emblazoned with “Indiana” and pro-military messages.
The former Indiana governor, who made frequent trips to Iowa last year, is expected to launch his long-awaited campaign. Wednesday at an event in Des Moines.
“I’ll be back a little later next week,” he teased the crowd as he spoke later in the rally. “I have nothing to announce today.”
In the morning, before leaving for their motorcycle ride, Pence, standing with Ernest in the back of a pickup truck, reiterated his candidacy.
“One of the reporters asked me if we’re showing up in Iowa and what our path is going to be. I said I’m more concerned about the path we’re going to stay on today,” Pence joked.
The former vice president, sporting a white motorcycle helmet and a big grin, rode a cobalt blue Harley Davidson. The group headed to the fairgrounds, where the candidates gave speeches and chatted with voters over a barbecue.
Former U.N. Other candidates speaking at the event include Ambassador Nikki Haley, US Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, author Vivek Ramasamy and conservative talk radio host Larry Elder.
In their remarks, all the candidates mentioned the former president. Haley repeated a version of a line she used as a candidate that referred to the 76-year-old Trump and his political career as fraught with controversy.
“It’s time for a new generation of leaders. We need to leave the baggage of negativity behind,” he said.
However, when Trump was asked Friday about his social media post congratulating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on his country’s seat on the World Health Organization’s executive board, several candidates did not hesitate to criticize Trump.
“I was surprised by that. I mean, I think Kim Jong Un is a murderous dictator,” DeSantis said when a reporter asked him about the post.
In an interview with Fox News on Saturday, Pence said: “Look, no one should be praising the dictator in North Korea, whether it’s my former partner or anybody else.”
Hutchinson later tweeted: “We allow leaders to oppress their people. We have not promoted them on the world stage,” he said.
In their speeches, the GOP candidates hit similar conservative themes: criticism of President Joe Biden, tough policies on China and the US-Mexico border, and restrictions on abortion and gender-affirming policies.
The event had the feel of a large political fair, with about 1,000 people gathered in front of hay bales in a building on the fairgrounds to listen to the presidential prospects. Many campaigns set up tables full of stickers, T-shirts and drink can coolers.
Lines of dozens of gleaming Harley-Davidson motorcycles in all colors, along with campaign buses for Ramaswamy and DeSantis Super PAC, were neatly parked in the parking lot outside. It looked like a modified mechanical bull that looked like a motorcycle surrounded by an inflatable landing pad to catch riders who threw up nearby — all funded by Never Back Down, the political super PAC that supports DeSantis.
Mary Andres of Des Moines signed a form distributed by Never Back Down to make a caucus pledge for DeSantis early next year.
“Trump did a great job, but in my opinion, too much drama,” the 74-year-old said. He’s committed to DeSantis because he thinks he’s “the best we’re going to get.”
Jill Villalobos, 54, bought a Haley T-shirt — not for herself, but for her brother in Florida. The Altoona resident plans to support Scott, who she thinks can unite the GOP and the country. “I really like his message,” Villalobos said.
Victoria Ortiz hadn’t heard much about the candidates until now and was at the event to find out more. DeSantis, interested in Haley and Scott as she walks away.
“I believe in the strong work ethic they promote. As a Hispanic, I was raised that way,” said the 35-year-old rental property owner and manager from the south side of Des Moines. “I don’t believe in gifts. You have to work for it.
He said he didn’t like Trump.
“His personality, and the things he says, are not things I want my kids to hear from a president,” she said.
Ernst, along with Gov. Kim Reynolds, is the favorite among Republican officials in the early stages of Iowa’s leadoff caucuses.
During the caucus campaign, the senator has vowed to remain neutral and not endorse.
Price announced from New York. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.