Leading up to the 2024 Iowa Caucuses, Republican Candidate Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has been widely regarded in the media and among politics nerds I have spoken with as the frontrunner to challenge former president Donald Trump for the red bid in the 2024 election. DeSantis and his team believe this and want to take Iowa by storm this fall. To do so, they use the playbook of an Iowa political legend: U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley and his ‘Full Grassley’ tour to all 99 counties across Iowa. Senator Grassley has made his tour an annual event for 43 years (Joens), meeting with Iowans on their home turf to pitch his policies and answer their burning questions. This year, Governor DeSantis is not the only candidate on the Full Grassley trail. Vivek Ramaswamy completed a double Grassley Tour during the prelude to the 2024 Caucuses, the first-ever candidate to do so (Abid). As for DeSantis's final stop for the day on November 3, 2023, took the Floridian to the Destination Grille in Grimes, where a packed room was ready to hear him speak.
Grimes and Destination Grille
Grimes is a northwest suburb of Des Moines split between Polk and Dallas Counties, with a population of 17,000 (“Grimes, Iowa Population''). Dallas County, which hosts a majority of Grimes (but not the Destination Grille), was a close victory for Donald Trump in the 2020 general election by around 1,000 votes (“Iowa Presidential Election Results''). Its suburban-to-rural makeup ranks sixth in the state by county population (“Population of Counties in Iowa''), making it an essential stop for Democrats hoping to turn the tide, which they have not been able to at the presidential level as of late, and Republicans trying to build a loyal base and paint the county a deeper red. DeSantis's goal in the suburb, as it has appeared since he announced his candidacy for the 2024 bid, is to prove that he is a better candidate than former president Donald Trump. The venue for this purpose was the Destination Grille, or more specifically, an event space on the restaurant's upper floor that was dodgy. The size of the room was significantly reduced by curtains on the northern side of the room. By the time the Governor took the stage, the room was packed, unsurprising considering it was smaller than a tennis court. No doubt DeSantis wanted the image of the room to be full, but with people having to stand in the hallway between the event space and the elevator, the curtains were unnecessary. Overall, while the locations for caucus events are primarily based on convenience above everything else, this was a misfire. The industrial ceiling and shut curtains over windows gave the impression of a depressing classroom in a school, not an event space in a flashy American restaurant.
Furthermore, no food was served at the event despite being in a restaurant. While I never expected to receive free food at a political event, some candidates, including Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley, have provided food for guests at events located in food establishments. It’s fair to say that the two water coolers by the entrance of the event room were not enough for the attending crowd, and it was empty before DeSantis went on stage.
The crowd, however, did not come for the venue or the possibility of food (I hope). They gave a warm welcome as Governor DeSantis took the stage and listened intently as he spoke. His message: that he is the most electable Republican Candidate for President of those who have put their hat in the ring. He took an optimistic approach in his speech, saying that despite what the polls seem to reflect, the GOP is not as pro-Trump as many believe and that the elections were a result of “liberal media” wanting Trump to be the nominee. He also selectively threw shade at Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy regarding their previous engagements with China, as Haley was governor of South Carolina and Ramaswamy was the CEO of his pharmaceutical company, among other things. He also was hostile towards college students in his talk, showing distaste for Women & Gender Studies Programs and DEI in Universities and disapproving of their voting habits. The most appealing aspect of the evening, at least to me, was how audience members interacted with DeSantis. Following his Stump Speech, DeSantis answered nearly a dozen questions from the audience. The Iowan crowd asked questions that were, for the most part, well thought out and insightful questions. One person asked for DeSantis’ thoughts on the recently released Iowa Poll, in which DeSantis had lost ground. No questions were easy or quick answers. I felt a sense of Iowa pride at that moment. Finally, he ended the night by attending attendees, shaking their hands, and taking pictures (I participated in the formalities). The road to the White House for DeSantis is long and unclear, but if he can continue to go county-to-county and gain support, he might make it interesting come caucus night.
“Grimes, Iowa Population.” Grimes, Iowa Population 2024, 2024, worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/grimes-ia-population.
“Iowa Presidential Election Results: The Des Moines Register.” Iowa Presidential Election Results | The Des Moines Register, The Des Moines Register, 11 Jan. 2021, www.desmoinesregister.com/elections/results/race/2020-11-03-presidential-IA-0/.
Joens, Philip. “Vivek Ramaswamy Completes ‘Full Grassley’ Tour of All 99 Iowa Counties Twice, Campaign Says.” The Des Moines Register, Des Moines Register, 3 Jan. 2024, www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/elections/presidential/caucus/2024/01/03/vivek-ramaswamy-campaigns-in-all-99-iowa-counties-twice/72083818007/.
“Population of Counties in Iowa (2024).” The population of Counties in Iowa, 2024, worldpopulationreview.com/states/iowa/counties.