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DeSantis comes in 2nd in Iowa after Trump's big victory at the caucuses

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When is coming in second a major win? Maybe if you're running for president against a political behemoth like Donald Trump. At least that's how Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis is seeing his second-place showing against Trump in Iowa. At the very least, it's keeping DeSantis' presidential bid alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: We've got our ticket punched out of Iowa.

(CHEERING)

MARTIN: Joining us to tell us more about all this is Lynn Hatter, news director with member station WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla., who follows DeSantis' career. Good morning.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what does DeSantis' showing in Iowa mean for him?

HATTER: Well, this was a must-win for the governor. And it means he lives to campaign in another state. It's only going to get harder for DeSantis from here, right? So coming up next is New Hampshire, where he's even further behind in the polls. And after that is Nikki Haley's home state of South Carolina. You know, the governor has made a name for himself over the past two years championing so-called anti-woke policies and really pushing back against diversity, equity and inclusion programs. And he's also been a champion for more scrutiny of public schools for what conservatives like him see as an anti-conservative agenda. But some of that appeal seems to be waning. And here in Florida, he's not proposing any new policies for the legislative session that just started this month.

MARTIN: Would you say more about that? I mean, what are Republicans in Florida saying about DeSantis?

HATTER: Well, Florida Republicans here in general have some split loyalties. There's the camp that's firmly backing DeSantis, which includes our state House speaker and Senate president, who recently reaffirmed their support for him. But then there are other high-profile Republican leaders who DeSantis has at times clashed with. He clashed with Republican Congressman Byron Donalds, who's Black, over the state's new African American history teaching standards. Donalds came out against language in them that say some enslaved people benefited from slavery. DeSantis also clashed with Republican Representative Randy Fine, who's Jewish. Fine felt the governor didn't do enough to combat anti-Semitism here in Florida. Fine had supported DeSantis in the past, but he switched his endorsement to former President Donald Trump.

MARTIN: You mentioned earlier that Governor DeSantis has been pushing what he's called his war on woke. How are voters responding to that?

HATTER: Well, his policies did align with Iowa voters, but there are issues around the governor's personality. Some people say he just doesn't present very well. And he's also based his campaign on trying to out-Trump Trump and appeal to the exact same group that forms the former president's base. And the former president's supporters just seem to like their guy better.

MARTIN: So what's next for DeSantis?

HATTER: Well, he's heading to New Hampshire, but he's really looking ahead to South Carolina, which is his first major test in the South. He really wants to perform well there against Haley, but he's got other obstacles before then. And you've already started hearing him try to broaden his message a bit from one of fear to one of hope.

MARTIN: Well, as you just mentioned - that South Carolina is Nikki Haley's home state. I mean, she was the governor there. Presumably, she has a base. Realistically, does he think he can compete there?

HATTER: He's going to try. Again, Nikki Haley's home state. DeSantis came in second. He squeaked it out. So he's going to give it a whirl.

MARTIN: All right. Lynn Hatter is the news director of member station WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. Lynn thank you.

HATTER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Lynn Hatter
Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.