DES MOINES, Iowa — For a few hours, Ron DeSantis was the top political draw at the Iowa State Fair.
Mobbed by reporters, cameras and potential supporters, the Florida governor traversed the sprawling fairgrounds with one of his daughters atop his shoulders, stopping for photographs before taking part in a political right of passage here in Iowa: flipping pork chops.
The moment, however, was fleeting thanks to the arrival of former President Donald Trump, the clear front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.
Always the showman, Mr. Trump’s airplane buzzed low above the fairgrounds as Mr. DeSantis worked the grill, triggering shrieks and oohs and aahs of approval from the crowd.
It was more of the same when Mr. Trump entered the fairgrounds with a Secret Service escort and with an entourage of elected leaders from Mr. DeSantis’ home state in tow, including Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz.
The massive crowd cheered Mr. Trump on after he hoisted a pork chop on a stick into the air as if it were a trophy, and signed autographs for supporters.
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“It’s a beautiful day in Iowa,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “There’s a record crowd, they’ve never had anything even close.”
The Iowa State Fair on Saturday served as the backdrop to a clash of the titans in the 2024 GOP presidential race.
Mr. Trump has massive leads in early state polls, and yet there is a lingering sense that Mr. DeSantis still has a chance to close the gap and prove he is best equipped to defeat President Biden.
Their dueling appearances overshadowed the other candidates in attendance, including Nikki Haley, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, and Vivek Ramaswamy, the 37-year-old biotech millionaire who has been the biggest surprise of the race so far.
Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the longshot Democrats vying against Mr. Biden for their party’s nomination, also addressed the crowd.
Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis have been on a crash course for months, and the visits to the fair marked the first time in quite some time that they were in the same place at the same time.
Both of them have a lot riding on the Iowa caucuses.
For Mr. Trump, it is a chance to show that he is without question the de facto leader of the Republican Party.
For Mr. DeSantis, it is a chance to show he has what it takes to cobble together a coalition of GOP voters looking for a fresh face with a record of achievement, and less legal baggage.
Indeed, Mr. Trump’s visit to the fair coincided with news reports that the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney is preparing to seek more than a dozen indictments next week in her probe into the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election.
Asked whether he tried to overturn the election, Mr. Trump said “You know the answer.”
Speaking at the Steer N’ Stein food and beverage venue at the fair, Mr. Trump told his supporters at the fair to “stay strong.”
“We are going to win big,” he said.
Mr. Trump also told reporters he would not take a plea deal in Georgia if it was offered.
“We did nothing wrong,” he said.
Mr. DeSantis started the day by sitting down with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for a “Fair-Side Chat” and sharing his vision for the nation.
“I’m running for president because simply managing the decline of our country a little bit better than Democrats isn’t going to cut it,” Mr. DeSantis said. “We must reverse the decline of this country.”
Mr. DeSantis said he has led with “purpose and conviction” as governor of Florida, and said he plans to do the same thing if elected president.
“The time for excuses for Republicans is over, we must get the job done in 2024,” he said.
Mr. Trump passed on the chance to sit down with Ms. Reynolds. Mr. Trunp criticized Ms. Reynolds for staying neutral in the presidential race and has taken credit for her win in 2018.
Asked about Mr. Trump’s criticism of Ms. Reynolds, Mr. DeSantis said, “I think Donald Trump’s attacks on Kim Reynolds are totally out of bounds.”
“I couldn’t disagree with it anymore,” he said. “She has never done anything to him, but that is just how he operates.”
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