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Ron DeSantis places his chips on Iowa's caucuses. Will his 2024 bet pay off on Monday

Ron DeSantis has a lot at stake on Monday night when Iowa's caucuses lead off the Republican presidential nominating calendar. A third place finish could sink his campaign

Standing in front of a jam-packed room at the Iowa headquarters of a super PAC supporting his White House bid, Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis stressed "we've done it the right way."

The Florida governor has spent much of his time and resources in Iowa, the state whose caucuses kick off the GOP presidential nominating calendar.

And with his presidential campaign arguably on the line in Monday night's caucuses, DeSantis was urging his supporters to brave the frigid below zero temperatures that are punishing the Hawkeye State to show up and vote.

"It’s going to be cold. It’s not going to be pleasant. But if you’re willing to go out there and you’re willing to fight for me, if you’re willing to bring people to the caucus, if you’re willing to brave the elements and be there for the couple of hours you have to be there, if you’re willing to do that, if you’re willing to fight for me on Monday night, then as president I’ll be fighting for you for the next eight years," DeSantis emphasized.


DeSantis, who was convincingly re-elected to a second term as Florida governor 14 months ago, was once the clear alternative to former President Donald Trump in the Republican White House race. For months, he was solidly in second place behind Trump, who's the far-and-away front-runner in the latest Iowa polls and in national surveys.

However, after a series of campaign setbacks over the summer and autumn, and after getting hammered by negative ads, DeSantis saw his support in the polls erode.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, grabbed momentum during the autumn and has caught up with DeSantis for second place in polls in Iowa and in national surveys. 


Haley also surpassed DeSantis and surged to second place and narrowed the gap with Trump in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first primary and second overall contest in the GOP nominating calendar, eight days after Iowa's caucuses.

While he no longer predicts victory in Iowa, DeSantis has repeatedly said over the past week that he'll "do well" in the caucuses. And the Florida governor is betting that his vaulted ground game in Iowa - which is heavily reliant on the aligned super PAC Never Back Down - will carry him across the finish line.

"We have massive numbers of people. I think we have more commits than anyone's ever had in an Iowa caucus. We have all the counties organized. People that have been involved in this process say it's the best yet," he touted during a Fox News town hall in Des Moines on Tuesday.


Never Back Down highlights that they've knocked on 900,000 doors in Iowa and that they've lined up more than 1,700 precinct captains across the state for the caucuses.

"We have a whole team paid staff, canvassers, volunteers, across the state," Never Back Down's Jess Szymanski told Fox News. "They’ve been here for months…we’ve been building this since July."

But Trump, who narrowly lost the 2016 caucus to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has dramatically stepped up his campaign operation in the state compared to eight years ago.

"We’ve built an operation in over 1,800 caucus locations with straight-up volunteers, neighborhood by neighborhood. They know the area, and they know who’s caucusing in their area, and they’ll be following up with them, making sure they vote," Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita told Fox News.


"Our focus and our premium has been on people…and we think it’s going to bear fruit in a big way," he predicted.

Haley is relying on the political wing of the powerful grassroots network from the influential conservative group Americans for Prosperity for much of her ground game efforts in Iowa.

Speaking with supporters on Friday, Haley acknowledged "I know that on January 15th, it is going to be negative 19. I know it's asking a lot of you to go out and caucus, but I also know we have a country to save. And I will be out there in the cold. And I know Iowans take this in a very serious way."

In a boost of adrenalin for Haley and blow to DeSantis, she edged him 20% to 16% for a distant second place behind Trump in the final Des Moines Register/Mediacom/NBC News poll of likely Republican caucus goers, which was released Saturday night.

The highly anticipated and closely watched survey, conducted by longtime pollster Ann Selzer, has a well-earned tradition of accuracy in past GOP presidential caucuses, and is considered by many as the gold standard in Iowa polling. 

The poll was the second straight to suggest DeSantis had slipped to third place. But DeSantis continues to sound confident, telling Fox News on Friday that his supporters are "motivated, they're passionate, and they're going to show up."

"What about the broader electorate? I just don't know. But I'm confident our people are going to come out strong," he predicted.

Fox News' Clare O'Connor, Deirdre Heavey, and James Levinson contributed to this report

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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