Did collapse of local news hurt Ron DeSantis’ 2024 campaign?
Image via AP.

AP Desantis Iowa snow
The Governor needed more help in executing his Iowacentric strategy, but local media isn't what it used to be.

In Florida, an ascendant Gov. Ron DeSantis successfully did an end around on local press in recent years, propping up new media outlets and using friendly national interviewers to make his points without push back.

Yet the 2024 presidential campaign, and the problems Donald Trump presented, necessitated a different strategy.

DeSantis spent weeks in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina starting at the midpoint of 2023, making himself available to local press with everything from in-person and virtual press conferences to long form interviews and town halls.

Nowhere was he more present than the Hawkeye State, where he visited all 99 counties in what was called the “Full Grassley,” as he brokered endorsements and as a supportive super PAC manufactured what was claimed to be a strong ground game.

But as readers know, that vaunted strategy had a ceiling. The Governor barely topped 20% in Iowa, failing to carry any of the counties he visited, and before he dropped out, he was seemingly headed for a single-digit showing in New Hampshire.

Could some of that failure to launch have had to do with the collapse of the local news ecosphere that the Governor, ironically enough, sidestepped successfully here in the Sunshine State?

A recent article from the Columbia Journalism Review suggests just that, noting that even though DeSantis “barnstormed hard,” the strategy failed in part because “local news outlets have been hollowed out—leaving voters less attuned to local issues, and the stations and papers themselves with much less leverage to force candidates to answer questions important to the local audience. “

“In 2018, the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, had a print circulation of 129,000. That’s roughly a quarter what it had been a few decades earlier—and by 2022 it had plunged all the way to 40,000, according to Nieman Lab. Gannett, which owns the paper, and its chief rival, Lee Enterprises, have both drastically slashed staff and payrolls across all their publications. It’s just as bleak in New Hampshire, where once-powerful newspapers like the Union Leader and Concord Monitor aren’t what they used to be,” writes Cameron Joseph.

Joseph stops well short of an endorsement of DeSantis’ strategy, noting that candidates didn’t talk about local issues beyond ethanol, though it should be said the Governor was somewhat more expansive in his comments, wooing the pig industry by blasting California’s standards for boarding pregnant sows.

In the wake of DeSantis’ Iowa debacle, he vented to a sympathetic ear about how his failure to turn voters out on caucus night symbolized a larger malaise in the Republican Party.

During an interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show, the Governor who spent months in the state only to get 21% and carry no counties suggested that performance was due to a larger malaise in the party.

“Clearly, when you win Iowa by the amount (Donald Trump) did, you know, that’s what you want to be doing if you’re going to win the nomination. But you know, half the Iowans voted for someone else. And the turnout was so abysmal, and I don’t think it was just the weather,” he said.

He added that “186,000 voted in 2016. But there were 20,000 independents and 7,000 Democrats, mostly voting for (NikkiHaley. So that means there were about, less than 85,000 Republicans even participated. I think that’s a warning sign for the party going forward into the Fall.”

Though DeSantis could claim he worked Iowa as hard as any candidate could have, as he performed many gubernatorial duties remotely throughout the campaign, he did so at the expense of other states. In New Hampshire, where Gov. Chris Sununu backed Haley over the Governor, who had already started collapsing in Granite State polls, he likely would have paid a price for that strategy.

But even though he did local media in that state, Joseph found media members who suggested the candidate had an attitude problem that may have presented a ceiling.

“DeSantis was openly hostile, because he was openly hostile to everybody (in the press),” claimed the Boston Globe’s James Pindell, an alum of WMUR who is deeply steeped in New Hampshire politics.

As the Governor seems to be eyeing a 2028 run, he will have to learn from the mistakes that marred his now-suspended 2024 bid.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


10 comments

  • Elmo

    February 3, 2024 at 2:18 pm

    What can he say? He is an unlikable guy. It takes a lot of audacity to shut unfriendly media down like he did in Florida. Don’t know how he thought going on Morning Joe and such would help. He’s now a nationwide a$$hole. Serves him right.

  • ScienceBLVR

    February 3, 2024 at 3:18 pm

    Whew! The ad is a little intense, but a good portion of his usual rhetoric does have that ring of fascism to it. I’ve often wondered if it wasn’t for the “adults” in the room when he was in office, who stopped him from following through on his worst impulses… well things could have been much worse. We must ensure he never gets power again.

  • Michael K

    February 3, 2024 at 4:28 pm

    Nobody likes Rhonda and his New Confederacy. That simple.

  • Taramaga Jones

    February 3, 2024 at 5:29 pm

    People just don’t like him. Worse, he used and then turned on Trump and that was a fatal mistake to most Trump supporters. DeSantis will need those people to vote for him in 2028 and they’re not going to do it. DeSantis will never be President. If he had WAITED until 2028 he probably would have had a decent shot at winning at least the nomination, but he jumped in too soon, pressured by his anti-Trump donors, to run against the guy who is the reason he was able to become Florida Governor in the first place.

    • Taramanga

      February 3, 2024 at 5:33 pm

      I would also like to say that his PR campaign as “America’s Governor” and “Top Gov” was hurl-worthy. He’s not going to tell us that he’s the best Governor in the US, WE make that decision.

  • MH/Duuuval

    February 3, 2024 at 10:02 pm

    A lot of truth in AG’s argument about how the hollowing-out of local media, especially the print media, may have diminished Dee’s ability to reach voters.

    On the other hand, it was next to impossible to go to Trump’s right.

    To go to Trump’s left meant Dee would be a RINO in MAGAspeak.

  • Jojo

    February 4, 2024 at 10:50 am

    The rest of the country just got to see the whiny petulant man that all us rational people in Florida have endured for the last six years.
    A robust local media wouldn’t have helped an iota

    • MH/Duuuval

      February 4, 2024 at 11:50 am

      Or, maybe it is the lock DJT has on so many small minds, making Dee’s presidential quest quixotic.

    • Dont Say FLA

      February 4, 2024 at 7:08 pm

      You got to be more specific. There’s at least a few folks who could be described as “whiny petulant man in Florida”

  • Dancing Outlaw

    February 5, 2024 at 7:23 am

    Local media committed suicide due to having to deal with Rhonda more than once and realizing they’d have to do it many more times.

Comments are closed.


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