“We believe that everyone matters, everyone is special, and our Heartbeat Protection Act proves that we say what we mean and mean what we say,” DeSantis said, referring to the six-week ban he recently signed. « And this is a milestone piece of legislation for this state and I was happy to be able to sign that provision into law in April. »
He added: « But we also understand that there is much more to do. »
Still, DeSantis’s reluctance to delve into the subject was the latest sign of the tightrope walking on abortion: eager to make inroads with conservatives in the GOP primary, but wary of moderates for whom access to abortion has become a major concern.
“Cut one way in the primaries and caucuses, and cut another way in the general. That’s the problem,” said Doug Gross, a Republican operative who was chief of staff to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, ahead of DeSantis’ speech on Friday.
While the six-week ban is popular with Republicans in Iowa, Gross said, “if you go broad, a six-week ban will be seen as extreme. So that’s a problem for him. Even Trump understands this. That’s why he’s trying to rest on his laurels in the Supreme Court and not talk about the details. That’s no way to win a general [election.] »
The abortion access debate is rapidly shaping the Republican presidential primaries, as DeSantis and Donald Trump, normally in sync on policies, drift away from each other on the issue. DeSantis is trying to appeal to the influential evangelical Christian base in the state of Iowa, the nation’s prime caucus, as Trump slammed DeSantis’ six-week ban as « too harsh. » in a recent interview – a quick remark from the governor of Florida refuted.
« We understand how important family is, » DeSantis said Saturday. “We understand how important it is for parents in this state to be able to raise children in a healthy environment. And we’ve worked very hard to make sure our public policy has made Florida the best place in the United States to raise a family,” DeSantis said Saturday night, referring to his wife and three small children.
He said he has provided « unprecedented support » to single mothers, while his wife, Casey DeSantis, has taken an initiative to help young mothers with help from local churches and businesses.
But DeSantis has been relatively quiet on abortion, only hinting at the law in the middle of his lengthy speech. And on Saturday, he didn’t discuss the issue more directly or more deeply as he delivered his standard remarks centered around his electoral success in what was once a swing state, his continued fight with Disney, and his run-ins with Democrats over the debate. on gender identity in public schools.
Jeremy Redfern, a spokesman for the governor, said, “It covered the entire political agenda, including the Heartbeat Protection Act. I suggest you go watch it again.
The speech came as DeSantis positions himself to garner primary support from voters who want strict limits on abortion, an influential bloc in the nation’s first Iowa caucuses.
Earlier this month, DeSantis and his wife had dinner in Tallahassee with Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, an influential conservative Christian organization in Iowa. In 2008, Vander Place worked for Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus but lost the primary. Four years later, he argued Rick SantorumWho he narrowly won the Hawkeye State vote despite losing the nomination to Mitt Romney. And in 2016, The Family Leader — under the direction of Vander Plaat — argued Ted Cruz, another winner of the first state caucus who ended up losing the Republican primary.
Vander Plaats has yet to endorse a 2024 White House candidate. But him made clear his appreciation for DeSantis, even on social media last week – a contrast with dissatisfaction he expressed to Trump following the former president to blame disappointing mid-term GOP results on the « abortion issue. »
But if DeSantis’ far-right stance on abortion helps him with cultural conservatives, a string of recent election and public polls suggest he’s likely to be toxic in a general election.
Democrats have already signaled plans to make it a major issue in the 2024 race. President Joe Biden has repeatedly referenced abortion in his video announcing his re-election campaign. In DeSantis’ Florida, there is a coalition led by Planned Parenthood working to get enough signatures for an election measure next year that would lift the six-week ban.
If DeSantis hadn’t leaned heavily on abortion Saturday night, the crowd at the Rosen Plaza Hotel didn’t seem to care, applauding his remarks on « freedom » in Florida, his electoral success in the state, and other red meat issues for the GOP base .
« She’s not a monotomatic person, » said Susan Chess, 65, executive director of Treasure Coast’s Care Net Pregnancy Services. « It’s what I wanted and expected and I think it represents us well. »