Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his rebooted campaign are getting attention as he approaches Wednesday’s first Republican presidential debate in distant second place in most polls.
Will his demeanor — often panned as insular and standoffish — produce an uncharacteristically enthusiastic Howard Dean-like moment? Will he drop a one-line zinger that draws attention from the rest of the night?
But with the first votes in Iowa and New Hampshire still months away, the debate in Milwaukee isn’t make or break for DeSantis, at least not according to University of Central Florida political-science professor Aubrey Jewett.
But risks remain.
“I don’t think this is like his last opportunity,” Jewett said. “But it might be sort of his last best opportunity to really change the tone of his campaign and be viewed more as the number one challenger to (former President Donald) Trump, as opposed to the guy that’s sinking in the polls.”
Jewett said debates sometimes can be game-changers and produce breakout moments. But more often, “they’re not.”
“It’s definitely important. They talk about how (DeSantis) needed to turn the campaign around, and this will be the first big opportunity to do that,” Jewett said. “They’ve had DeSantis change his visits and his message. But so far, the reboot looks a lot like the original and hasn’t done much good. So, this is certainly their biggest opportunity since the announced reboot of the campaign to actually try to do something different.”
A Fox News poll released Thursday said Trump leads the GOP primary contest at 53 percent, while DeSantis is at 16 percent. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy was next at 11 percent. Fox also had Democratic President Joe Biden up on Trump by 3 percentage points and DeSantis by 5 points.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday had Trump drawing 57 percent support from Republican and Republican-leaning voters. DeSantis was at 18 percent, while Ramaswamy was at 5 percent.
More important to Jewett, Emerson College released a New Hampshire poll Tuesday that showed former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a distant second to Trump and 1 point up on DeSantis.
“National polls are fun. National polls are interesting. But as I teach my class, always remember … it’s the state-by-state races that really matter, both in the primaries and in the general,” Jewett said. “That was bad news, no getting around that.”
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