Our DeSantis and Haley Reporters Switched Locations. Right here’s What They Discovered.

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For months, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, Republican contenders locked in a heated rivalry for second place of their celebration’s 2024 presidential nominating contest, have been crisscrossing Iowa forward of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

And so have we.

As beat reporters, we’ve been trailing these two candidates for therefore lengthy that we are able to recite each punchline, anticipate the applause and guess their potential responses to questions from voters on the marketing campaign path. Usually, Nicholas Nehamas is on the street with Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, and Jazmine Ulloa follows Ms. Haley, former governor of South Carolina.

On the ultimate Saturday earlier than Iowans vote, we switched roles for a day. Nicholas drove northeast from Des Moines to a Haley occasion at a brewery in Cedar Falls. Jazmine headed west to a DeSantis occasion in Council Bluffs.

Right here’s what we discovered.

NICHOLAS The very first thing I observed once I walked into Second State Brewing in Cedar Falls: Ms. Haley’s warm-up music wasn’t deafening. At DeSantis occasions, the music drowns out each thought and makes it tough to speak to voters. Which just about feels intentional.

The Haley crowd, roughly 60 folks, was additionally a bit youthful and extra suburban than I used to be used to. One voter informed me she was a New York Instances subscriber — not one thing I sometimes hear once I’m following Mr. DeSantis.

About quarter-hour earlier than Ms. Haley went onstage, somebody introduced over the sound system that reporters wanted to go to the again of the room. I ignored that and saved speaking to voters. Ultimately, a really well mannered Haley staffer got here to retrieve me. The tightly managed atmosphere felt just like the early days of the DeSantis marketing campaign, when harried workers members tried to maintain us away from voters and generally even the candidate.

JAZMINE As I approached the doorways of the Grass Wagon in Council Bluffs, I might already hear the music pounding. The set checklist of pop and traditional rock shouldn’t be not like the one which performs forward of Haley occasions. However inside, at the least immediately, the amount was not overbearing. Sorry, Nick!

Most definitely due to the freezing temperatures (my eyes had been watering from the chilly, and even the locals had been complaining), the gang seemed to be small, not more than 100. But it surely was energetic and, throughout Mr. DeSantis’s remarks, fast to supply applause. What struck me instantly was the variety of attendees holding DeSantis indicators and carrying marketing campaign stickers. Once I spoke to voters, it was clear many had been agency Republicans — and firmly selected Mr. DeSantis.

Trying round, I noticed solely a few massive American and Iowa state flags, trimmings that appeared sparser than I anticipated. Ms. Haley has argued that Mr. DeSantis is a prolific spender of marketing campaign {dollars}, citing his flights on non-public planes and the staffing cuts he made amid a money crunch, however his show, at the least now, appeared just like Ms. Haley’s: simply sufficient.

NICHOLAS Haley-curious voters really feel like a completely completely different slice of the Republican voters: extra average, much less involved with what folks do in non-public, not essentially a part of the native G.O.P. activist set. Most people I spoke with described themselves as socially average. Two had by no means caucused earlier than. Most mentioned they had been By no means Trumpers. A number of had been undecided, though leaning towards Ms. Haley.

DeSantis voters I’ve spoken with usually tend to be hard-line conservatives who’re closely concerned in native Republican politics.

One undecided voter particularly stunned me: Peter Salmon, 35, an evangelical pastor. His No. 1 subject was abortion, on which Ms. Haley has been far much less strident than Mr. DeSantis. However Mr. Salmon appreciated her inclusive language. “I believe she has the identical pro-life convictions that I’ve,” he mentioned, at the same time as he acknowledged that her place was “a bit complicated.” Nonetheless, Mr. Salmon mentioned, “she doesn’t speak concerning the subject like a typical Republican candidate. She is aware of how you can win folks over.”

JAZMINE Most of the voters I spoke with had selected Mr. DeSantis way back. Some had even completed so earlier than he began his presidential bid. They might rattle off his battles towards Disney; Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s former prime infectious illness professional who was the face of the federal government’s Covid-19 response; and left-leaning academia. They admired his navy expertise. They preferred his spouse, Casey DeSantis.

Michael Durham, 47, a service supervisor, and his spouse, Jenny, 45, cited Mr. DeSantis’s dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic, his hard-line stance on immigration and his guarantees for “instructional freedom for fogeys” as causes for his or her assist.

“I used to be personally hoping that he would run, simply seeing what he had completed in Florida,” mentioned Ms. Durham, a nurse.

Attendees at Ms. Haley’s occasions undoubtedly are typically extra various: independents, Republicans and Democrats, a lot of whom are undecided and wanting to have their questions answered.

JAZMINE So many surrogates! Ms. DeSantis warmed up the gang, speaking up her husband and incomes laughs when she mentioned she didn’t thoughts his critics calling her “the Walmart Melania,” a reference to Melania Trump.

“OK, she’s attractive,” she mentioned. “And sure, I present up at Walmart due to Joe Biden and his financial insurance policies. All the pieces is pricey.”

High endorsers, together with Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa; Bob Vander Plaats, an influential chief of the state’s Christian proper; and Consultant Chip Roy of Texas, had been available to extol Mr. DeSantis’s conservative credentials and paint a dark image of the USA with out Mr. DeSantis on the helm.

At Haley occasions, surrogates are typically volunteers or state lawmakers who speak up her skill to construct consensus and join with folks.

NICHOLAS Haley had no surrogates to reinforce her message on Saturday, maybe reflecting her skinny community of Iowa endorsers. Possibly her sweater was doing the work of introducing her. It bore the textual content: “She who dares wins.”

NICHOLAS Ms. Haley’s stump speech was the place the distinction between the 2 jumped out at me most. She made her factors shortly, immediately and infrequently personally. She didn’t use acronyms or delve very deeply into coverage or her report. She talked brazenly about her household, together with the issue that her husband, Michael, skilled after getting back from Afghanistan.

“When he obtained residence, life obtained laborious,” she mentioned. “He couldn’t hear loud noises. He couldn’t be in crowds.” I nearly by no means hear Mr. DeSantis, a Navy lawyer who deployed to Iraq, say a lot about his navy service.

Whereas Jazmine tells me that Ms. Haley’s stump speech is nearly word-for-word equivalent at every cease, it didn’t sound memorized or overly rehearsed. The entire expertise appeared to make for a lot simpler listening than your typical DeSantis speech.

JAZMINE There was undoubtedly a extra abrasive tone to Mr. DeSantis’s stump. He bellowed into the mic, largely standing in a single spot, whereas Ms. Haley tends to tempo forwards and backwards throughout the middle of the room.

At instances, he obtained so granular on the problems that it was tough to observe him. He ticked off his battles with Disney, China, Dr. Fauci and “D.E.I.” (variety, fairness and inclusion initiatives), and delivered long-winded broadsides towards leftist ideology and massive companies.

“We’re going to take all of the social stuff, all of the politics, all of the woke,” he mentioned. “We’re going to tear it out. We’re going to throw it within the trash can.”

NICHOLAS Mr. Trump was nearly fully absent from Ms. Haley’s brief, polished speech, aside from her normal dismissal, “Chaos follows him.” Voters didn’t appear to require extra. One lady within the crowd repeated that line again to me once I requested her what she preferred about Ms. Haley.

Mr. DeSantis takes pictures at Ms. Haley on a regular basis, and his insults have been rising increasingly reducing. However Ms. Haley barely mentioned a phrase about him in Cedar Falls, solely critiquing his electability: “Ron doesn’t beat Biden,” she mentioned.

JAZMINE: Mr. DeSantis got here out swinging at each Mr. Trump and Ms. Haley proper on the prime of his speech, delivering what — as Nick has reported — has change into one thing of a marketing campaign slogan: “Donald Trump is operating to pursue his points. Nikki Haley’s operating for the donors’ points. I’m operating to your points.”

Not like Ms. Haley, who tends to attend till the tip to ship her sharpest blows, Mr. DeSantis laces his remarks with digs at her and Mr. Trump all through. At one level he sought to painting her as an institution determine too liberal for Iowa Republicans: “I had the controversy the opposite night time on CNN with Hillary,” he mentioned, faking a slip. “I imply Nikki.”

JAZMINE Mr. DeSantis took questions from reporters! And from voters, too. Ms. Haley normally takes questions from voters and stays lengthy after her occasions shaking arms and taking pictures with supporters. However she largely ignores the cadre of journalists trailing her from place to put.

Voters at Mr. DeSantis’s occasion pressed him on, amongst different points, his plans to overtake businesses, shield household farms from international pursuits and help folks affected by vaccine mandates. On practically each response, Mr. DeSantis returned to the battles he had waged, or deliberate to, towards his ideological opponents. He additionally delved with esoteric element into conservationist efforts and well being care coverage in Florida.

NICHOLAS Wait, it’s over? Isn’t she going to take questions from voters? Nope, she’s actually completed.

This was the most important shock of all to me. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are recognized to pepper presidential hopefuls with questions each time they’re given the possibility. However Ms. Haley has generally struggled in these conditions, most notably when a voter requested her to debate the causes of the Civil Battle and he or she didn’t point out slavery.

For a campaign-trail reporter, these Q. and A. periods are the place you actually see who the candidates are, how they suppose on their ft and whether or not they can join with voters.

I requested the Haley workforce, Would she reply questions from the reporters available? (In journalism jargon, that’s a “gaggle.”) The reply was no. Ms. Haley did area a number of questions from a tv reporter, nevertheless. And he or she took loads of pictures with voters and their youngsters, chatting comfortably. When it was a 7-year-old lady’s flip, Ms. Haley leaned down and whispered into her ear, “Bear in mind: You’re nice.”

I can’t recall too many interactions like that involving Mr. DeSantis.