DeSantis faces a rocky road in New Hampshire next week, analysts say

Even after holding off Nikki Haley for second place in the Iowa Republican caucuses Monday night, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ chances to gain ground on Donald Trump in New Hampshire next week aren’t good, political analysts say.

“He’s doing really poorly in the New Hampshire polls,” said Dave Peterson, a political scientist at Iowa State University. “He’s not doing much better in the other [state] polls. And I just don’t know what would shift things in his direction.”

So instead, the Florida governor flew directly to South Carolina, which holds its primary on Feb. 24, to attack former governor Haley on her home turf. He was due in New Hampshire for a town hall late Tuesday on CNN.

“Haley, she was governor here for six years,” DeSantis said at a campaign stop in Greenville, S.C., according to CBS News. “Can you name major achievements under her tenure?”

DeSantis lost to Trump in Iowa by nearly 30 percentage points and topped Haley by just 2.1 points. The second-place showing prompted the governor to proclaim his “ticket punched” out of the state. 

But DeSantis trails Haley by large margins in most recent polls in New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Jan. 23.

A CNN/University of New Hampshire survey last week showed Haley at 32% to Trump’s 39%. DeSantis was in fifth place at 5%, behind former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, both of whom have dropped out of the race.

Another poll released Tuesday from the New Hampshire-based American Research Group had Trump and Haley tied at 40% in the state, with DeSantis languishing at 4%.

Haley declared the Republican primary “a two-person race” in Iowa on Monday night, despite dropping to No. 3 in the results.

Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, said the DeSantis campaign has not made his state a priority.

“Clearly, he’s been focused solely on Iowa,” Scala said. “And when you turn on the television news here in New Hampshire, you see lots of Haley ads, Trump ads … but DeSantis is nowhere to be seen. And as a result, his support here has only dwindled.”

Trump wins big, DeSantis finishes a distant second in Iowa caucuses

His totals in Iowa helped dispel talk that he might drop out of the race this week if he came in a disappointing third. It could also help him somewhat heading into New Hampshire, Scala said.

“Perhaps he takes some of those quote, unquote, soft Trump voters,” Scala said. “Maybe he picks up some [Vivek] Ramaswamy voters. He might kind of nibble around the edges of Trump’s support and give those soft Trump voters a reason to believe [in him].”

Any Iowa boost, Scala added, could also be short-lived as DeSantis’ brand of culture wars doesn’t play well in his state, Scala said.

“New Hampshire Republicans tend to be looking for different things than Iowa Republicans, and in particular, New Hampshire Republicans don’t tend to like social conservatives, religious conservatives, culture warriors,” Scala said. “So the Iowa bounce doesn’t usually play out very well in New Hampshire.”

In Iowa on Monday night, Trump gave faint praise to his two main opponents after finishing with 51% of the vote, surpassing his goal of 50%.

“I want to congratulate Ron and Nikki for having a good time together,” Trump said. “We’re all having a good time together. And I think they both actually did very well. I really do.”

Scala said he believes DeSantis’ days as a presidential candidate are numbered.

“The campaign death watch” has started to tick, the New Hampshire professor said. “Whatever he would do here won’t stop that clock from ticking.”