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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

DeSantis' State of the State might be as much for Iowa voters as it is for Floridians

DeSantis speaks into a microphone
Charlie Neibergall
/
AP
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, in Waukee, Iowa.

Tuesday's address to begin the Florida legislative session comes a week before the Iowa caucus as he continues his campaign for president.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' State of the State address on Tuesday is supposed to be about Florida's future. Iowa, though, is more likely at the front of his mind.

The speech kicking off Florida's annual legislative session comes exactly a week before Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, and DeSantis has been spending much more time in the Hawkeye State than the Sunshine State in recent weeks.

So it won't be a surprise if his sixth State of the State is as much a message to Iowa voters as it is a forecast of his continued vision for Florida.

“He will definitely say the state of the state is strong. He has to at least check that box, but I suspect he’s going to use his State of the State address as his last-ditch effort to pitch to national donors and to voters in Iowa,” House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell said. “He’d rather be on the ground in Iowa than he would be in Florida.”

It was hardly a secret DeSantis was planning a presidential run when he made last year's address, and it was clear his message was for the rest of the country, touting his conservative achievements and laying the groundwork to run on what he calls the “Florida blueprint.”

But whether it's the blueprint, his difficulty connecting with voters or simply former President Donald Trump's unshakable base, DeSantis' support in Iowa has dropped by nearly half since he announced his candidacy last year.

Unlike past years, when DeSantis would spend months forecasting his priorities ahead of the session, this year he has largely been silent as he woos Iowa and New Hampshire voters. Many of his staff who helped him prepare for the 2023 State of the State address are now in Iowa.

“A lot of his team is now on the campaign trail, so you’re managing with a skeleton crew,” former Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said. “He’s not going to want a huge amount of fights here to distract from the national picture. Nothing I’ve seen coming out of the Legislature is earth shattering or groundbreaking this year.”

Although DeSantis will head straight back to Iowa after the session opens, he will still have a powerful grip on lawmakers. DeSantis has a reputation for the vengeful use of his budget line-item veto power and the Republican-dominated Legislature has shown a willingness to do what he wants.

“The governor has these people pretty much trained,” Brandes said. “Many of these House and Senate members are calling the governor’s office preclearing their legislation at a volume that historically you have not seen, at least in the Senate."

DeSantis' speech will be delivered in the state House chambers after lawmakers hold ceremonies opening the session. It likely will highlight his success over the last few years and remind conservatives of his efforts to restrict abortion, ban instruction on LGBTQ+ topics in schools, keep immigrants living in the country illegally out of Florida, expand gun rights and push back against federal government advice on COVID-19 restrictions and treatments.