SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ron DeSantis is taking his presidential campaign to Utah on Friday, prioritizing a state where rival Donald Trump has struggled in the past and that could be a beacon of strength for the Florida governor’s stalled bid.
DeSantis is set to appear at the state Capitol with about a dozen supportive state lawmakers, meet with Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, and attend a fundraiser.
His trip out West comes as he has been working to reset a campaign confronting financial pressures and a static position in the field trailing Trump. The former president has remained a front-runner despite his mounting legal problems, including an expected indictment in a Justice Department investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
“The more people see Governor DeSantis and hear his forward-thinking plan for our nation’s comeback, the more inspired they become to vote for him for president,” campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo said in a statement.
For DeSantis, the ability to show strength against Trump in a heavily Republican state like Utah could buoy his effort. In a place where the conservative and religious culture has at times given Trump a chilly reception, there are signs there’s an opening for the Florida governor.
Among those set to appear with him on Friday is state Senate President Stuart Adams, who was one of the few Republicans to endorse Trump early in 2016 but who is now backing DeSantis.
“They’re both great candidates. But I believe Gov. DeSantis deserves a shot. I wouldn’t say anything bad about President Trump,” Adams said in an interview this week.
Trump’s history and style have long been jarring to Utah’s dominant religious culture.
More than half the state’s residents belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the faith’s emphasis on decorum pervades its politics. Trump, a former reality television star known for his brazen personality and insulting comments about women and people of color, finished third in the state’s 2016 Republican presidential caucuses, behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Utah was also home to the resistance campaign of Evan McMullin, an anti-Trump former Republican who launched a long-shot independent bid for president in 2016.
Nevertheless, Trump won the state in both the 2016 and 2020 general elections.
Utah politicians have historically boasted of their penchant for striking compromises on polarizing issues ranging from immigration to discrimination against LGBTQ residents. But the Legislature, with its Republican supermajority, has lurched rightward in recent years, in line with many red states.
It has passed laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender kids and directing school boards to convene “sensitive materials” committees to weigh whether to remove certain books from school libraries – issues that have become a key feature of DeSantis’ campaign message.
Adams, who said he was impressed with the way DeSantis steered his state during the pandemic, believes it will be a very close race between Trump and DeSantis in Utah.
“I believe as people get to know Gov. DeSantis, he’d have great support in Utah,” he said. “Utah has great family values. Gov. DeSantis has great family values.”
Asked if he thought Trump did not have great family values, Adams said, “No, I think he has a great family.” He went on and said, “I think he loves his family.”
Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler, who helped put together Friday’s event with DeSantis, said he didn’t think the former president would win the state’s GOP primary.