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In Iowa, voters are already sizing up the 2024 GOP presidential field

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In the coming months, Tim Scott, as well as other Republican presidential candidates, are likely to be seen in Iowa. That's because the state kicks off the GOP presidential primary race with its first-in-the-nation caucuses in early 2024. Bob Vander Plaats is president and CEO of The Family Leader, an Iowa-based Christian activist group that's influential in Republican politics there. In a conversation with our co-host A Martínez, Vander Plaats said the state is not a lock for any Republican right now, but that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has had a good start in Iowa.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: His record in Florida plays exceptionally well in Iowa. Obviously, Floridians rewarded him with a landslide victory in the Sunshine State, much like in Iowa, where Governor Reynolds was well received. Both of them kept the schools open during COVID. Both of them have implemented school choice in their state. And both of them have taken on the woke agenda, basically. I think the more he makes a tie to Governor Reynolds in the state of Iowa, the better it will be for him.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: When it comes to abortion rights, how do you think the candidates are appealing to voters so far?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I think what it is on the abortion issue is that every candidate needs to deliver their message with clarity, not with nuance and confusion. So, for example, President Trump's answer at the CNN town hall with Kaitlan Collins about we're ready to make a deal that'll be great for everybody. That's not saying anything. That's very nuanced. It's very confusing. And I don't think it's going to win a whole lot of votes either way, but to offer it with clarity and that a candidate would be a champion for a culture of life for Governor DeSantis and again, Governor Reynolds, who both signed heartbeat bill legislation - and I think it's all in how they communicate it. But I think they need to be clear on it.

MARTÍNEZ: But for, say, any Republican candidate, Bob, that wants to try and ding Donald Trump, can't he always fall back to saying, hey, if it wasn't for me, the Supreme Court wouldn't be the way it is and Roe v. Wade would still be the law of the land?

VANDER PLAATS: (Laughter) Well, he definitely can say that. And he is saying that. That's a very good thing. But then it is, how do you follow it up? To say that the heartbeat bill is too harsh, to throw the pro-life community under the bus after the 2022 midterm elections because they're the ones to blame because of the abortion issue, that's not going to work.

MARTÍNEZ: What other areas do you think Donald Trump could be vulnerable on?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, I think that his biggest issue, in addition to the sanctity of human life, is his focus on the past, his grievance on the past. He lost the 2020 election, and then many of his candidates got beat in the 2022 midterms. That's got a lot of people thinking, is he the right one to be our standard bearer moving forward?

MARTÍNEZ: Bob, is it fair to say that you're looking for anyone else to support other than Donald Trump?

VANDER PLAATS: Well, there's no doubt. I've been very clear. I've been very open that I consider myself a friend to Donald Trump. But I really believe that for us to win in 2024, we need to have someone who can cast a compelling vision for the future of this country, that can unite America again versus divide America. Now, the former president can make his case that he's still that guy. But I think if he gets beat in Iowa, I think it's game on to the nomination. I think if he wins Iowa and wins Iowa by a big margin, he's your nominee.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader.

Bob, thank you very much.

VANDER PLAATS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.