The entire field of 2024 Republican candidates and likely contenders — minus the front-runner — descended on Iowa on Saturday for a fundraiser for veterans that featured a motorcycle ride and a barbecue as they associated with political plug-in voters in the first state of the GOP nomination Calendar.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, in a leather vest, rode a motorcycle as he and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the host of the annual “Roast and Ride” gathering, led hundreds of riders to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
The sale of goods is mainly carried out at fairs. Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, the wife of newly declared 2024 candidate Ron DeSantis, climbed into a tractor with two of their children after signing hats and posing for photos with voter.
Former President Donald Trump was absent from the event, which came two days after he held several campaign events in the state and participated in a Fox News town hall with Iowa voters. But all the other leading candidates — including DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson – makes public appeals for support.
As Trump and DeSantis escalated their ongoing feud, the Florida governor took some veiled shots at his rival on Saturday, arguing that “leadership is not about entertainment” or “building a brand ” and that the Republican Party must “reject the culture of the loser.”
DeSantis also doubled down on his battle with entertainment giant Disney, while acknowledging some Republican concerns about his targeting of a private business.
“We stand for the protection of our children. We will fight against anyone who seeks to rob them of their innocence, and on those principles, I will not compromise. Here I stand,” DeSantis said.
The presence of nearly all the 2024 GOP contenders at Ernst’s eighth annual Roast and Ride event is a demonstration of his influence within the party — both in Washington, where he is the fourth-highest-ranking senator in Republican, and in Iowa, where a strong performance in the caucuses is an important momentum-builder for presidential hopefuls.
Ernst said Saturday that he believes voters are focused on the future as they begin to gauge the party’s field of candidates.
“I know President Trump has a great base here. It’s strong, but at the same time, we don’t want to hear what happened before because we had two years of the Biden administration destroying our country,” the senator told CNN. “So they want to know what future decisions are going to turn our country around and who’s going to lead us.”
Ernst, who is unlikely to endorse a candidate in the race, stressed that he is not judging Trump for voters, but said voters are “hungry to hear about the future.”
Pence said Saturday that he would “announce in Iowa” on Wednesday, when he is expected to launch his presidential campaign. The former vice president was the only 2024 hopeful who participated in the motorcycle ride from the Big Barn Harley-Davidson dealership in Des Moines to the fairgrounds to start the gathering.
“I believe conservatives, men and women, you have a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape the leadership of this party in ways that will shape the country like never before,” Pence said.
Haley, who will participate in a CNN town hall in Iowa on Sunday, discussed the importance of state caucuses on the primary calendar.
“Don’t complain about what you get in a general if you don’t play in this caucus. Because it’s important,” he said. “I think we’ve done more than 25 events. I’ll keep going. No I will take a shortcut. I will not make a rally and leave you.”
Haley’s husband, Michael Haley, was at the Roast and Ride event ahead of his scheduled deployment to Africa in the coming weeks with the South Carolina Army National Guard.
Scott, who is one of the GOP’s better-funded hopefuls, is making the case for his candidacy.
“I scared the dickens out of the radical left and Joe Biden – the proof of my life destroyed their lies,” the lone Black Republican in the US Senate said.
The Roast and Ride event kicks off a summer of “cattle calls” — mass gatherings of Republicans in states that vote early in the primary calendar — where presidential candidates flock for the opportunity to impress activists and voters and build support for their campaigns.
Many of the same 2024 hopefuls were on hand for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s spring kickoff in April, but most have yet to officially launch their campaigns.
This story has been updated with additional information.