Florida Governor Ron DeSantis intensified his criticism of Republican rival Donald Trump yesterday as he began his first campaign swing as a presidential candidate in Iowa.

DeSantis avoided mentioning the former president during his speech at a night rally, but he was more outspoken afterward when talking to the media.

DeSantis slammed Trump on issues such as immigration, Covid policy and federal spending, implying that he had abandoned conservative principles as president.

“He’s unfortunately chosen to move left on some of these issues,” DeSantis said.

Trump, the leader in the Republican race, recently attacked DeSantis’ handling of the Covid pandemic, when DeSantis defied federal mask and vaccine mandates.

DeSantis dismissed Trump’s criticisms as “out of touch with reality” and argued Republicans would back him.

“I think he’s doing it in a way that the voters are going to side with me,” DeSantis said.

“Hell,” he added, “his whole family moved to Florida under my governorship.”

Trump has been a Florida resident since leaving office and several of his children live in the state.

Trump has repeatedly mocked DeSantis’ record and has claimed that he has the best chance of defeating President Joe Biden in next year’s election.

“Ron DeSantis is not a serious person who can take on Joe Biden and bring about the Great American Comeback,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in response to DeSantis’ remarks.

DeSantis’ comments came after his first live event of his newly-launched campaign.

He told a crowd packed inside a church in western Des Moines that the nation was “going in the wrong direction.”

“We can see it,” DeSantis said, “and we can feel it.”

DeSantis, who launched his campaign in a glitch-plagued virtual forum on Twitter last week, has now turned to traditional politicking, starting with two days in Iowa and then on to New Hampshire and South Carolina on a tour that will be closely watched to see if the reserved, policy-oriented governor can show interpersonal skills that some critics have said he lacks.

Trump will be right behind him. He will hold events in Iowa the day DeSantis stumps in New Hampshire, a sign the battle for the nomination is about to enter a more intense phase.

Iowa is a key state for DeSantis. The Iowa caucuses next February will be the first nominating contest in the nation, and the state’s large white, evangelical Christian population has sometimes been at odds with Trump.

Trump lost the caucuses in 2016 to US Senator Ted Cruz, who was able to attract much of the Christian vote. It was no surprise, then, that DeSantis held his initial Iowa event in the auditorium of an evangelical church.

DeSantis told reporters he expected to win a large share of the evangelical vote.

“I have a record of standing for what is right, and I’m willing to take arrows for that,” he said.

DeSantis was introduced by Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, and was joined by his wife, Casey DeSantis.

“I have a hunch they’re going to be here a lot,” Reynolds said.

DeSantis will hold four campaign events across the state on Wednesday as he looks to introduce himself to Iowa voters who are notorious for wanting to see candidates close-up before they attend the caucuses for picking party nominees.

Todd Jacklin of Johnston, Iowa, 62, was volunteering for the event, but that did not mean he was sold on DeSantis. He was there to listen, he said.

“I’m going to keep things open until next February,” he said.

The budding DeSantis campaign has been supported by a well-funded Super PAC, Never Back Down, which has taken on many of the day-to-day responsibilities of a presidential effort. At the Tuesday rally, workers for the group were asking attendees to support DeSantis in next year’s caucuses.

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