MANCHESTER, NH—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had New Hampshire Republicans buzzing ahead of his Granite State debut Friday night, except for one thing.
Several attendees told The Daily Beast they worry that DeSantis signing a six-week abortion ban this week could blow the air out of his campaign before it even starts.
Others said they hoped to get some facetime with the governor—with tickets running from $150 per person in the main hall to $600 for the VIP room—but weren’t overly optimistic. For New Hampshire GOP bigwigs dressed for a combination of prom and the opening of a new luxury car dealership, DeSantis’ reputation preceded him and left them slightly skeptical. (The governor made sure to work the room for at least 45 minutes at the event, personally greeting those in attendance).
“It’s certainly the hottest ticket on the trail,” said Chuck McGee, a Concord Republican and the former executive director of the New Hampshire GOP.
“We wanna actually find out that he’s gonna get in the race and if he’s gonna be our Trump with a better disposition,” added his wife, Carrie McGee, as they headed toward the ballroom at the Double Tree by Hilton in downtown Manchester.
But they had some hesitations.
“I think a six-week ban would be a hard sell here in New Hampshire,” said Mr. McGee, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge in 2004 stemming from the 2002 New Hampshire Senate election phone jamming scandal.
Mrs. McGee credited DeSantis for standing by his position and getting the bill passed in Florida.
“Can’t run away from what’s right,” she said.
Rick Devoid, a Granite State Republican from Boscawen, said a six-week ban would “be pushing it” among the New Hampshire primary electorate, which unlike most states, also includes independents.
The Daily Beast was prohibited from covering DeSantis’ remarks from inside the hall, after the executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, Elliot Gault, revoked this reporter’s press credentials. On Thursday, Gault said The Daily Beast was approved to cover the event.
But on Friday, just a few hours after the latest Trump attack ad describing the governor as “Pudding Fingers”—referring to an anecdote first reported by The Daily Beast when DeSantis shoveled pudding into his mouth with three fingers—Gault said The Daily Beast would no longer be credentialed for the event.
As first reported by The Daily Beast, metal detectors were present at the event, a rarity in New Hampshire Republican politics. Colorado Security, a vendor frequently seen at Trump rallies, was also on hand for the fundraiser.
Ahead of the most hotly anticipated New Hampshire debut for Granite State Republicans, there was still plenty of hype in the air for DeSantis.
“I’m hoping he says he’s running for president, but that probably won’t happen,” joked Brad Chandler, a Manchester Republican.
The speech had an early hiccup when a pair of women rushed the stage chanting “Jews against DeSantis.”
Two attendees witnessed the women standing next to their table “for about 45 to 60 seconds unnoticed” before they burst onto the stage. Another New Hampshire Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid any professional retribution, described the incident as a “huge security failure.”
DeSantis brushed off the kerfuffle as the protesters were dragged off stage.
“Gotta have a little spice in the speech, right?” the governor quipped to a round of applause.
DeSantis did not mention abortion or Trump by name in the speech, according to Reuters.
For those most excited about a potential DeSantis run, it was starting to feel a bit like Camelot back at the Double Tree bar.
Chandler and a group of attendees at the bar said they thought DeSantis could bring a JFK-type image to the national stage and help Republicans win over moderates and independents.
Carrie McGee, on the other hand, said the JFK comparison wouldn’t exactly be a fit for the modern day GOP.
“I don’t know that JFK is all that memory makes him out to be,” she quipped.
There were, of course, stalwarts of the New Hampshire primary who understood the traditional Granite State assignment.
“I’m not voting for anybody yet, I’m just keeping an eye out,” state Sen. Ruth Ward, a Republican from Stoddard whose Swedish family fled from China after the Communist Revolution, told The Daily Beast.
Yet for others, the main attraction of the night was a different DeSantis.
“I’d love to see Casey,” Erika Salinas, a Florida native coming to the event from Maine, told The Daily Beast. “She’s just such an iconic American woman.”