The Florida governor Ron DeSantis fell to fifth in a new New Hampshire poll, trailing not just Donald Trump, the runaway leader for the Republican presidential nomination, but Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie.
The poll, from CNN and the University of New Hampshire (UNH), was just the latest worrying sign for DeSantis, whose hard-right campaign has struggled ever since a glitch-filled launch with Elon Musk on his social media platform in May.
The former president faces 91 criminal charges, for election subversion, retention of classified information and hush-money payments, and civil threats including a defamation case in which he was adjudicated a rapist.
He denies wrongdoing and claims political persecution. His popularity with Republicans has barely been dented. Though at 39% his support in the New Hampshire poll was lower than in national and other key state surveys, he still enjoyed a commanding lead.
Describing “a close contest for second”, CNN put the biotech entrepreneur Ramaswamy at 13%, the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador Nikki Haley at 12% and Christie, a former New Jersey governor running explicitly against Trump – and focusing on New Hampshire – at 11%.
DeSantis was next with 10%, a 13-point drop since the last such poll in July.
The Florida governor has run a relentlessly hard-right campaign, seeking to outflank even Trump, by any measure an extremist.
“DeSantis’s decline comes largely among moderates,” CNN said, detailing a 20-point drop in such support, “while Haley has gained ground with that group. Ramaswamy’s standing has grown among younger voters and registered Republicans. And Christie’s gains are centered among independents and Democrats who say they will participate in the GOP primary.”
Ramaswamy and Haley were widely held to have shown well in the first debate, in Wisconsin last month. The second is in California next week. Trump is again set to skip the contest.
Outside the top five in the CNN-UNH poll, the South Carolina senator Tim Scott attracted 6% support and Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor and vice-president to Trump, scored 2%. No other candidate passed 1%.
New Hampshire will be the second state to vote. It has been widely reported that Trump is gearing up to attack DeSantis in the first, Iowa, where DeSantis has targeted evangelical voters.
According to the author Michael Wolff, Rupert Murdoch, the Fox News owner, originally believed Trump would lose to DeSantis in Iowa because “it was going to come out about the abortions Trump had paid for”. Iowa polling, however, returns consistent Trump leads.
Speaking to the New York Times, David Polyansky, DeSantis’s deputy campaign manager, said: “Winning an Iowa caucus is very difficult. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline. It takes an incredible amount of hard work and organisation, traditionally. So much so that even in his heyday, Donald Trump couldn’t win it in 2016.”
The Texas senator Ted Cruz won Iowa then. But Trump won the nomination – and the White House.
On Wednesday, at an oil rig in Texas, DeSantis introduced his energy policy, attracting headlines by saying opponents were stoking “fear” about the climate crisis.
A spokesperson, meanwhile, was forced to deny Wolff’s report that DeSantis may have kicked Tucker Carlson’s dog.
“The totality of that story is absurd and false,” Andrew Romeo told the Daily Beast, of the report involving the former Fox News host. “Some will say or write anything to attack Ron DeSantis because they know he presents a threat to their worldview.”