ROCHESTER, N.H. — At a stop on his first trip to New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioned his efforts to provide tax relief for Florida families. He mentioned defunding diversity programs at public colleges. He mentioned his fight with The Walt Disney Co.
But what he did not mention was the six-week abortion ban he signed in Florida this year.
The ban — which DeSantis chose to highlight in his speeches to audiences in socially conservative Iowa this week — is a potential lightning rod for voters in more moderate New Hampshire.
One New Hampshire Republican, Bob Kroepel, approached DeSantis after his speech in Rochester as the governor signed baseballs and took selfies with the crowd.
“Would you support an abortion policy that would allow choice to a certain point?” Kroepel, who lost Republican primaries for governor in New Hampshire in 1998 and 2002, asked through the din of the crowd and speakers blaring country music.
DeSantis dodged the thrust of the question, talking instead about his efforts to help parents after they have children, including through health coverage and universal school choice.
“So my wife has a fatherhood initiative,” he replied. “We’ve also done a lot of stuff to help new mothers, like we now have a year of postpartum health coverage for poor mothers. Obviously, we have the educational choice and a bunch of stuff that we’ve done.”
“So we absolutely have a responsibility to help mothers, that’s without question, 100%,” DeSantis said before moving on to the next voter.
Abortion is likely to be one of the most complicated issues for DeSantis to discuss, especially if he wins the Republican nomination.
Moderates and independents tend to be less supportive of bans as early as six weeks, when many women do not know they are pregnant, and DeSantis has sometimes avoided talking about abortion even in front of friendly audiences. So far, he has skirted questions about a federal abortion ban, suggesting that the matter should be left largely to the states.
“I think at the end of the day, fighting for life and protecting life really is a bottom-up movement,” he said in a Fox News interview last week. “I think we’ve been able to have great successes at the local level.”
His main rival, former President Donald Trump, has also not committed to supporting a federal abortion ban. DeSantis has used abortion to criticize Trump, after the former president suggested that Florida’s ban was “too harsh.”
Republican leaders in New Hampshire say a six-week ban is too extreme for voters in their state, which has a 24-week limit.
Jason Osborne, the state’s House majority leader, who has endorsed DeSantis, said in an interview that he hoped the governor would state at some point in the campaign that he would not try “to make Florida’s abortion policy countrywide.”
A national six-week abortion ban “would go over like a lead balloon” with New Hampshire voters, Osborne said after DeSantis’ Rochester event.
“People don’t want it,” he added. If DeSantis were to propose such a ban, he said, “I think you’d see a lot of people jump ship. I would lose a lot of faith in him.”
Osborne said he agreed with the governor’s strategy of not taking a louder stance on abortion.
“I think abortion is one of those issues that should not be talked about in a presidential campaign,” he said.
While DeSantis’ stump speech typically varies little from stop to stop, he does appear to be calibrating his message on abortion. In Iowa on Wednesday, he talked about Florida’s six-week ban, known as the Heartbeat Protection Act, during a lengthy recounting of his record as governor. “We have enacted the heartbeat bill,” he told a crowd in Cedar Rapids before being drowned out by cheers and applause.
But he did not mention the bill at several stops in New Hampshire Thursday.
Even New Hampshire voters who said they support a six-week ban said they understood why DeSantis was unlikely to talk much about the issue.
“I mean, my gosh, there’s so much blowback, right?” said Jennifer Hilton, 56, an independent who is open to supporting DeSantis and heard him speak in Rochester. “And it’s so taken out of context, and such an emotional issue, that people can’t hear you.”
Sue Collins, an attendee at a DeSantis event in Salem, New Hampshire, said, “I’ll be honest, I’m not strict pro-life, but I was not happy to see the six-week ban.” She added, “I wish it wasn’t that strict, but it would not prevent me from voting for him.”
Kroepel, the Republican who approached DeSantis, said that “on balance,” he was not satisfied with how the governor had answered his question. Even so, he acknowledged the difficulties of the discussion.
“I understand how delicate this whole situation is,” Kroepel said. “So I give him credit for at least listening to me.”