Former President Donald J. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida will arrive at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday, a convergence of the two leading Republican presidential candidates that will highlight the busiest day of state politicking amid farm animals, corn dogs and oversize lemonades.
The fair is a throwback to an earlier era of politics more dominated by in-person interactions than cable news appearances, featuring a mix of speechifying and politicians flipping pork chops, and it is drawing most of the 2024 field.
Mr. Trump, who famously brought a helicopter to the fair in 2015 and gave children rides during his first primary campaign, is flying to Iowa for a single day of campaigning. In an effort to poke his leading rival, he is bringing along a host of prominent Florida Republicans who have endorsed him over Mr. DeSantis.
Mr. DeSantis, who replaced his campaign manager earlier in the week, is focused on turning around his political fortunes in Iowa. He has spent two full days campaigning in the state ahead of the fair and ticking off visits to more of Iowa’s 99 counties, all of which he has pledged to visit.
In fact, while recording a podcast in downtown Des Moines, Mr. DeSantis predicted on Thursday that he would complete that feat by October, a timeline that suggests a particularly aggressive next two months of events in the state.
On Friday, a number of lower-polling candidates fanned out across the fairgrounds, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Perry Johnson, Larry Elder and Mayor Francis X. Suarez of Miami, all seeking attention from potential Iowa caucusgoers.
“This is amazing — I feel like I’m at Disneyworld,” Mr. Suarez, who is likely to miss the first debate later this month, said in a chat with Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, who invited every candidate to a friendly Q. and A. session she is billing as “fair-side chats.”
Almost everyone accepted the invitation, with the notable exception of Mr. Trump. He has criticized Ms. Reynolds for her plans to stay neutral in the primary and tried to take credit for her election.
Mr. DeSantis has sought to take advantage of Mr. Trump’s comments about Ms. Reynolds, with his allies and advisers arguing that Mr. Trump has provided an opening by demeaning the popular Republican governor.
On Friday, Mr. DeSantis scored the formal endorsement of a prominent conservative radio host in the state, Steve Deace, who has been open about his hope that the party won’t nominate Mr. Trump again.
While Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump are not expected to cross paths on Saturday, it is not clear when they will next be in the same location. Mr. Trump has vacillated about attending the first debate of the primary — less than two weeks away — suggesting that he does not need to, given his polling lead. He has also said that he won’t sign the required loyalty pledge.
“You have to earn this nomination, and you have to show up,” Mr. DeSantis said on the “Ruthless” podcast on Thursday. “You have to debate. You’ve got to be willing to answer questions. You’ve got to be willing to defend your record, and you’ve got to articulate a vision for the future.”