At a stop on his first trip to New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke of his efforts to provide tax relief for Florida families. He mentioned the underfunding of diversity programs at public universities. He mentioned his fight with Disney.
But what he didn’t mention was the six-week abortion ban he signed in Florida this year.
The ban, which DeSantis chose to highlight in speeches to audiences in socially conservative Iowa this week, is a potential lightning rod for voters in more moderate New Hampshire.
A New Hampshire Republican, Bob Kroepel, reached out to 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 some degree?” Kroepel, who lost the New Hampshire Republican gubernatorial primary in 1998 and 2002, asked amid the uproar of the crowd and loudspeakers blaring country music.
Mr. DeSantis sidestepped the thrust of the question, instead speaking about his efforts to help parents after they have children, including through health coverage and universal school choice.
“So my wife has a parenting initiative,” he replied. “We’ve also done a lot of things to help new mothers, like we now have a year of postpartum health coverage for poor mothers. Obviously, we have the educational option and a lot of things we’ve done.”
“So we have an absolute responsibility to help mothers, that’s for sure, 100 percent,” Mr. DeSantis said before moving on to the next voter.
Abortion is likely to be one of the most difficult 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 don’t know they are pregnant, and DeSantis has at times avoided talking about abortion even in front of friendly audiences. So far, she has dodged questions about a federal ban on abortion, suggesting the matter should largely be left to the states.
“I think at the end of the day, fighting for life and protecting it is really a bottom-up movement,” he said in an interview with Fox News last week. “I think we have been able to have great successes locally.”
His main rival, former President Donald J. Trump, has also not pledged to support a federal ban on abortion. DeSantis has used abortion to criticize Trump, after the former president suggested the Florida 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 House Majority Leader who endorsed DeSantis, said in an interview that he expected the governor to state at some point during the campaign that he would not try to “make Florida’s abortion policy work.” spread throughout the country.”
A six-week national abortion ban “would go down like a lead balloon” among New Hampshire voters, Osborne said after DeSantis’ event in Rochester.
“People don’t want it,” he added. If Mr. DeSantis were to propose such a ban, he said: “I think you would see a lot of people jump ship. I would lose a lot of faith in him.”
Mr. Osborne said he agreed with the governor’s strategy of not taking a stronger stance on abortion.
“I think abortion is one of those issues that you shouldn’t talk about in a presidential campaign,” he said.
While Mr. DeSantis’s campaign speech generally varies little from point to point, he seems to be gauging his message on abortion. In Iowa on Wednesday, he spoke about Florida’s six-week ban, known as the Heartbeat Protection Act, during a lengthy recount of his record as governor. “We’ve signed the heartbeat bill into law,” he told a crowd in Cedar Rapids before being drowned out by cheers and applause.
But he made no mention of the bill at several stops in New Hampshire on Thursday.
Even New Hampshire voters who said they supported a six-week ban said they understood why DeSantis was unlikely to speak much on the issue.
“I mean, oh my gosh, there’s so much backtracking, right?” said Jennifer Hilton, 56, an independent who is open to supporting Mr. DeSantis and heard him speak in Rochester. “And it’s so out of context, and it’s such an emotional subject, that people can’t hear you.”
Sue Collins, an attendee at a DeSantis event in Salem, NH, said: “I’ll be honest, I’m not a strict pro-life person, but I wasn’t happy to see the six-week ban.” She added: “I wish he wasn’t so strict, but that wouldn’t stop me from voting for him.”
Kroepel, the Republican who reached out to DeSantis, said that “in general,” he was not satisfied with the way the governor had responded to 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.”
ann klein contributed reporting from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Amanda Pirani from Salem, NH