DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — In his first trip to Iowa this year, Ron DeSantis did not take any questions from voters. He largely ignored the local press. He avoided the diners, pizza parlors and ice cream shops that have helped presidential contenders in the leadoff voting state showcase their personal appeal and charisma for decades.
For DeSantis, a leading Republican presidential prospect, it was simply business as usual.
The hard-charging Florida governor has emerged as a potent force in national politics while eschewing the personal connections, intimate moments and unscripted questions that have long fueled successful White House bids in the states that sit atop the presidential primary calendar. And as DeSantis begins to introduce himself to primary voters in the weeks leading up to his expected announcement, he is showing little interest in changing his ways.
Allies insist he doesn't need to adjust anything, pointing to his dominant 19-point reelection victory last fall. But already, his Republican rivals — led by former President Donald Trump — are working to highlight the governor's go-it-alone approach and impersonal style by leaning into their own personal interactions on the campaign trail.
The risks for DeSantis are becoming increasingly obvious in smaller rural states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which will host three of the first four presidential primary contests in 2024.
“No one’s gotten to know him the way they need to get to know him. I don’t know if they ever will,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, himself a potential candidate, said of DeSantis during a recent interview. "Do you think Ron DeSantis has ever sat down for a cup of coffee with a reporter? No. It’s like physically not in him. He can’t do it. He doesn’t have that social connection with folks.”
Perhaps no one is paying closer attention than Trump, who views DeSantis as his only real rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
While DeSantis has taken a cloistered approach, Trump has been maximizing his interactions with voters and the press as he begins to visit early voting states — an effort that aides say is part of a larger push to contrast Trump's strengths with DeSantis' perceived weaknesses.
During his first real day of campaigning in late January, Trump stopped by a beloved fried chicken and burger joint in West Columbia, South Carolina. He posed for photos with patrons and ordered a chocolate-dipped ice cream.
One of the workers behind the counter offered Trump an impromptu prayer, and the moment went viral. After seeing the extraordinary response, the campaign leaned in.
It quickly planned a visit to East Palestine, Ohio, to meet with residents and local officials affected by a toxic train derailment. Before leaving, Trump stopped at a local McDonald’s, where he signed autographs, passed out red “Make America Great Again” caps and ordered food for his staff and first responders.
“I know this menu better than you do,” he told the smiling cashier.
In Iowa on Monday, Trump directed his motorcade to make a quick stop at the Machine Shed Restaurant, a longtime fixture in the eastern city of Davenport.
“So, how’s the food here?” he boomed as he strolled in, shocking patrons and leaving the staff giggling in delight.
Trump shook hands, slapped backs and posed for pictures with anyone who wanted one.
While such scenes were hardly common during Trump's first two campaigns, the former president is taking a new approach as he wages his third presidential bid. The professional host and career glad-hander relishes personal interactions with supporters, and even longtime critics acknowledge his charisma in one-on-one interactions.
Such stops give voters “a way to see the president in a different light," said Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung.
“Usually they see him on camera or at a rally or in an interview. They don’t necessarily get to see him up close,” he said. "And this is one way to bridge that gap. And it’s also one way to make this campaign more distinct.”
Indeed, Trump's personal approach stands as a clear contrast to DeSantis, who is known for being much more guarded — especially when the media is present.
After two presidential campaigns and four years in the White House, Trump is extremely well practiced at taking tough questions from the national press. And his team has been working to make him more accessible to reporters.
He has been inviting small groups to travel aboard his campaign plane. During trips to South Carolina and Iowa, he took questions from local press.
Trump did the same with voters after delivering a long speech Monday in Iowa, answering several questions from a lucky few of the thousands who packed into a downtown Davenport theater. Aides noted that Trump's crowd eclipsed DeSantis', and Trump acknowledged, tongue in cheek, that it was “dangerous” to invite unscripted questions after a well-received speech.
He did it anyway for 20 minutes.
DeSantis’ allies strongly disagree with the growing perception that he is insulated and not sufficiently committed to building personal relationships with voters and stakeholders in key states.
They note that he is not a presidential candidate. Should he decide to enter the contest — which he is widely expected to do after his state legislature adjourns in May — he will likely adopt a campaign strategy similar to the one that took him to all of Florida’s 67 counties before his November reelection. Over that time, they point out, he regularly made unscripted appearances at restaurants, bars and high school sporting events.
When DeSantis met with New York City law enforcement officials last month, for example, he stopped by a Staten Island bagel shop.
One major difference between DeSantis and Trump is that Trump has welcomed press coverage of his unscripted moments.
While Trump often bashes the media at his raucous rallies, he is also an avid consumer of the news and craves the attention. DeSantis, by contrast, employs a consistent disdain for the mainstream press in public and in private.
It's much the same with fellow Republican governors and business leaders. DeSantis sees little need in developing relationships with Republican peers in other states, major corporations or the mainstream media — aside from a few allies in the conservative press.
The Florida governor's relationship with the media is strained to say the least.
He regularly schedules press conferences but often holds them outside major media markets with only a few hours' notice, making it virtually impossible for the journalists who best know him and his policies to get there in time to ask tough questions. Usually, he packs such events with supporters.
On Thursday, for example, he hosted a news conference at a restaurant an hour away from Tampa.
He got only a handful of questions, all of which appeared designed for him to highlight his own positions. One journalist asked him about the need for babies to get the “jab,” a derisive term conservatives use to describe the COVID-19 vaccine.
Scott Jennings, a Republican political analyst, said DeSantis' contempt for the media is central to the Florida governor’s brand. And his cautious approach could help project a more professional operation in contrast to Trump’s freewheeling style.
Still, Jennings said, DeSantis' approach is “inherently risky.”
“Nobody’s ever really done it before,” he said. “But my instinct is Republicans are going to love it.”
Hogan Gidley, a former Trump aide and veteran of presidential politics, said it’s critical for presidential candidates to hone their policies and performances with unscripted moments in key states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina before an official announcement.
“A large part of that includes making personal connections with activists, with grassroots leaders, with elected officials — all the ones who will be responsible for the blocking and tackling needed to win a primary in those states,” Gidley said. “Anyone who ignores that does so at their own political peril.”
___ Associated Press writer Anthony Izaguirre contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.
Preacher Roy Jernigan doesn’t need a bucket list — his life has already been a fountain flowing, deep and wide.
His life experiences have ranged from being an understudy for famous Ringling Circus clown Emmett Kelly, to an attaché to former N.C. Governor Luther B. Hodges and attending the inauguration of former President John F. Kennedy, to skydiving for his recent 98th birthday.
“I only stopped pastoring the first of December 2021,” he said. “Up until that time I had been pastoring but with my vision, I can see but I can’t focus.”
He and his late wife were also missionaries to North American Indians for 52 years. And while he may have stopped preaching in the traditional sense, he has not stopped sharing the Gospel.
“I still preach every Monday and every Thursday night on my ‘Preacher Roy Ministries’ Facebook page,” he said, something he intends to continue “as long as the Lord permits me to.’
He goes live Mondays at 7 p.m. and Thursday at 6:30 p.m., the latter subtitled “Handfuls of Purpose,” where he takes questions and responds to them. His pulpit is in the living room of his LaGrange home, where he has a podium draped with a blanket and the backdrop of an American flag.
“My studio. It sounds a little more sophisticated,” he said with a chuckle. Daughter, Linda Williams, who shares the home, helps type up his messages and films the broadcast.
Jernigan is more of a Bible teacher, he said.
“I’ve had tremendous success as a Bible teacher,” he explained. “I try to keep it factual and to the point. I don’t have any points to prove, understand. I just say, ‘Here’s what God says.’ Not what man or all the denominations say but here is what God says. And I think that is extremely important.”
Born in Selma on Jan. 24, 1925, he grew up on a little farm in Bailey. His father was a village blacksmith.
“The good Lord blessed me,” he said. “Any success I’ve had in my life, I give to three people — my mama, my daddy and a good wife. She instilled in me the desire to excel.”
Jernigan read a lot of library books as a child, and particularly fancied one of the circus.
“While I was in school, I wrote a letter to Ringling Brothers Circus requesting if I could get a job and I did — I made arrangements after school, in May 1941, I met the Ringling Brothers in Philadelphia,” he said. “The circus was going to be there five weeks. I met them there and stayed with them for the winter.”
He recalled John Ringling and Buddy North taking him under their wing. Jernigan became an understudy for popular clown Emmett Kelly.
“He was training me to be a clown and I liked that. I guess I was clownish anyhow,” he said with a laugh. “He was training me and we were sitting having breakfast in Stevens Restaurant in Sarasota, Florida, on Dec. 7, 1941. We had just finished making plans to go out on the road in March, the circus would be going to Madison Square Gardens for seven weeks, from there to Boston Gardens and from there back to Philadelphia.
“Plans had just been made for the road show to begin, when all of a sudden it said on the radio (that) Pearl Harbor was being bombed and ships in the harbor were burning.”
That upset the plans for John Ringling, Jernigan said. Arrangements were immediately made to transport everyone back to New York.
“Emmett was in charge of the clowns and because I was working with him, for him and he liked, he called me his son, they talked for a few minutes and John Ringling looked at me and said, ‘Roy, what are you gonna do?’ ” Jernigan said. “I told him I didn’t know — I’d probably be drafted.
“’Not if you stay with us you won’t. We’ll hide you.’ ”
Jernigan remained with them until the road crew left for New York. Then he boarded a train headed to North Carolina.
“When it reached Wilson, it stopped and I got off the train, walked away and never looked back,” Jernigan said.
He joined the Navy on Sept. 19, 1942 and later resigned his commission to enter the ministry Sept. 1, 1967. His military career included three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam — and being appointed attaché to Hodges, who had been appointed secretary of the interior.
“I was his escort to the JFK inauguration, throughout the ceremonies and incidentally (Hodges) told me on the morning of the inauguration, about 30 minutes before, I was at this time a chief petty officer,” Jernigan recalled. “He says, ‘Chief, I’m going to tell you something nobody else knows. You’re the only person, because you’re from N.C.,’ and so was (Hodges), just 30 minutes ago the authorities, the powers-that-be signed the papers that have given the state of North Carolina the USS North Carolina to be a memorial.
“That was the day of the inauguration and I was the first North Carolinian apart from him that knew that. I thought that was kind of unique, you know?”
Among his pastorates were Bible Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Middlesex, N.C. He also spent the bulk of his missionary work on Indian reservations and with Native Americans. And always, God has blessed him with good health.
“We traveled all over this country, dragging trailers up mountains, down mountains, reservations, Montana, you name it and God has taken care of us,” he said.
So when his granddaughter, April, enthused about having gone skydiving and encouraged him to go as well, he politely and diplomatically promised to think about it. She later asked again, and this time he decided to consider it.
“Listen, I did not like Charles DeGaulle, the French premier, but he made the statement one time that has remained with me and I still practice that,” Jernigan said. “He said, ‘I don’t do anything quickly. I think the situation over, I ponder the results and then I make up my mind and I live with the results whether right or wrong.
“So I started praying about that. And I said, ‘Lord, to me it doesn’t make any difference. It’s not a thrill, it’s a different experience. But if you can get the glory out of this, I want to do it.”
He felt a peace about it, even when someone later asked after he jumped, “Were you afraid?”
“I said, ‘No, what’s there to be afraid of?’ The ground’s right below you, it’s only 10,000 feet and you’re free falling for about 50, 53 seconds and you’re headed toward the ground pretty quickly,” he said. “When that parachute opens it’s really serene feeling, it really is. It’s quiet and everything.
“I flew off of carriers, off the USS Ranger back in 1943, on a torpedo bomber, that was more dangerous than this event was. Because when you’re loaded flying off the carrier, you never got airborne until you left the carrier. You went off and then you dropped down and you jumped ... So I was afraid of this.”
His daughter, Linda, followed suit, although she didn’t make up her mind to join until a few days before. Three generations, Jernigan, Williams and her daughter, April Lintner, took the proverbial flying leap.
Williams said she is glad she did it.
“It was really awesome. The worst part to me was coming out of the plane,” she said. “But once I got out, I like closed my eyes and said, ‘I’m not here, I’m in bed with (my dog), Heidi, I’m not jumping out of no plane.’ Then (the instructor) says, ‘OK, the parachute’s getting ready to open,’ and I thought, I am jumping out of a plane!”
“Hey, by the way,” her dad chimed in, “We’re going to do it again on my 100th birthday.”
Jernigan also has a son, Larry Jernigan, who lives in New Bern and works with Cotton Funeral Home.
So what else would Jernigan like to do in his time on this side of Heaven?
“There’s nothing left,” he said. “Really, I’ve climbed all the mountains, forded all the rivers, been up and down. My wife and I were coming down the mountain, I was pulling a 38-foot, fifth-wheel trailer with a one-ton Ford dually with a Caterpillar engine in it, halfway down the mountain (near Pittsburgh), I lost the truck brake.
“The only brake I had on the trailer coming down the mountain was two axles on the trailer — it had three axles — but the only way that I could get down the mountain with the brakes was the trailer brakes so I was able to downshift to first gear and with the trailer brakes, we made it down the mountain.”
In other words, there isn’t a whole lot of more excitement that could top that, he said.
Donna Phillips is focused on making the Wayne County Public Library a welcoming place that is reflective of the Wayne County community.
At some point during her lifetime, Phillips can remember when public libraries weren’t so welcoming to everyone, she said.
Phillips enjoys leading the local library system and being a part of the change that is happening within it, she said.
She views the library as offering people a connection to information that will help improve lives.
“We work really hard here to make sure every single community member sees themselves reflected in both our collections and in our programs and services,” Phillips said.
Her work at the library and in the community was recently recognized with a state award from the United Way of North Carolina. The library also received a state award.
Phillips received the Spirit of North Carolina United Way Community Ambassador award for her work in Wayne County. She is one of 74 people, organizations or businesses recognized for their efforts in exemplifying the spirit of their community with a Spirit of North Carolina award this year.
She received the award for being an outstanding volunteer, donor and advocate of United Way.
As a librarian by profession, she never imagined that she would find herself in an administrative, leadership role, she said.
Her path began in 1997 when she first started as a children’s librarian with the Wayne County Public Library.
“I’ve always been very passionate about children and interested in the way that they learn,” she said.
Her future shifted after she found herself discussing her career with Jane Rustin, a former library director, who Phillips said helped her understand that the best way to positively influence children was to move up in the ranks to work toward making sure there would be enough funding to support quality children services, she said.
“So when she said that to me, I was all in,” Phillips said.
Phillips was a children’s librarian from 1997 to 2004. In 2004, she became the assistant director of the library and remained in that role until she accepted the library director post in 2011.
As director, the biggest focus for Phillips is programming that builds global understanding that celebrates and helps people understand people from diverse backgrounds, she said.
A number of years ago, the library started a multicultural fair called Dias de los Ninos, Dias de los Libras, which translates to Day of the Child, Day of the Books, Phillips said.
Every year at the Maxwell Center, a different county is chosen for celebration and the children and their families come for storytellers, dancers, music, arts and other cultural activities for a hands-on learning experience, she said.
Also under her leadership, Phillips, as well as assistant director Maegen Wilson and other department heads, created a program called The Porch, which gives a nod back to a time when people sat on their porches in chairs, having conversations with their neighbors in a civil manner, she said.
“It just really broadens our understanding and makes us more tolerant of one another and a more caring community,” Phillips said.
Different topics are selected based on things happening in the news or in the community and people gather around, putting their chairs together in a circle and they talk things out, she said.
“Certainly, we’re not always going to agree with one another on every single thing because we’re individuals, we have our own ideas about things, but it really does help build understanding,” Phillips said.
The community conversations are managed by library department heads and facilitated by Melissa Harrell, a trained mental health clinician with the Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency, WAGES, she said.
Another way Phillips brings the community together is through The Bill Smith Community Garden, she said.
The garden is offered through a summer program for children who can they learn where food comes from and how to sustain themselves through fresh food, she said.
“We teach them everything from planting, nurturing the plants (and) harvesting the vegetables,” Phillips said.
The children take any extra vegetables they have and donate them to people in need at the library.
The community garden began in 2006 and is now its 17th season, supported through different civic organizations, including the Kiwanis Club of Goldsboro and the Goldsboro Rotary Club, which also helps maintain the plant beds in the garden, she said.
The idea for the community garden came from former children’s librarian, Shorlette Ammons, who now works for Farm Aid, she said.
Several organizations are involved with the project, including the Cherry Research Farm, some master gardeners with 4-H Youth Development, and Wayne County Cooperative Extension staff.
Phillips has also been involved in supporting the United Way of Wayne County.
“I love United Way and what it stands for, the mission of United Way, which is really just connecting people to resources to improve lives and strengthen our community,” Phillips said.
She said it is easy to give back to an organization that has a mission she believes in. She also said it is easy to give to an organization that has poured into her life. Phillips serves on the United Way of Wayne County board of directors.
The library also received the Spirit of North Carolina Leading through the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lens award for working to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion to the forefront.
Phillips said the award reflects the values of the library as well as its employees and the work they do.
“I’m incredibly proud of the team of employees I have here,” she said. “These are some of the most dedicated public services you will find. I ensure taxpayers that their money is wisely invested with these folks working here collectively to strengthen our community.”
The Wayne County Board of Commissioners held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for the construction of the 62,090-square-foot jail that will be added to the Carey Winders Detention Center by 2025.
Crews have already been onsite preparing the area for the jail addition that will include space for 220 beds within the facility along North William Street. The building will replace the seven-story downtown jail, on Chestnut Street, that was built in 1994.
Having the jail at one location will increase convenience for Wayne County law enforcement as well as the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, said Commissioner Barbara Aycock, Wayne County Board of Commissioners chairwoman.
“There has been a lot of hard work put into this,” Aycock said.
Aycock said the commissioners and county department staff worked together to figure out the best way to build the jail while also saving money,
“And as everyone knows, nothing is cheap when you build today,” Aycock said.
The jail is planned to be safe for inmates as well as employees, Aycock said.
“A county is as good as the service we provide and, hopefully, this will provide good service for our staff and the ones who are incarcerated,” Aycock said. “This facility will support our law enforcement, our courts and our county and keep our town safe.”
The move from the downtown jail to the new site will also increase security, she said.
“The current facility we have is outdated and it’s really not as safe as it needs to be,” Aycock said.
Once completed, the detention center addition will be a single-story building that will have modern technology and better surveillance capabilities.
“Technology has changed in what is required to house incarcerated individuals,” said Chip Crumpler, Wayne County manager.
Work on the North William Street project began March 7, said Brett Bond, T.A. Loving Co. health care project manager.
Crews have been preparing the site for construction and restricted access to the property.
The project is under a two-year contract and is expected to be complete March 2025, Bond said.
Wayne County Sheriff Larry Pierce said he has been looking forward to the project for some time.
The move to house inmates on North William Street has been years in the making, with the completion of the 38,500-square-foot Carey Winders Detention Center, which cost $10 million, in 2016 and the move of 70 inmates from the older downtown jail to the detention center in early 2017.
The detention center can house about 218 inmates, which will double when the addition is complete.
When the detention center was originally built in 2016, it was envisioned to be the first phase of a larger judicial center that includes the construction of a larger jail that will be connected to the building through a secure corridor.
The commissioners approved a $48.1 million jail construction contract with T.A. Loving Co. in February. In December, the commissioners approved a $67.17 million 20-year fixed loan with Truist Bank that includes a 3.68% interest rate.