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Eyes on 2024: GOP hopefuls (except Trump) roast and ride in Iowa

The former president didn't attend the GOP cattle call, but his lack of presence still loomed large.

By and

Many GOP presidential hopefuls — except for former President Donald Trump — gathered in Iowa over the weekend for GOP Sen. Joni Ernst’s annual “Roast and Ride” fundraiser. 

NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard and Olympia Sonnier reported from the event that none of the GOP challengers mentioned the former president by name, instead making their own cases to voters. 

Asked about Trump’s absence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told NBC News, “I’m just happy to be here. I love the people here.” (Part of DeSantis’ pitch in Iowa involves reaching out to evangelical voters, a significant group of GOP primary voters in the state, per the Miami Herald.)

Former Vice President Mike Pence also attended the event, even though he is not officially in the race — yet. Pence teased his upcoming campaign announcement, telling NBC News that it’s “entirely possible” he’ll be back in the Hawkeye State. 

And while the GOP hopefuls did not mention Trump on stage in Iowa, some did criticize the former president’s decision to congratulate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for being elected to the World Health Organization’s executive board.  

“Kim Jong Un is a thug and a tyrant, and he has tested ballistic missiles against our allies,” former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told NBC News at the Iowa event. “He’s threatened us. There’s nothing to congratulate him about. I mean, he’s been terrible to his people. He’s been terrible to America, and we need to stop being nice to countries that hate America.”

DeSantis said he was “surprised” to see Trump congratulating the North Korean leader, and called Kim Jong Un “a murderous dictator.”

In other campaign news…

Biden’s challenges: President Joe Biden’s age continues to concern voters, and the New York Times has a deep dive into how his age is (and isn’t) affecting his job as president. Biden’s campaign is also ramping up, planning fundraisers for the end of this month ahead of the second quarter fundraising deadline, Politico reports. And the Associated Press unpacks how the Biden campaign is looking to win over Hispanic voters

DeSantis’ cash: New numbers from the DeSantis campaign suggest that its $8.2 million fundraising haul in the campaign’s first 24 hours was likely fueled by bigger donors rather than small donations, the New York Times reports. 

Hearing from Haley: Haley participated in a CNN town hall on Sunday night in Iowa, where she discussed a wide range of issues — including foreign policy, abortion and DeSantis’ clashes with Disney. 

RFK, Jr.’s pitch: The Washington Post has a deep dive into Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s presidential campaign pitch, describing the vocal vaccine opponent as Biden’s “most surprising and successful competitor.” 

Ramaswamy on Ukraine: Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy told ABC News that the war in Ukraine is not a “top foreign policy priority,” saying that “the job of the U.S. president is to look after American interests.” He added, “I think that by fighting further in Russia, by further arming Ukraine, we are driving Russia into China’s hands.”

And another one: The Washington Post also explores New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez’s second brush with a federal investigation, as he looks to win re-election seven years after a jury deadlocked in his corruption trial. 

Another Delaware first? Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, the first woman and Black person to represent Delaware in Congress, is readying a Senate bid to replace the retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, NBC News’ Ali Vitali and Rose Horowitch report 

Time for choosing: The Washington Post spoke to Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin about his cancer recovery and how he’s considering running for Maryland’s open Senate seat. And Raskin told CNN on Sunday he believes he will “have an answer” before July 4. 

Georgia on his mind: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution penned a retrospective on the tenure of the state GOP’s outgoing chairman, David Shafer, and his “tumultuous four-year tenure that has largely been defined by the former president.”

Turnout woes: Some Democrats are worried about lower turnout in the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia, following lackluster turnout in last year’s midterms and a recent mayoral primary, per the Washington Post.