Two great traditions converged in Des Moines on Saturday night when wedding crashing came to Iowa politics.
Iowa State Representative Taylor Collins welcomed an unexpected guest to his wedding reception: Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Mr. DeSantis and his wife, Casey, strode just behind the newlyweds into the event, held at a Beaux-Arts-style building in the state’s capital, to cheers and a standing ovation, according to videos posted on social media and confirmed by an attendee. They then spent an hour mingling with roughly 150 guests.
The last-minute table-grabbers had been invited by the bride, Savannah Collins, to the surprise of her husband, who had previously endorsed Mr. DeSantis’s presidential bid, according to two people familiar with the event. Several other state legislators who have endorsed Mr. DeSantis were also in attendance.
For the governor, who is struggling to gain ground on former President Donald J. Trump, according to recent polls, the appearance was a clear attempt to demonstrate that he possessed the interpersonal touch that has sometimes seemed lacking in his presidential campaign.
Mr. DeSantis’s allies said he saw a path to victory in Iowa’s January caucus through an aggressive plan to visit each of the state’s 99 counties, meet voters in person and win endorsements from local officials. As of Saturday, Mr. DeSantis had visited nearly 30 counties.
After making fewer visits to the state than some of his lower-polling rivals for the Republican nomination, Mr. DeSantis recently started to step up his appearances in Iowa, where polling shows he is performing better than he is nationally. His campaign recently has focused on the state as he has worked to position himself as the Trump alternative after losing ground earlier this year.
Before dropping in on the wedding, Mr. DeSantis had spent Friday and Saturday on a bus tour of northeast and central Iowa, where he made frequent stops to address voters in small groups, answer questions and engage in the retail politics that Iowa voters expect, such as scooping ice cream for locals at a dairy store.
“You’ve got to show up in people’s communities and you’ve got to be able to make the case about why you should be the nominee of the party and the 47th president of the United States,” Mr. DeSantis told a group of several dozen voters at a Pizza Ranch restaurant in Grinnell, Iowa, on Saturday afternoon.
The comments were a thinly veiled attack on Mr. Trump, who has skipped events hosted by prominent evangelical Christian leaders and who recently picked a fight with Iowa’s popular Republican governor, Kim Reynolds. “I think anybody who’s not willing to do that is basically telling you that they don’t think they have to earn your vote,” he continued. “And I think that’s a mistake.”
Both Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis, as well as the rest of the presidential field, are set to attend the Iowa State Fair, a major event on the political calendar that begins this week.
Polling shows that Mr. DeSantis’s efforts are playing better in Iowa than in other parts of the country. Iowa Republicans are more likely than voters nationwide to see Mr. DeSantis as “moral,” “likable” and “able to beat Joe Biden,” although he still lags Mr. Trump in the state by 24 percentage points overall, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll.
While Mr. DeSantis has had success attracting endorsements from state lawmakers like Mr. Collins, Mr. Trump has much more backing from members of Congress, in part because of the former president’s attention to personal relationships, which has included reaching out to lawmakers when they or their family members fall ill and hosting them for dinners.
This was not Mr. DeSantis’s first attempt at surprising Iowa voters.
In May, after a busy day of campaigning around the state, he made an unscheduled evening stop at a barbecue restaurant in Des Moines, not far from where Mr. Trump had canceled an earlier rally (because of bad weather, according to Mr. Trump’s campaign).
After Mr. DeSantis’s unexpected entrance to the wedding, Mr. Collins celebrated on social media, saying: “You never know who will crash your wedding reception during caucus season! An honor to be on #TeamDeSantis.”
In response to an email seeking comment, he wrote: “It was great for our family and friends from across the country to experience firsthand what it’s like to be in Iowa during caucus season. I can’t think of a better way to end the night than seeing everyone spend time with the governor.”
Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York.