At his first town-hall event in New Hampshire, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida talked on Tuesday about illegal immigration in Texas, crime in Chicago, disorder on the streets of San Francisco and the wonders of nearly every aspect of Florida — a state he mentioned about 80 times.

Roughly an hour into the event, Mr. DeSantis finally got around to saying “New Hampshire.”

His relentless focus on Florida was at times well received in a state that will play a key role in deciding who leads the Republican Party in the 2024 election against President Biden. Mr. DeSantis’s comments seemed to especially resonate when he connected his actions at home to issues of importance to New Hampshire residents, like the flood of fentanyl and other deadly drugs into their communities.

Still, his self-confident lecture about his record as Florida’s governor left the distinct impression that he believes Republican voters need what he is offering them more than he is interested in what he could learn from their questions.

“Every year I’ve been governor, we’ve decreased the assumptions in our pension fund,” he boasted, digging deep into the Florida policy weeds. “In other words, you know, whatever it was when I came in was rosier. And we always reduced down to ensure that no matter what happens, our pension system is going to be funded. I think we’re like eighth-best in the country with that.”

Even his jokes were Florida-centric, sometimes to the point of obscurity to the crowd of roughly 250 people who packed a carpeted banquet hall in Hollis, a few miles from the Massachusetts border. The audience reaction was muted when he joked about property prices rising in Naples, Fla., to make a point about Chicago residents fleeing south to his state.

The main ideological skepticism in the audience concerned Mr. DeSantis’s hard-line stance against abortion — a position that is popular in heavily evangelical states like Iowa but less so in more secular New Hampshire.

Like several other Republican women in attendance, Jayne Beaton, 65, of Amherst, N.H., said she came with questions about the candidate’s position on abortion, and the six-week ban he signed in Florida.

“I predict it’s going to be an issue for him,” she said. “With everything else” in his platform, she added, “I’m onboard and excited, but I’m less sure about abortion, and the six-week ban.”

After taking criticism in recent weeks for not answering questions from voters at his rallies, Mr. DeSantis has held town hall-style events in South Carolina, Texas and now New Hampshire since Thursday. Although he has rarely faced tough questions, he has seemed relatively comfortable in these unscripted moments, asking voters their names, thanking military veterans for their service and occasionally cracking jokes.

Such casual interactions are especially important in New Hampshire — the first-in-the-nation primary state whose residents are accustomed to vetting presidential candidates over and over in intimate settings.

“It is a little different here than it is in any other state,” Jason Osborne, the Republican majority leader of the New Hampshire House, who has endorsed the Florida governor for president, said in a phone interview before the event on Tuesday. “We’re so small, we’re the first, so the most candidates are going to touch the state than any others.”

Mr. DeSantis, who has a reputation for being somewhat socially awkward, is working hard to overcome a deficit of roughly 30 percentage points in the Granite State against former President Donald J. Trump, the Republican front-runner. He spent more time answering questions from voters in Hollis than he has at any event since announcing his candidacy in May.

The audience, which included many out-of-staters who traveled hours to see Mr. DeSantis, seemed to appreciate that he had showed up. Several told him they admired his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Florida. In a veterans-heavy state, he was also thanked for his military service and received applause when he said he was the only veteran running in the Republican field.

Mr. DeSantis ducked only one question. A teenage boy invited him to condemn Mr. Trump’s efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 6, 2021. Mr. DeSantis declined to do so. All he would say was that he did not “enjoy seeing, you know, what happened” that day, but that he had nothing to do with it and Republicans needed to look forward, not backward, because if they dwelled on the past they would lose elections.

When he was finally asked about Florida’s six-week abortion ban, Mr. DeSantis seemed comfortable answering the question and, unlike Mr. Trump, he made no effort to contort himself to appeal to more moderate voters. He said he believed that in America, “life is worth protecting,” and it was important to provide services to support low-income and single mothers.

Doreen Monahan, 65, of Spofford, N.H. — who asked Mr. DeSantis the question about abortion, and the burden placed on taxpayers when women who cannot get abortions bear unwanted children — said later that she had been reassured by his answer, including his mentions of beefed-up postnatal care and adoption programs.

“It’s nice that they have some options,” she said. “I have friends who waited years to adopt.”

She said she had reached out to Mr. DeSantis’s campaign to ask about exceptions to the six-week ban, and felt more comfortable after hearing details.

Mr. DeSantis pitched two main arguments against Mr. Trump, without naming him. The first was that change could not come to Washington if Republicans kept losing elections. The second was his theme of “no excuses” — a shot at Mr. Trump’s failure to deliver on core promises such as completing a wall along the southern border.

An older man told Mr. DeSantis that he had voted twice to “drain the swamp,” but that it never happened. He wanted to know what Mr. DeSantis would do differently from Mr. Trump.

Mr. DeSantis opened his response by recalling how exciting it was in 2016 to hear the rally chants of “drain the swamp.” But then he took two unsubtle shots at the former president.

Mr. DeSantis said that “the swamp” in Washington was worse now than ever and that to “break the swamp,” a president must be disciplined and focused, and have the “humility” to understand he cannot do it on his own. The audience cheered when he promised to fire the Trump-appointed F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, and turn the Justice Department “inside out.”

Mr. DeSantis seemed at his most animated toward the end of the rally when a woman asked him about Covid vaccines. In response, the governor denounced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, calling their efforts to promote vaccines a “total disaster.” He also attacked big pharmaceutical companies, and highlighted a study by Florida’s health department that purported to show elevated health risks for young men who took mRNA vaccines but that was widely criticized by scientists.

“These Covid restrictions and mandates were not about your health,” Mr. DeSantis said. “It was about them controlling your behavior.”

The DeSantis campaign has leaned heavily into criticizing how Mr. Trump handled the pandemic, seeing widespread anger among Republicans over vaccines, masking, school closures and social-distancing measures as an opportunity to peel voters away from the former president.

The crowd responded approvingly to Mr. DeSantis’s eight-minute tirade against what he called “the medical swamp.”

Mark Pearson, a Republican state representative in New Hampshire who has endorsed Mr. DeSantis, said in an interview this month that he had seen the governor grow more confident as a retail politician.

In May, Mr. Pearson said, he told Mr. DeSantis that he needed to engage directly with New Hampshire voters.

“I told him, ‘Here’s what I suggest you do: You walk the rope line, you drop into the diners, you go to the small venues,’” he recounted. “‘But it better be real, Ron, because we can smell a phony from a mile away, because we’ve been doing this for a hundred years.’”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *