Washington – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, just over a week away from the first primary contest in Iowa, warned Sunday that if the 2024 race is about former President Donald Trump and his legal issues, it's going to be a "really nasty election," and said it doesn't put Republicans "in a good position to win."

"So we need to have an election on the issues," DeSantis told "Face the Nation." "You know, we need a candidate that can win a clear cut victory, and we need to start looking forward as a country."

The Florida governor is gearing up for a major test in Iowa, where he's staked his presidential ambitions – spending the majority of his time and the bulk of his resources so far on courting the Hawkeye State ahead of its Jan. 15 caucuses and earning the endorsement of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in the process. But whether the effort pays off among voters remains to be seen.

Transcript: Gov. Ron DeSantis on "Face the Nation" 

After his decisive reelection victory in Florida in 2022, DeSantis was widely viewed as the favorite to challenge Trump in the primaries. But DeSantis has struggled to narrow the gap with the former president since launching his White House bid in May 2023, despite an impressive initial fundraising haul. And new momentum around former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in recent months has thrown DeSantis' expected runner-up status into question.

Iowa is being billed as make or break for DeSantis. But he tamped down those stakes on Sunday, saying that "we're going to do well in Iowa, but we're also going to be  competing in all these other states." And he took the opportunity to criticize Trump for refusing to participate in every Republican primary debate so far, although DeSantis will get the chance to take on Haley one-on-one in the next GOP debate.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on

"I wish the former president would actually debate, though," DeSantis said, arguing that Trump's counter-programming "doesn't cut it in Iowa."

DeSantis also criticized the Biden administration's handling of the southern border – an issue that has come front and center in recent days as congressional Republicans have drawn attention to the flow of migrants and called for enhanced security measures.

"I'm here in Iowa now, talking to people in New Hampshire, South Carolina, these early states – they're frustrated with how the federal government will treat people coming into our country illegally better than Americans in some respects," DeSantis said.

According to a CBSNews/YouGov poll released Sunday, Americans are increasingly concerned about the situation at the border, with most Americans saying the situation is very serious and nearly half calling it a crisis.

But Americans also increasingly disapprove of the practice of border states sending migrants to northern cities, which DeSantis, along with other GOP governors, have employed. While Americans were split on the issue in May, a majority now disapproves, with approval down even among Republicans.

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