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Trump holds big lead over Haley, DeSantis ahead of Iowa caucuses, but icy weather a wildcard

In World
January 15, 2024

Trump, Haley and DeSantis were all forced to cancel appearances in the home stretch of campaigning.

Donald Trump dances as he campaigns in Indianola, Iowa. Photo: Reuters

“Dress warmly tomorrow,” Trump said at a campaign event Sunday in Indianola, just south of capital Des Moines, coming on the heels of him having to scrap three weekend rallies. “Brave the weather, go out, and save America”.

“Together we’re going to make history – but you have to show up,” he later said in a video on his Truth social media site.

Trump says businesses got ‘small amount of money’ from China, foreign governments

Despite his apparent strength, the former president has been indicted four times since he was last a candidate and is preparing for the potential collapse of his business empire in his native New York as a result of a civil fraud trial.

“If DeSantis’ massive ground effort, coupled with a recent Haley surge, can drag Trump under 50 per cent by several points, that will be the first meaningful sign that Trump can be defeated,” said political analyst Alex Avetoom, who worked on Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“However, this paradigm-shifting reality – that Trump could be defeated – happens if, and only if, the rest of the field consolidates behind one anti-Trump candidate.”

For all the talk of miracle bounces, the Iowa race is hardly competitive: a new NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll has Trump at 48 per cent among likely caucus-goers, with Haley surging into second place but still only at 20 per cent.

“I’m voting for Trump again,” 37-year-old trucker Jeff Nikolas said, adding that “he may be bullheaded, but he can actually get stuff done”.

On Sunday, Trump was endorsed by North Dakota governor and former 2024 presidential candidate, Doug Burgum, as well as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, whom Trump defeated for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Nikki Haley at a campaign event in Adel, Iowa. Photo: Bloomberg

The poll was more bad news for Florida Governor DeSantis, who scored just 16 per cent and has seen his claim to be heir apparent to the post-Trump Republican Party eclipsed by Haley.

But DeSantis insisted Sunday that his “very motivated” backers would turn out in sufficient number in the vote, open only to registered Republicans.

In 2016 only 186,000 Iowans took part in the caucus, he told ABC, and “now, with this weather, it could be significantly less,” making turnout paramount. He urged his supporters: “Bring in friends and family, man, that’s going to pack a punch”.

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“It’s good to be an underdog when folks want to count you out.”

Haley, a former South Carolina governor, is looking to outperform expectations to cement her claim to be Trump’s top challenger going into her preferred state of New Hampshire the following week.

“Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows” Trump, she told a last-minute campaign stop in the town of Adel, adding: “You don’t fix Democrat chaos with Republican chaos”.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa. Photo: Reuters

Iowa is a notoriously poor predictor of the eventual nominee but it is considered crucial for winnowing the field and as a springboard to the next few battlegrounds, which include Haley’s home state.

Stung by defeat in 2016 after skipping much of Iowa’s campaign trail, Trump has built up an impressive network of “precinct captains” to corral votes this time around.

In a state that likes to meet its candidates face-to-face, DeSantis has been at pains to highlight his own ground game, which has taken him to all 99 counties.

But the Iraq veteran and conservative hard-liner will be under heavy pressure to drop out if he finishes third.

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The Republican primary also features a number of low-polling candidates, including biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

From 7pm CST on Monday (9am Hong Kong time on Tuesday), Iowans will gather for two hours in school gymnasiums, bars and other locations to debate the Republican candidates before ranking them in order of preference.

Iowa’s Democrats will also attend caucuses – meetings at which local members of a political party gather to register their candidate preferences – on Monday, but will vote by mail from January until March.

Biden is expected to comfortably defeat self-help author Marianne Williamson and Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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