© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., January 11, 2024. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
By Tim Reid and Nathan Layne
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Republicans vying to beat a dominant Donald Trump to be the party’s nominee in the 2024 U.S. presidential election will crisscross a frozen Iowa this weekend in the final campaigning ahead of the first nominating contest on Monday.
His rivals will be trying to prevent a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden for the leadership of the world’s most powerful country in what looks set to be a close and deeply acrimonious November vote that has raised questions about the depth of support for Europe and even basic democratic values.
Trump, the only current or ex-U.S. president to be charged with criminal activity, holds a commanding lead over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who want to place a strong second in Iowa and show they can deliver an upset going forward.
Only four Republicans are left challenging Trump in an unusually truncated field at this initial stage of the nominating process, a sign of the deep support he holds among so many of the party faithful and its upper echelons.
A nationwide Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Tuesday showed Trump with 49% support. Haley, aiming to be the first woman president, was at 12%, while DeSantis garnered 11%. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson polled at 4% and 0%, respectively.
An Iowa poll released on Thursday showed Trump 41 percentage points ahead of DeSantis and Haley, in second place at 14% each.
But the weather could throw a wrench into weekend campaign plans.
Blizzard conditions could see temperatures plunge to a low of minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius) on Monday, cancel more events and test the resolve of even the hardiest Midwesterners to go out to vote.
Iowans take pride in their first-in-nation status for the nominating contests and are used to dealing with snow, dressing in layers and driving trucks with four-wheel drives, but Monday is set to be the coldest day of caucuses ever, testing that mettle.
Joy Burk, 43, a DeSantis supporter in Ankeny, said the weather might impact turnout but that if the snow has cleared by Monday, “it’s just the cold weather, which we are used to.”
Trump canceled two rallies in Iowa on Saturday, citing the weather.
“I’ll get there sometime around Saturday night or something, one way or the other I’m getting there. You have the worst weather I guess in recorded history, but maybe that’s good because our people are more committed than anyone else,” Trump said in a video posted to social media.
Haley and DeSantis will meet voters in smaller settings on Saturday, including a brewery and a farm.
On Sunday, Trump plans a rally in Indianola, a suburb of Des Moines, but canceled one in the city of Cherokee. Haley and DeSantis will begin the day in Dubuque in the east of the state near the Mississippi River, followed by another DeSantis event around 300 miles (500 km) away in Sioux City.
From 7 p.m. CST on Monday (0100 GMT on Tuesday), Iowans will gather for two hours in school gymnasiums, bars and other locations to debate the candidates before ranking them in order of preference.
Results are typically announced within a few hours.
TRUMP FOCUSED ON RETRIBUTION
Trump continues to claim falsely that his 2020 loss to Biden was due to widespread fraud and has vowed if elected again to punish his political enemies, introduce new tariffs and end the Ukraine-Russia war in 24 hours, without saying how, according to his own comments, those of his campaign and media reports.
He has drawn criticism for increasingly authoritarian language that has echoed of Nazi rhetoric, including comments that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”
Trump has used charges of unlawfully trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to fundraise and boost his support among Republican voters and elsewhere and claim a “witch hunt” as he protests his innocence.
He faces four prosecutions, setting up the unprecedented prospect of a president being convicted or even serving from behind bars, with the courts almost certainly weighing in at every stage.
DeSantis, who has tacked to the right of Trump especially on issues such as education and LGBTQ rights, has staked a huge amount on a strong performance in Iowa with associates of his saying he needs to finish at least second.
While DeSantis has been to all 99 counties, fiercely courted socially conservative voters in a state that is nearly 90% white and secured the backing of its governor, Trump has showed up a fraction of the time but has held larger rallies his rivals have struggled to match.
Haley, who is the strongest challenge to Trump on the next stop, the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary, has spoken of how voters there could “correct” Iowa’s decision as she hopes to defeat the favorite.