Donald Trump rivals look to stop him in Iowa

Vivek AP Iowa Ramaswamy
Will one of them emerge from the back of the pack?

Having stood out in two presidential debates, Nikki Haley has booked her largest venue in Iowa since launching her campaign. She’s hoping to fill a 600-person hall in a western Des Moines suburb on Saturday.

That would be a huge number for most of her rivals. It’s also less than the smallest crowds usually drawn by Donald Trump, who is dominating the Republican field for the 2024 Iowa caucuses less than four months away.

The former president will be in rural southeast Iowa the following day to headline an organizing event. Aides were expecting at least 1,000 to attend.

In essence, there are two Iowa campaigns underway: Trump is holding fewer, bigger events that demonstrate the strength of his organization and grip on GOP base voters, while his rivals attend the state’s traditional candidate forums and meet-and-greets, searching for ways to cut into his lead or consolidate second place.

While things could change before the Jan. 15 caucuses, some campaigns are trying to shift expectations. They’re hoping a close runner-up to Trump in Iowa — or even someone who falls well short of Trump but pulls away from other rivals — could begin consolidating support and force others out.

Here’s a look at the campaigns working hardest in Iowa to catch Trump.

Campaign overspending and donor jitters prompted the Florida governor to shake up his organization and narrow a broad, national approach to one increasingly focused on Iowa. His national support has slipped substantially from its high point earlier this year.

DeSantis hired David Polyansky as a senior deputy campaign manager in August. Polyansky is a top strategist with Iowa chops from past presidential campaigns. He was working for Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis.

Never Back Down has taken on a huge share of work normally done by candidates directly. It has put on almost 50 of DeSantis’ Iowa appearances, hired 22 paid staff in Iowa — more than on any campaign team in the state — and purchased almost $8 million of television and digital ads this year, the most of any single political group, according to analysis from the tracking firm AdImpact.

Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, two DeSantis advisers suggest he could survive three second-place finishes — in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — and try to force a head-to-head matchup with Trump ahead of March’s Super Tuesday slate of primaries.

DeSantis has already visited two-thirds of Iowa’s counties, Polyansky said in an interview, The candidate pledged earlier this year to visit all 99, a goal that could net extra support and allow him to shore up more populous counties down the stretch.

Haley’s team pumped up expectations going into Wednesday’s second debate and hopes her energetic performance — including several tussles with rivals — translates to a rise in polls.

Toiling before smaller crowds throughout the spring and summer, Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and governor of South Carolina, drew a noticeably more robust 400 to stops in rural eastern Iowa this month. She took the wheel of a combine among amber rows of corn.

She has recently signed noteworthy Iowa GOP talent, including Troy Bishop, who was Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s organizational director. And she’s lured some donors away from DeSantis, including billionaire former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Now, the super PAC supporting her is spending more on ads in Iowa.

Scott was striding toward the midway at the Iowa State Fair this summer when a man approached from behind to tell him, “I’ve seen your ads.”

He wasn’t alone. Scott’s campaign and the super PAC supporting him have combined to spend roughly $10 million in advertising this year introducing Scott to Iowans, about a quarter of all GOP caucus campaign and super PAC ad spending, according to AdImpact.

Long before he grabbed attention at the first debate, Ramaswamy was working hard in Iowa.

The 38-year-old entrepreneur has traveled the state more than any candidate, holding nearly 70 campaign events. He’s gotten buzz for his youth and charisma, his lack of political background, and a brashness that reminds some people of Trump. Some Iowans have also voiced unfavorable impressions sparked by what some see as foreign policy naivete and lack of experience.

Ramaswamy, who is Hindu and the son of Indian immigrants, always cites what he calls his lists of truths, the first of which is “God is real.” Evangelical Christians are critical in Iowa.

While few will say out loud that Ramaswamy’s faith is an obstacle, one voter raised it at a Tim Scott event last week.

“He talks about God all the time, but it’s a pagan god,” said Liz Kuennen of Fort Dodge.

Hindus worship several gods, who they believe to be manifestations of the one formless supreme being.

For a former vice president so closely identified with evangelical Christians, it would seem Pence would have a leg up.

Yet Pence faces distinct challenges.

Among the most stubborn is the lingering — and false — perception that Pence could have refused to certify the 2020 election. A man in the state fair crowd this summer confronted Pence and asked him, “Why did you commit treason?”

Pence patiently walked through the constitutional requirements of the vice president during the certification process.

“Even though my former running mate and his outside lawyers told me that authority was there, I knew it never was,” Pence told the crowd. “I’ll always believe, by God’s grace, I did my duty that day.”

Though the now well-rehearsed answer sparks respectful applause, Pence faces stubbornly high unfavorable ratings in Iowa among likely GOP caucusgoers.

Still, Pence, who had seven events planned in Iowa over the coming days, was on track to top 60 campaign stops by the end of next week, second only to Ramaswamy.

Associated Press


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  • My Take

    September 30, 2023 at 2:55 pm

    Mentally unstable Donald will be a wonder to behold if anyone gets close enough to seriously threaten him in the primary.

  • My Take

    September 30, 2023 at 3:12 pm

    Can any nàtion be a first-world world power–a superpower–with a quarter of its voting population being either morons or traitors?
    That of course being MAGA — Trumpdom

  • Ocean Joe

    September 30, 2023 at 3:59 pm

    You cannot stop him. He swallowed the Republican party like a well done cheeseburger and washed it down with two scoops of ice cream.
    He tread on you with his bone spurred feet and you cant get up till he follows Diane to the Happy Hunting Grounds.

    • My Take

      September 30, 2023 at 10:14 pm

      The GOP invited in añd hugged wèlcomè all those haters. This even before Trump. Wanted their votes. But then they finally took over. And loved Trump when he showed up.

  • My Takef

    October 1, 2023 at 9:00 am

    No one seems to mention anymore what a deranged òutraged Trump would do if not selected.

  • Sonja Fitch

    October 3, 2023 at 5:53 am

    Trump is a loser unless you are giving him more power and of course more Money !
    No one is above the law ! Everyday we learn how corrupt the MAGA man is. Lock Him up!

Comments are closed.


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