Vivek Ramaswamy traveled across eastern Iowa Tuesday at a breakneck pace that has come to define his long-running presidential campaign.
He stopped just long enough at most of the six restaurants and bars on his route to remind voters he’s still in the race, lingering longer at his final stop of the day. He praised her simple, bombastic style. And he cracked humorous quips, promising to complete Donald J. Trump’s mission of draining Washington’s bureaucratic swamp by “bringing the pesticide” to everything that comes out of it.
But the day mostly served as a stark reminder of the extent to which Mr. Ramaswamy remains mired in a kind of quagmire of his own, far behind his rivals for the Republican nomination and stuck in fourth place in most state polls. . In Dubuque, minutes before Mr. Ramaswamy arrived at a cozy cocktail bar where he was scheduled to speak, one of his campaign representatives asked the 50 attendees how many of them planned to caucus for him. Only about five people raised their hands.
Some voters at his six events in Iowa on Tuesday wondered aloud whether he was simply polishing his credentials for a 2028 presidential run or for a post in Mr. Trump’s cabinet if the former president had to win back the White House.
“I think he has a very good chance of making it,” Matt Casey, 49, said of Mr. Ramaswamy’s possible role in a Trump administration. “He could probably be vice president very easily.”
Mr. Ramaswamy, who largely financed his presidential bid with money he made from his shrewd pitches to investors in his biotechnology company, can probably afford to stay in the race for as long as he wishes. And he claimed he would exceed expectations and pull off an underdog victory on caucus night on Jan. 15. He argued that many of his supporters are young people and other new caucus participants who are not counted in polls.
“I think we are in for a major surprise,” Mr. Ramaswamy told reporters on Tuesday.
His tactic of cozying up to Mr. Trump’s policies and praising the former president has earned him praise and respect from Iowa Republicans. But with less than two weeks until the caucuses, voter support for Mr. Trump appears stronger than ever, leaving Mr. Ramaswamy as merely the second favorite for many.
“I would like to see a Ramaswamy presidency, but I think he has a steep hill to climb,” said Jeremy Nelson, 46, who feared that voting for Mr. Ramaswamy instead of Mr. Trump could help Nikki Haley, who is trying to emerge as the main alternative to the former president. “I don’t want a vote for Vivek in the primary to be a vote for Nikki Haley,” he added.
Still, Mr. Ramaswamy’s sharp rhetoric impressed many on Tuesday and changed the minds of at least a few. In the dimly lit Dubuque bar, he eschewed his typical speech and launched straight into a question-and-answer session as his wife, Apoorva Ramaswamy, a surgeon and cancer researcher, looked on.
Mr. Ramaswamy presented himself as a more sophisticated version of Mr. Trump, quoting former President John Quincy Adams for a moment and telling a voter that Democrats were “selling us today the rope they will use to hang us tomorrow” the next moment.
He drew applause when he said that unlike Mr. Trump, he would not be misled by political advisers who blocked the former president from dissolving various federal agencies, ending citizenship rights or to use local law enforcement to help capture undocumented immigrants.
Sandy Kapparos, 75, said she was “very impressed” by Mr Ramaswamy’s great understanding on various issues.
“He brought it all up,” she said. “He seemed to know so much about it all. I was leaning towards Nikki Haley, but now I’m not sure.
Ben Dickinson, a 32-year-old libertarian from Davenport who attended an event in Bettendorf on Tuesday evening with his partner and two children, is considering forming a caucus for Mr. Ramaswamy. He said he thought the candidate had prepared well in case something happened with Mr. Trump’s candidacy. “If Trump were to step down, Vivek would likely have many Trump supporters because he has not said anything negative against Trump.”
Mr. Ramaswamy is not the first long-shot presidential candidate to linger in a primary much longer than expected, and staying in a race can increase his name recognition and pay other dividends. Some candidates, too, like former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, built fervent fan bases even as their presidential chances dwindled to near zero.
“I think he’ll get his name out there,” Tom Priebe, 75, said of Mr. Ramaswamy’s goal on caucus night. “I don’t know if he’ll do well this time, but maybe next time.”
As his hopes of winning the nomination faded, Mr. Ramaswamy resorted to a range of tactics, some of them indicative of desperation. He rented an apartment in Des Moines, campaigned over Thanksgiving and has so many events in his schedule that he often arrives late. His campaign said Tuesday that he had become the first candidate in history to go on what is known as the Full Grassley – a tour through each of Iowa’s 99 counties, so named for the trip that the senator from State veteran Chuck Grassley performs every year – twice. .
Mr. Ramaswamy has also leaned into the far-right fringes, promoting conspiracy theories such as the “Great Replacement Theory” – the racist idea that Western elites are trying to replace white Americans with minorities. . On Tuesday, he trumpeted new support for Steve King, the former Iowa congressman who was voted out of office by a primary challenger after his history of racist comments prompted the Republican Party to remove him from office. functions in Congress.
On Tuesday morning, Robert Johanningmeier showed up at Mr. Ramaswamy’s event at a bar in Waukon, in northeast Iowa, with a plan. He had a brown “Vivek 2024” hat spotted in the Amazon cart on his phone. Assuming he liked what he heard, he planned to click “buy.”
But after hearing Mr. Ramaswamy speak, Mr. Johanningmeier was still not convinced, although he said he was hesitant. He decided to continue wearing the same hat he entered with – a “Trump 2024” camouflage cap. The Ramaswamy hat, however, remained in its cart.