By Nathan Layne, Gabriella Borter and Tim Reid
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – A highly anticipated poll set the tone for a final full day of campaigning on Sunday in frigid Iowa, with Donald Trump maintaining a wide lead and Nikki Haley overtaking Ron DeSantis for second place in the Republican presidential election. race.
The Des Moines Register/NBC News poll released Saturday night had Trump at 48 percent, although his lead shrank 3 percentage points from the December poll. Former South Carolina Governor Haley was second with 20%, up 4 points, followed by Florida Governor DeSantis with 16%, down 3 points.
Poll organizers pride themselves on taking an accurate snapshot of the mood of Iowa voters.
The survey provided a clear indication that Trump was poised to succeed in Monday’s caucuses, the first poll on the road to November’s presidential election.
A victory would give Trump, 77, a big, important step toward securing the Republican nomination to take on Democratic incumbent Joe Biden, 81, in a rematch of their 2020 battle. It would prove that many Republicans are willing to ignore Trump’s growing legal problems and inflammatory rhetoric.
Trump is planning a rally Sunday in Indianola, a suburb of the capital Des Moines, but weather forced him to cancel one in the town of Cherokee. The former president canceled two events on Saturday, appearing in the evening during a campaign livestream.
“We are way ahead in every poll and you need to stand down,” Trump told his supporters. “We need to send a message especially for November.”
Both DeSantis and Haley, who was Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., need to do well enough in Iowa to give them momentum heading into the next contest, in New Hampshire on Jan. 23.
The DeSantis campaign was forecasting a strong performance Monday night, despite the widely watched poll dropping.
“Winning campaigns are not based on public data. Most importantly, no one has worked harder and is better organized than Ron DeSantis,” said spokesman Andrew Romeo.
Their increasingly bitter fight Haley and DeSantis begin Sunday in Dubuque, in the eastern part of the state, near the Mississippi River, followed by another DeSantis event about 300 miles away in Sioux City.
Starting at 7:00 p.m. CST Monday (01:00 GMT Tuesday), Iowans will gather for two hours in school gyms, bars and other venues to debate Republican candidates before ranking them in order of preference.
Results are usually announced within a few hours.
With temperatures dropping, one of the questions candidates faced was whether their supporters would be motivated enough to brave the cold and show up to caucus.
Forecasters are predicting the coldest Iowa caucus night ever – minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius).
DeSantis, speaking at an event in West Des Moines on Saturday, urged people to make the effort.
“It’s not going to be pleasant,” he said. “But if you are willing to go out there and fight for me… then as president, I will fight for you for the next eight years.”
Voters like Michelle Mahoney, a 58-year-old businesswoman from West Des Moines, have given hope to Trump’s challengers.
She said she voted for Trump twice, but found the former president divisive and was considering caucus for Haley or DeSantis.
“I would be thrilled if we could have DeSantis or Haley,” she said at a DeSantis campaign event.
Mahoney loves DeSantis’ military service and says his leadership during Hurricane Ian in 2022 was “fabulous.” She considers Haley a unifier.
Trump, president from 2017 to 2021, was doing well despite many problems.
He continues to falsely claim that his loss to Biden in 2020 was due to widespread fraud and has vowed if elected again to punish his political enemies, introduce new tariffs and end the war between Ukraine and Russia in 24 hours, without saying how, according to his own words. comments, those of his campaign and media reports.
He has drawn criticism for increasingly authoritarian language that echoes Nazi rhetoric, including comments that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country.”
Trump used accusations of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat to raise money and shore up support among Republican voters and elsewhere, and claimed a “witch hunt” while protesting his innocence.
He faces four prosecutions, raising the unprecedented prospect of a president being convicted or even serving time behind bars, with the courts almost certainly having intervened at every step.
DeSantis, who has positioned himself to the right of Trump, notably on issues such as education and LGBTQ rights, has banked heavily on a strong showing in Iowa, with his associates saying he needs to finish at least second.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne, Gabriella Border and Tim Reid; writing by Steve Holland; editing by William Mallard)
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