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Trump raises expectations as Iowa caucuses approach. Now he must meet them

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa (AP) – When Donald Trump launched his 2024 presidential campaign after disappointing midterm elections for Republicans, his trajectory remained somewhat mysterious. But seven days before the Iowa caucuses kick off, there is little doubt about his standing among the GOP faithful.

Voters, campaign operatives and even some candidates in the field overwhelmingly agree that the former Republican president is the prohibitive favorite heading into the Jan. 15 caucuses — whether they like it or not. No.

“Everyone sees the writing on the wall,” said Angela Roemerman, a 56-year-old Republican from Solon, Iowa, as she waited for the former United Nations ambassador. Nikki Haley to arrive for a weekend gathering at Field Day Brewing Co. in North Liberty.

“It’s a little depressing,” Roemerman said when his order of tortilla chips arrived, lamenting “all the drama” surrounding Trump. “We don’t need four more years. But Trump will win.”

However, behind all the perceived certainty of Trump’s victory lie serious risks for the frontrunner. Trump continues to fuel sky-high expectations, despite questions about the strength of his voter turnout operation, a final message clouded by lies about the 2020 election and stormy weather forecasts that could deter his supporters from showing up.

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Few believe such problems will result in a straight defeat in Iowa next week, but in the complex world of presidential politics, a victory is not always a victory.

If Trump fails to meet expectations with a resounding victory in Iowa, he would enter New Hampshire and South Carolina much more vulnerable. Haley and the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis continue to pump millions of dollars into Iowa advertising as they sweep across the state, backed by well-funded allies with strong vote-mobilization operations, in a relentless effort to narrow Iowa’s margin of victory. Trump.

At the same time, Trump’s team privately acknowledges that it has scaled back its door-to-door and vote-mobilizing operations heading into the final week. They insist they can ensure its loyalists will show up more effectively on caucus day by relying on rallies, phone calls and a peer-to-peer text messaging program. This, even as allies of DeSantis and Haley continue their traditional plans to get the vote out to voters.

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The governor of New Hampshire. Chris Sununuwho endorsed Haley and spent the weekend campaigning with her across Iowa, admitted that “it’s going to be tough” to beat Trump here.

“There’s obviously a strong implication that Trump is probably going to win the Iowa caucus,” Sununu told the Associated Press, although he insisted that momentum was building for Haley and that it will appear more clearly in New Hampshire’s first national primary on January 23. . “In New Hampshire, she clearly has a chance to do something that no one thought was possible, which is to beat Trump in the first place.”

Aware of the risks, the former president’s team is working to lower its expectations for Iowa.

In recent days, Trump advisers have been quick to remind reporters — at least privately — that no Republican presidential candidate has won a contested Iowa caucus by more than 12 points since Bob Dole in 1988.

The Trump campaign views Dole’s margin as the foundation of Trump’s victory, a senior adviser told The Associated Press, requesting anonymity to share internal discussions. The adviser described the mood of the campaign as confident but uncomfortable, acknowledging questions about the strength of rival organizations and, as always, about the weather, which could affect turnout in the event of snow or extreme cold.

Heavy snow, blowing and blowing snow and hazardous travel conditions are expected Monday and Tuesday of this week, followed by freezing temperatures that could drop below 0 degrees on caucus day.

The weather has already forced the Trump campaign to cancel several appearances by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders and her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who were expected to court Iowa voters in Trump’s name on Monday.

Ever defiant, Trump displayed confidence as he toured the state for a series of “caucus pledge” rallies over the weekend before returning to his Florida estate. He is scheduled to return to Iowa on Wednesday for a town hall on Fox News.

At every stop over the weekend, he talked about his dominant position in the polls. He also frequently repeats lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him through voter fraud, a claim refuted by the courts and his own administration but which has fueled controversy. violent attack on the US Capitol.

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Still, the weather is the most immediate concern heading into the final full week of campaigning in Iowa.

Trump told more than 2,000 people in Clinton on Saturday night that his aides had told him he shouldn’t worry about the cold, even though his opponents probably should.

“The other side will never vote, because they have no enthusiasm,” Trump said. Stirring up the crowd, he added: “We will not lose a vote, because our people are going to walk on glass. »

This does not mean that there is no risk.

“The biggest risk is to say, you know, ‘We win by a lot, honey, let’s stay home and watch TV,'” Trump said the night before in Mason City. “And if enough people do this, it’s not going to be pretty.

Indeed, Trump has a loyal support base, but he is also targeting a significant number of new caucus participants who don’t necessarily know where to go next Monday or how the complex caucus process works. The events feature a series of speeches and votes that can last several hours and, in many cases, do not take place at regular voting locations.

A Des Moines Register poll conducted in December found that 63 percent of new Republican caucus participants say Trump is their first choice.

One of the new participants may be William Caspers, a 37-year-old farmer from Rockwell, Iowa. He said he had never attended a political event of any kind before Trump’s event in Mason City on Friday. Although he supports Trump “100%” in 2024, he said he is only “pretty sure” he will caucus for him.

“Where is he going to be?” Where am I going? I’m a little confused about it,” Caspers said. He noted that he was in the bathroom when an explanatory video of the caucus was shown on the big screen at the front of the event room. Several hundred other voters were still in line during the video.

“So the caucus is this Monday?” Caspers asked an AP reporter, who specified that it was Monday, January 15.

Nearby, Jackie Garlock of Clear Lake wore a white hat indicating his status as Trump’s “caucus captain.” The campaign has encouraged its efforts to recruit and train hundreds of these captains, who will represent the campaign in a given precinct on Monday evening.

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Garlock said she only briefly attended virtual training on Zoom, which she described as largely a pep rally. She also said she was not particularly gifted or experienced in political organizing.

“I have a lot of confidence,” she said of Trump’s chances next week as she surveyed the crowded event center in northern Iowa. “I just look at the number of people that are here and wonder how can they all be wrong?

Meanwhile, Haley and DeSantis are spending big money to take on Iowa TV, although Haley had a clear spending advantage in the final days of the caucus.

Overall, Haley and her allies are on track to spend more than $15 million on television advertising in Iowa this month alone; DeSantis’ team is spending less than $5 million, according to an AP analysis of data from media tracking firm AdImpact.

Virtually none of Haley’s or DeSantis’ attack ads are directed at Trump. This is even as Haley’s main super PAC is running multiple ads describing DeSantis as “a dumpster fire,” and one of DeSantis’ evolving super PAC groups recently launched an ad campaign calling Haley “Tricky Nikki.”

Trump and his allies are spending nearly $10 million this month in Iowa. And he shifted some of his attacks from DeSantis to Haley. But it is also investing in ads targeting Democratic President Joe Biden, his likely general election opponent.

Of all the candidates in the field in Iowa this week, only DeSantis predicts a total victory over Trump. He has moved his entire campaign leadership to the state in recent months and has visited every one of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“You’re going to see an earthquake on January 15,” DeSantis told dozens of supporters at a downtown Dubuque bar.

____ AP writers Jill Colvin, Michelle L. Price and Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.

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