Donald Trump was unusually serious when he asked an audience in eastern Iowa to take him to a landslide victory in next month’s Republican caucuses.
“The margin of victory is very important, it’s just very important,” Trump told approximately 1,000 people at a rally to organize campaign workers on Wednesday. “It’s time for the Republican Party to band together, to focus our energy and resources on defeating Crooked Joe Biden and reclaiming our country.” “It’s very simple.”
It was a warning against complacency for the gruff former president, as well as a sign that he and his staff feel the first fight on Jan. 15 can be more than simply the start of the nomination process, but the beginning of the finish.
One month before the Iowa caucuses, Trump is the overwhelming favorite to win. According to the media tracking firm AdImpact, a slew of well-qualified GOP rivals and anti-Trump groups have crisscrossed the state over the last year and spent more than $70 million in Iowa on ads.
And, unlike his first appearance in the caucuses, which he narrowly lost in 2016, Trump’s campaign is now led by Iowa veterans who are not only locking in caucus pledges but also putting together a formidable structure to try to secure his lead.
Most competitor camps are divided on whether Trump will win, how much he will win, and whether a second-place finisher can claim momentum for the rest of the race.
“For a long time, it looked like there was a narrow lane, but there was a lane, for a not-Trump candidate,” Gentry Collins, a senior Republican strategist and former state GOP executive director who oversaw Mitt Romney’s 2008 GOP caucus campaign, said. “But there isn’t really a single alternative people can rally around.”
According to a Des Moines Register–NBC News-Mediacom Iowa Poll released Monday, Trump was the top choice of 51% of likely Iowa caucus participants. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has vowed to win Iowa, received 19% of the vote. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has said she can defeat DeSantis in the state and face Trump in subsequent primaries, was at 16%.
The GOP nomination for next year is now officially available. However, many primary voters believe Trump was duped when he lost his reelection campaign to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. Despite Trump’s frequent and repeated false assertions, which are often repeated by many of his fans, many government and outside investigations have revealed no proof of voter fraud.
Trump is still popular among Republicans in Iowa and across the country, who praise him for his handling of the economy, the US-Mexico border, and his appointment of three Supreme Court judges who voted to repeal a federally mandated right to abortion.
“You’ve basically got a quasi-incumbent president,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster and senior adviser to Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign, said. “Of course, he’s got the overwhelming advantage.”
Aside from Trump’s inherent advantages, a major and ongoing effort on his behalf in Iowa indicates the campaign’s knowledge — particularly in comparison to Trump’s seat-of-the-pants 2016 effort — that turning out thousands of Iowans to caucus on a frigid January night takes serious organizing.
State Republican Party leaders in charge of the contests and campaign strategists predict that the caucuses in January will break the 2016 record of over 187,000 individuals.
Trump’s campaign claims to have gathered and processed tens of thousands of commitment cards, most of which came from his 11 visits to Iowa over the last three months. According to aides, the cards are placed into a database three days before a campaign worker responds by phone.
Though Trump has come considerably less frequently than DeSantis, Haley, and others, he has pulled more than 20,000 people to events since early September, with thousands of them claiming to be first-time caucus attendees.
Hundreds of people raised their hands when asked if they were first-timers at Wednesday’s event in Coralville. The audience was seated in front of a stage flanked by enormous video displays that displayed a QR code and text code that directed them to the campaign’s digital portal.
Volunteers circulated around the Hyatt Regency, which was hosting the event, wearing white ball caps with gold lettering that read “Trump Caucus Captain.”
A University of Iowa student approached Ginger Marolf as she stood in a queue of hundreds of people snaking around the hotel. The student requested that Marolf fill up and return a caucus pledge card so that they could have “an accurate count of how many people support Trump in Iowa.”
Marolf said after signing her card that Trump is a warrior for “us, the people” and that she isn’t considering any of the other Republican contenders.
“Trump needs to be back in office, like right now,” she said, blaming Biden for rising prices, an undefended southern border, and global turmoil.
Caucus captains are given a list of 25 neighbors and must transport at least 10 to a caucus. The key between now and the caucuses is “grinding away at recruiting caucus captains and training them,” according to Alex Latcham, the campaign’s early state director with an Iowa political history.
Other candidates claim to have the support of powerful organizations.
DeSantis entered the contest with the national attention of a big-state governor who had won a crushing reelection victory in 2022 and is pursuing conservative issues in a traditional swing state. During the summer and fall, however, he failed, with multiple changes to his campaign and overall approach.
Nonetheless, the main super PAC sponsoring him, Never Back Down, claims to have tens of thousands of signed support cards for DeSantis, who has stated that he intends to win the Iowa caucuses.
After early fall debate performances, Haley earned a second look from certain Iowa voters. Her candidacy had little visible support in Iowa, but it is now backed by Americans for Prosperity Action, the political wing of the wealthy conservative Koch Brothers network. AFP Action endorsed Haley in late November and began canvassing for her this month.
In a hint that she’s still trying to reintroduce herself to Iowans, Haley began a recent event by giving her early life narrative to an audience of roughly 400 in suburban Des Moines nearly word for word as she did on her first trip to Iowa as a candidate 10 months ago.
The Trump campaign’s major target continues to be DeSantis. Trump, who has often accused DeSantis of betraying him by running against him despite the president’s endorsement of him in Florida in 2018, has long attempted to bury the governor in Iowa. Despite Trump’s approach differing significantly from DeSantis’ typical county-by-county approach and fewer total visits, the president’s Iowa drive looks to have maintained him well ahead.
Sondra Michels stated that she had previously shunned politics. She intends to not only caucus for the first time, but also to serve as a caucus leader in her precinct in Walcott, an eastern Iowa town noted for housing the world’s largest truck stop.
“We’ve got to see him win here and keep going,” Michels, 49, added. “He had the prices lower and we were safer.”