The presidential primary season, which had a slow start, is now gaining momentum with GOP frontrunners Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis making appearances in Iowa.
This marks a significant turn of events, as both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, who are leading contenders for the GOP nomination in the 2024 presidential election, are set to commence their campaign activities in Iowa.
Their visits to the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state represent a pivotal moment in their campaigns. Over the past weeks, Trump has been openly critical of DeSantis, once his protege, while DeSantis has largely refrained from responding to Trump’s criticisms.
Ron DeSantis, at 44 years old, has not yet officially entered the race, but the establishment of political action committees to support his campaign and the release of his new book, “The Courage to Be Free,” strongly indicate that he will formally announce his candidacy after the conclusion of Florida’s legislative session in May.
During his visit to Iowa, DeSantis is scheduled to deliver speeches about his book, starting at the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport on Friday morning and continuing with another book presentation at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. He will also meet with Republican state legislators at the Capitol.
On the other hand, Donald Trump, aged 76, will be in Davenport on Monday, where he plans to discuss his “America First Education Policy” among other topics.
With less than a year left until the Iowa caucuses, which will determine the first Republican primary winner, the timing of these visits by the two prominent GOP figures is considered relatively late in the presidential election cycle, especially in comparison to other potential candidates who have already been actively campaigning on the ground for several weeks.
Timothy Hagle, a professor of American politics at the University of Iowa, acknowledged the late start and attributed it partly to Trump’s status as a former president, which led many potential candidates to delay their campaigns to assess the political landscape.
Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and a declared Republican candidate, has been actively campaigning in Iowa, emphasizing the need for Republicans to move beyond Trump and look to the future.
Other figures testing the waters in Iowa include former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Nevertheless, polls consistently show Trump and DeSantis as the leading contenders, with significant double-digit leads over other candidates.
According to a Real Clear Politics polling average, Trump has the support of 45% of respondents for the Republican nomination, while DeSantis has 29%, leaving no other candidate in double digits.
Although Trump performed well in Iowa during his 2020 reelection bid, his track record there is mixed, having placed second to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in the 2016 caucuses, which he attributed to alleged fraud.
However, Trump’s influence in Iowa has diminished significantly since June 2021, as indicated by a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.
While Trump is still viewed favorably by 80% of Iowa Republicans, DeSantis enjoys a 74% favorable rating, and Trump’s unfavorable numbers have more than doubled, rising from 7% in 2021 to 18% now. In contrast, only 6% of Iowa Republicans view DeSantis unfavorably.
The poll also highlighted the large number of undecided voters, particularly in DeSantis’ case, indicating that there is room for candidates to gain support as they become better known.
Despite their strong positions in the polls, both Trump and DeSantis face challenges in Iowa, where voters prioritize candidates’ character in addition to their policy positions. Both candidates have faced character-related controversies, with Trump potentially facing legal issues related to hush money payments and election interference in Georgia.
Iowa’s reputation for “Iowa nice” could play in DeSantis’ favor, as voters may seek a candidate who shares their policy preferences without the same level of aggression displayed by Trump. DeSantis will have the opportunity to make his case to Iowa voters in the coming days.