Republican presidential candidates headed out for a final, frigid day of campaigning in Iowa.
Where Donald Trump is the overwhelming favorite to stake an early claim to the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
The former president’s dominant position has turned Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest into a race for second place, as both Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are aiming for a clear runner-up finish to emerge as the chief alternative to Trump.
“This is showtime. This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Haley told supporters at a diner in Des Moines.
A commanding victory for Trump in Iowa would bolster his argument that he is the only Republican candidate capable of taking on Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election.
It would also spell trouble for his challengers, especially DeSantis, who has wagered his campaign on Monday’s Iowa caucus, pouring resources into the Midwestern state and barnstorming all of its 99 counties.
A third-place finish could prove fatal to DeSantis’ prospects. Polls show the Florida governor far behind Trump and Haley in the more moderate state of New Hampshire, where Republicans will choose their nominee eight days from now.
Both DeSantis and Haley have expressed confidence that they will exceed expectations in Iowa, though neither has predicted victory.
“I am the candidate who will be the change agent in Washington, D.C.,” DeSantis said on CNN before heading out for a final day of campaigning.
Trump will spend the day doing radio interviews and meeting with staff, according to a person familiar with the matter. He is expected to visit one caucus site in the evening before heading to his watch party in Des Moines.
The life-threatening cold blanketing the Midwest forced the campaigns to cancel several events over the weekend and could dampen turnout on Monday.
Unlike a regular election, Iowa’s caucuses require voters to gather in person on Monday evening in small groups at churches, schools and community centers, where they cast secret ballots after speeches from campaign representatives.
Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann said on Sunday those speeches could play an outsized role this time because candidates had to cancel so many events due to the weather.
Caucus meetings will start at 7 p.m. CST (0100 GMT on Tuesday) and results are expected a few hours after that.
Another potential wild card: an unknown number of the state’s Democratic voters have registered as Republicans to try to influence the caucus results.
“I just want to be able to look back and say I did what I could to keep Donald Trump from getting elected,” said Toni Van Voorhis, 65, one such “crossover voter,” who plans to back Haley.
Iowa Democrats will hold caucuses of their own to conduct party business, but they will not vote Monday for other presidential hopefuls because the party has reshuffled its nominating calendar to put states with more diverse populations ahead of Iowa this year. They will cast their ballots by mail, with the results to be released in March.
Entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, a co-chair of Biden’s campaign, and Illinois Governor JB Pritzker will speak in Iowa later Monday.
The National Weather Service predicted the wind chill temperature could reach minus 45 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 43 degrees Celsius) in some parts of the state.
The 2016 Republican caucus saw record turnout, with about 187,000 votes cast, or approximately 29% of the state’s registered Republican voters. Republican turnout was closer to 18% in 2012.
Trump’s grip on his most loyal supporters may give him an edge if the freezing conditions convince some voters to stay home. An opinion poll released on Saturday showed Trump had far more backers who were “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about caucusing on Monday.
Iowa has historically played an outsized role in presidential campaigns due to its early spot on the campaign calendar. Candidates often spent months fanning out across the state and introducing themselves to voters, and many campaigns have ended after a poor showing.
While the state swung heavily for Trump in 2016 and 2020, it backed Democrat Barack Obama in the previous two elections.
In 2008, 2012 and 2016 — the last three competitive races — the winner of Iowa’s Republican caucuses did not go on to secure the nomination, in part because Iowa’s large evangelical population means the state is more socially conservative than the country as a whole.
Trump has maintained a decisive lead in national polls despite facing four separate indictments, including state and federal prosecutions centered on his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden, who will face the Republican nominee in November’s general election.
Trump has continued to claim falsely that Biden’s 2020 victory was the result of voter fraud.