Happy Monday / MLK Day / Caucus Day! Congratulations to Iowa residents, who are less than 24 hours away from getting back to commercials for Budweiser and Geico, with just one miserably cold caucus night to get through first.
Up to Speed
- Iowa Republicans will head to caucus sites across the state tonight at 7 p.m. CT to kick off the 2024 primary season in earnest. Donald Trump lapped the field in the final Des Moines Register/NBC News/Medicom poll released over the weekend, receiving the support of 48 percent of likely caucusgoers, more than double Nikki Haley’s 20 percent. But Haley did lead Ron DeSantis, who got 16 percent in the January 7-12 survey from nonpartisan pollster J. Ann Selzer. Vivek Ramaswamy received 8 percent. The poll’s margin of error was plus-or-minus 3.7 percentage points. “We just want to be strong in Iowa,” Haley told The Dispatch Sunday during an interview in Ames, Iowa. “We won’t know what strong is until we see the numbers. But that’s what we’re aiming for.”
- Trump notched a couple more Senate endorsements over the weekend, collecting the support of Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio tweeted that he had seen movement on some of his top policy priorities during Trump’s first term “because we had a President who didn’t cave to special interests or let bureaucrats block us.”
- The former president did most of his weekend campaigning via tele-town hall after a deep freeze fueled by searing wind chills and snow drifts descended on Iowa. But he did host one rally Sunday, roughly 17 miles south of Des Moines in Indianola. The event attracted close to 1,000 people and featured an in-person endorsement from North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who abandoned his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination in the fall.
- Meanwhile, Haley is picking up more support from prominent establishment Republicans. On Sunday, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan told CNN that he is backing Haley for president. And former Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio was spotted in New Hampshire over the weekend knocking on doors on Haley’s behalf. In a text-message exchange with The Dispatch, Portman said he spent four days in the Granite State and did 25 events. “Good energy for Nikki,” he said. “I was impressed with the number of volunteers who were putting their normal life on hold to go all in for Nikki, most of whom had never been involved in a campaign.”
- President Joe Biden announced Monday his reelection campaign raised more than $97 million in the fourth quarter of last year, growing his war chest to a record $117 million—more than any Democratic White House contender at this point in the cycle. The Biden campaign says December was its “strongest grassroots fundraising” month since the president declared for 2024, with more than 2.3 million contributions pouring in and averaging $41.88, each (97 percent of all donations totaled less than $200). These fundraising statistics amount to some welcome good news for Biden, who narrowly trails Donald Trump in a hypothetical rematch and whose job approval has dipped to 39 percent.
DeSantis and Haley in Crucial Battle for Second in Iowa
DES MOINES—It’s a sprint for second as Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley rallied voters across Iowa on the final full day of campaigning ahead of Monday evening’s Republican presidential nominating caucuses, perhaps their final opportunity to emerge as the consensus alternative to frontrunner Donald Trump.
With polls predicting an easy Trump win, the race for second is boiling down to DeSantis’ juggernaut voter turnout operation—fueled by hundreds of paid staffers and volunteers overseen by the Florida governor’s supportive super PAC, Never Back Down—versus Haley’s late-surging momentum. The former South Carolina governor and ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has led or tied DeSantis in the most recent six Iowa polls, and her supporters are now confident a second place finish is within reach.
DeSantis ended Sunday hosting a boisterous rally in Ankeny, a vote-rich Des Moines suburb where both he and Haley need to excel to earn whatever amounts to a ticket out of Iowa. He was introduced by popular Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, whose key endorsement helped keep his campaign afloat amid a series of setbacks. “We need you to layer up and get out there and go caucus,” Reynolds exhorted the packed crowd, referring to the subzero temperatures forecast for this evening.
“I am ever the optimist,” said Samona Wentes, an elderly woman who runs her own floor covering business and says she plans to caucus for DeSantis. She dismissed polls that show Trump on the cusp of breaking 50 percent and show Haley with an average lead over the governor in Iowa of more than 3 percentage points. “I think DeSantis is going to out-perform.”
Haley ended Sunday in Adel, near the micro-suburban battleground of West Des Moines, with supporters (and reporters) filling a hilltop wedding venue for her final pitch. For the caucuses, Haley is relying on an outside group for her ground game that endorsed her only in late November: Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity Action. Haley’s unique strength is that she is attracting the support of Republican voters who had left the party because of Trump.
“I changed from a Republican, lifelong Republican, when Trump started,” said Pauline Niebur, who sported a “Women for Nikki” T-shirt and plans to change her registration back to Republican tonight to caucus for Haley. “I just don’t understand how many Republicans can’t see that the way to win and get a Republican in the White House is Nikki.” Another Haley supporter, Claudia Ewald of West Des Moines, said many of her Democratic friends, too, planned to switch their registration to caucus for Haley.
Haley welcomes the support from outside her party. “I want everybody,” she told The Dispatch earlier in the day, in Ames. “If we’re going to defeat Joe Biden, you’ve got to talk about issues that affect everybody, not just a select few. That’s what we’ve tried to do.”
In the closing days of the Iowa campaign, Never Back Down told The Dispatch the group had knocked on more than 930,000 doors—and counting. That’s in addition to the thousands of phone calls the group is making to prospective caucusgoers, and the extensive transportation network it has assembled to drive voters to caucus sites. There are just under 1,700 precincts that will be caucusing at those venues, and Never Back Down has precinct captains in place for each.
Republican voters backing DeSantis, who are regulars at the quadrennial caucuses, said they have never seen a voter turnout operation reach voters the way Never Back Down has.
“I live in a small town of about 80 people and for the first time ever, I had somebody knock on my door for Ron DeSantis,” David Miller, 61, who is retired military and lives in Gifford, Iowa, told us Thursday at a rally for the governor in Ames. “I’ve never had anybody.”
Haley’s campaign is thriving on sheer, organic momentum, although her supportive super PAC, SFA Inc., has been a big spender on Iowa television. That energy is coming in large measure from Democrats and independents, who are permitted to participate in the GOP caucuses as long as they re-register Republican when they arrive at their local caucus site this evening. This sort of unusual crossover vote is often discussed but rarely comes to fruition in presidential primaries that allow non-Republicans to vote.
But with strong opposition to Trump, the likely caucus winner, and the lack of a Democratic presidential caucus, many left-of-center voters we spoke to this weekend said they planned to show up and support Haley. Indeed, when we met these voters at Haley rallies, they were wearing Haley hats, t-shirts, and stickers. They also said their support would not be deterred by the historically cold weather or any philosophical disagreements they have with her.
“We’re actually going to register as Republicans on Monday so we can caucus. We feel it’s that important,” retiree Randy Lee, 70, told us Saturday at a Haley rally in Cedar Falls. He and his wife, Debbie Lee, are independents, have never caucused before, and have always voted Democrat for president in the general election. “We’re going to caucus for Haley,” Debbie Lee said.
Evangelicals for Trump, Pedophile-Hunters for Vivek
On the site, we’ve got some more on-the-ground reporting from Iowa worth reading in full before the caucuses tonight.
First, Andrew takes a deep look at the shift among Iowa’s evangelical Christian voters away from their preference from social-conservative champions like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to the expected winner of today’s Republican caucuses, Donald Trump. Andrew spoke with pastors and churchgoers alike about what’s changed:
… what really changed the character of evangelical voting wasn’t people losing their faith, precisely—it was a changing sense of what people considered their own faith to mean. Many professing believers stopped going to church, a trend accelerated by the rise of the internet and social media, the gradual retreat of many Americans from social institutions in general, a conservative population that increasingly saw its own churches as growing more liberal, and a global pandemic. The result was an evangelical populace that was far less of a constellation of little communities and far more an undifferentiated mass of online individuals than it had been two decades before.
“Evangelicalism used to be very top-down,” Ryan Burge, a Baptist pastor and data scientist who studies the intersection of religion and politics in America, told The Dispatch. “Social media has allowed us to become a bottom-up society. So now you can build your own little fiefdom through Facebook or Twitter or TikTok or YouTube.”
Meanwhile, John was with Vivek Ramaswamy in Iowa this weekend as the candidate polling fourth place has become the target of the campaign of the first-place candidate. Ramaswamy has found himself courting the Republican caucusgoers animated by conspiracy theories, but these voters are wondering why they shouldn’t just support Trump, instead:
“What about the CIA, sir?” asked an Iowan named Nathen Trausch. “That’s where all the pedophiles are.”
“Well, CIA is a major problem, but they shouldn’t even exist outside of the military,” Ramaswamy replied. He tried to turn the conversation back to his plan to slash the federal government before Trausch interrupted him again.
“Department of Defense has 5,000 pedophiles in it that in 2019 got arrested by Trump,” Trausch said.
“Well, you know, they deserve to actually be held accountable,” Ramaswamy replied. He later promised Trausch that he would arrest even more child sex-traffickers than Trump did.
Notable and Quotable
“I just endorsed Donald Trump. Whether you like it or not, Americans face a binary choice.”—Utah Sen. Mike Lee in a post to X, January 12, 2024