Donald Trump’s and his Republican competitors are making last-ditch efforts to secure support in Iowa, hours before voters in the state will kick-off the 2024 campaign for the White House.
Final campaign events are being held by candidates, but the cold weather has made things difficult.
A decisive win in Iowa would solidify Mr. Trump’s position as the front-runner.
Meanwhile, his opponents are trying to position themselves as the primary challenger to the outgoing president.
On Monday night, Republican voters will gather at one of the more than 1,500 caucus sites across the Midwestern state to declare their choice for the next president. Amid concerns that the weather may reduce turnout, all of the contenders have pleaded with voters to endure the bitter cold, with temperatures expected to drop as low as -30C (-20F).
After that, the contest will proceed state by state until a winner is chosen, who will very definitely run against Joe Biden in the general election in November.
Iowa voters have not chosen the Republican nominee since 2000, when they supported George W. Bush. The state’s record in this regard is uneven.
At a rally he hosted in Indianola on Sunday, Mr. Trump urged his followers to attend. “Together we’re going to make history but you have to show up,” he stated. “The outcome in this state will send a message to the entire country and, in fact, the entire world.”
The 77-year-old former president wants to defeat his opponents handily and win by a wide margin. He declared, “We’re looking to set records,” on Friday during a virtual gathering.
His campaign has primarily focused on its ground game, using the frequent ‘commit to caucus’ events as practice runs for Monday’s big event. An animated film explaining how to caucus is frequently shown at these meetings, which are organised by “caucus captains” who knock on doors to recruit Iowans. This is likely a hint that Mr. Trump is trying to get out the vote and win large.
On Saturday night, a final poll from the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom revealed that Trump had a roughly 30-point lead, which bolstered the campaign’s hopes of a huge victory.
The former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, surged into second place in the much-watched survey after gaining momentum in recent days.
Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who has heavily funded Iowa, had fallen to third position. If Mr. DeSantis does not perform well on Monday, he will be under pressure to withdraw, which may have a significant impact on his campaign.
Shortly after, Ms. Haley, 51, attempted to minimise the outcomes by claiming that the “real poll” was conducted on caucus day. “We just want to come out of Iowa strong,” she stated.
With a strong showing in the state, Haley’s campaign would gain vital momentum ahead of the next election in New Hampshire, where she is currently trailing Mr. Trump by just ten points. Her home state of South Carolina, where she held two terms as governor, will host the next election.
Gaining traction in one of these early states would position Ms. Haley as the only serious contender to succeed the outgoing president, which would probably spark a much-needed surge in financial support.
Ms. Haley stepped up her call for change during the last lap around Iowa, pleading with voters to reject the “chaos” of Mr. Trump. “A decision must be made,” she stated to her supporters in Cedar Falls. “You’ve got the opportunity to look back at the past and continue, or go forward and start new.”
With fierce rivalry for the runner-up spot, Mr. DeSantis has adopted a combative stance in the closing stages of the campaign, attacking both Ms. Haley and Mr. Trump. “Trump is running on his problems. “Nikki Haley is running on the platform of her donor’s issues,” he frequently declares before events. “I’m running for your issues.”
Even while the other candidates cancelled appearances due to the winter storm, Mr. DeSantis has maintained a rigorous schedule of engagements, which he and his campaign staff are happy to point out. In recent weeks, he has travelled to all 99 counties and spent a lot of time in Iowa, where he has been working to organise a successful grassroots movement.
The governor of Florida has frequently questioned the veracity of the polls placing him in third position. He stated, “I think it’s very hard to poll an Iowa caucus,” in a Sunday interview with CNN. “The  poll was not accurate and predictive, but especially one in -20 degrees.”
“I know the media has been saying that [Trump] is unstoppable,” he stated. “Ultimately, people are going to be able to make a decision… there’s a lot of voters who haven’t made a final decision.”
In front of several dozen people on Sunday, Vivek Ramaswamy conducted an event in a different part of the state’s east. The 38-year-old biotech entrepreneur, who is currently polling in fourth place, has been speaking out more about conspiracy theories lately, most notably by putting out fabricated allegations of 2020 election fraud.
At the occasion, he stood up for Mr. Trump, who on Saturday made his first public attacks on him. He also attributed Mr. Trump’s remarks to his advisors. In addition, he reported feeling a “late surge” in support.
Republican strategist Jimmy Centres, who is from Iowa, told the BBC that “all these other candidates are sort of in a ‘prove it’ moment right now.” “You say the Republican Party would be better suited to go a different way, now voters will have their say.”