Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Donald Trump is expected to win the first ballot of the 2024 presidential race, as voters in Iowa gather on Monday night for caucuses that will set the pace for the Republican campaign for the White House.
Trump has a huge lead in a shrinking field of Republicans vying for the party’s presidential nomination, according to the polls. But the former president is also contending with sky-high expectations and extreme winter weather that could hamper voter turnout.
Trump commands the support of more than half of Iowa’s likely Republican caucus-goers, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight average of state polls — a lead that is expected to prove unassailable, even in a state that has thrown up shock results in previous caucuses.
“I think we are going to have a tremendous night tonight,” Trump told reporters as he left his hotel on Monday afternoon. “The people are fantastic, and I have never seen spirit like they have.”
Nikki Haley, his former ambassador to the UN, trails in second place, on just under 19 per cent, according to the FiveThirtyEight average. She is followed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis on nearly 16 points and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy on around 6 per cent.
The winner of the Republican primary race, which will unfold over the coming months and culminate at the party’s convention in July, will run against President Joe Biden in the general election in November.
Despite his polling lead, Trump’s campaign was working on Monday to ensure that voters turn out to the caucuses, which will begin at precincts across the Midwestern state at 7pm local time. Voters will have the chance to make speeches about their preferred candidates before casting ballots that will be counted by the state’s Republican party shortly after.
Trump’s rivals have also been criss-crossing the state in recent days in an eleventh-hour bid to cut into his lead.
Haley is pushing for a strong second place finish to solidify her standing heading into New Hampshire, the next big test of the Republican primary season. The polls there show a closer race with the former South Carolina governor gaining support from moderate Republican voters and independents.
DeSantis spent much time and money campaigning in Iowa, and won the backing of some evangelical leaders and the state’s governor. But his campaign has faltered and he has recently pitched himself as the underdog in Monday’s caucuses.
“We know we’re underdogs and we’ve been written off before,” said James Uthmeier, DeSantis’s campaign manager, on CNN on Monday.
The Trump team is also seeking to manage expectations that he will dominate the caucuses, aware that any failure to meet or beat his polling numbers could sap some momentum ahead of next week’s New Hampshire primary.
On Monday the former president lashed out at his competitors on social media, in an apparent push to maximise his Iowa vote.
Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform that Haley could not win because she lacked support from his base and was a “Globalist RINO”, or Republican in name only, while DeSantis was “MAGA-lite”.
“Vivek votes are wasted, and should come to ‘TRUMP’,” he added, referring to the biotech entrepreneur who has repeatedly praised the former president.
Iowa’s weather could play havoc with turnout on Monday. The state is no stranger to harsh winters, but the forecast in Des Moines, the capital, is for a record low of -22C for caucus night.
Trump has implored voters to turn up anyway — and tried to make light of the situation at a rally in Indianola, Iowa, on Sunday afternoon.
“You can’t sit home. If you’re sick as a dog, you say, ‘Darling, I gotta make it’ . . . Even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it, remember,” he said.