Iowa caucus 2024: Republicans hours from casting first election votes

  • By Gareth Evans & Holly Honderich & Bernd Debusmann Jr
  • BBC News, Des Moines, Iowa

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Watch: Temperatures low in Iowa, but the excitement and stakes are high

Voters in Iowa are about to brave historically low temperatures to pick their Republican presidential nominee and ignite the 2024 White House race.

Donald Trump is ahead in the polls but frigid conditions will test voters’ enthusiasm and could hit turnout.

Parts of the state will be as cold as -30C (-20F) and the caucus voting system requires people to turn up in person on Monday evening to pick a candidate.

A resounding victory in Iowa would cement Mr Trump’s frontrunner status.

His rivals, meanwhile, are seeking to establish themselves as the main alternative to the former president.

After Iowa the race will move state by state before an eventual Republican nominee is crowned in July to challenge the Democratic nominee, almost certainly President Joe Biden, in November.

Republican voters will meet at one of more than 1,500 caucus locations around the Midwestern state at 19:00 local time (20:00 ET / 01:00 GMT) to state their preferred presidential candidate.

A winner will be announced in the hours that follow but US media will make a projection of the result before then.

Image source, Getty Images

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Man wrapped in blanket in Des Moines

Mr Trump told his supporters over the weekend that the outcome of the vote in Iowa would send a message to the world.

At a gun show in Davenport, Iowa, one of them, Karl Leslein, was selling raffle tickets on behalf of the Iowa Wild Turkey Federation. He told the BBC why he’s backing the former president.

“As Republicans we’re used to people saying things to get elected. Then they get to Washington and they change. Trump’s not like that,” he said.

Mr Trump, 77, is seeking to land a knockout blow on his challengers and those hopes were boosted by a final poll from the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom that suggested he had a nearly 30-point lead.

The closely watched poll indicated Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, had moved into second place after gaining momentum in recent days.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has invested large amounts of resources into Iowa, had slipped to third place. Mr DeSantis will face pressure to drop out if he performs poorly on Monday and the result could prove critical for his campaign.

Ms Haley, 51, sought to downplay the results shortly after, saying the “real poll” was on caucus day. “We just want to come out of Iowa strong,” she said.

A strong finish in the state would give the Haley campaign crucial momentum heading into the next contest in New Hampshire, where she is polling within 10 points of Mr Trump. After that, the next contest is in her home state of South Carolina where she served two terms as governor.

A win in one of these early states would help establish Ms Haley as the only viable alternative to the former president, likely triggering a much-needed wave of support and donations.

In the final sprint around Iowa, Ms Haley doubled down on her pitch for change, urging voters to leave the “chaos” of Mr Trump behind. “This comes down to a choice,” she told supporters in Cedar Falls. “You’ve got the opportunity to look back at the past and continue, or go forward and start new.”

Facing stiff competition for second place, Mr DeSantis has taken an aggressive approach to the final days of the campaign, attacking both Ms Haley and Mr Trump. “Donald Trump is running for his issues. Nikki Haley is running for her donor’s issues,” he often says at the beginning of his events. “I’m running for your issues.”

Mr DeSantis has kept up an intense schedule of events, which he and campaign staff are quick to point out have taken place even as the other candidates have cancelled appearances because of the winter storm. He has toured all 99 counties and spent considerable time in Iowa in recent weeks, focusing on organising an effective ground campaign.

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Tom Gioia, a university friend of Ron DeSantis from Yale, has been campaigning in Iowa on behalf of the Florida governor.

He told the BBC he believes the polls are not accurately reflecting his friend’s true support.

“We’re very optimistic. I think he’s gonna do very well. The guy has done everything that he can do to make the case here to Iowans,” he said. “He’s put in the work and knocked on the doors.”

Elsewhere, in the east of the state, Vivek Ramaswamy held an event on Sunday in front of dozens of people. The biotech entrepreneur, 38, is polling in fourth place and has increasingly spoken about conspiracy theories in recent weeks, notably airing false claims of election fraud in 2020.

He defended Mr Trump at the event, who attacked him publicly for the first time on Saturday, and blamed Mr Trump’s comments on his advisers. He also said he was experiencing a “late surge” in support.

“This is sort of a ‘prove it’ moment for all these other candidates,” Jimmy Centers, an Iowan Republican consultant, told the BBC. “You say the Republican Party would be better suited to go a different way, now voters will have their say.”

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