Early Iowa Caucus victory call for Trump angers GOP. Why it happened

The decision by The Associated Press and other major media outlets to call the Iowa Caucuses a victory for Donald Trump before everyone had cast ballots has angered both Iowans and candidates.

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC also called the race early, about the same time as AP, about 31 minutes after caucuses began at 7 p.m. (The USA TODAY Network relies on the AP to call races.)

Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann lambasted the media for the early call, issuing a statement after the AP declared at 10:20 p.m. that Gov. Ron DeSantis took second place.

“Media outlets calling the results of the 2024 first-in-the-nation caucus less than half an hour after precinct caucuses had been called to order — before the overwhelming majority of Iowans had even cast their ballot — was highly disappointing and concerning,” Kaufmann said in a statement. “One of the key differences between the Iowa Caucus and a standard primary election is that Iowans have the chance to listen to presidential candidates or their surrogates and deliberate to make an informed decision. “There was no need to rush one of the most transparent, grassroots democratic processes in the country.”

Ron DeSantis’ campaign in particular decried the move, calling it “election interference.”

“It is absolutely outrageous that the media would participate in election interference by calling the race before tens of thousands of Iowans even had a chance to vote,” the campaign’s communications director, Andrew Romeo, said in a statement. “The media is in the tank for Trump, and this is the most egregious example yet.” 

DeSantis supporter and Iowa conservative Steve Deace echoed that criticism.

“People are telling me phones got Fox News alerts Trump won before they even voted,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Just criminal levels of voter suppression. That network is a freaking cancer. With ‘friends’ like Fox, who needs CNN?”

Nikki and Troy Barkhaus of Altoona, who caucused at Willowbrook Elementary, said their site took a long time to get through other questions and start the presidential vote. While they didn’t hear about the early call from other caucusgoers until later, they said they were surprised to hear the race was called so soon.

“We probably hadn’t even voted at that point,” Troy Barkhaus said afterward at Vivek Ramaswamy’s watch party in Des Moines. “That seems a little premature.”

The result came so early that no one was yet at the Trump watch party to cheer the results.  

Soon after, Trump supporters filled the auditorium at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines, with a couple hundred mingling and watching a Fox News broadcast of the results on two projectors. Hundreds of press filled the risers and tables in the back of the auditorium. 

Supporters there said they were a little surprised at the quick call — but not that much. 

“It was pretty quick,” said Vickie Froehlich, 69, a farmer from Kenyon, Minn., who drove down for the festivities. 

“Everybody knew he was going to win, so it’s not too surprising.” 

Froehlich scoffed at the notion that it was some kind of “election interference.” 

“People were already at the caucuses,” she said. “They knew how they were all going to vote.” 

Early win: Donald Trump cruises to early Iowa Caucuses victory despite spurning Iowa leaders

Complete coverage: Live coverage and analysis from Caucus day.

Watching sports and caucus results at Johnny’s Hall of Fame on Court Avenue, Katie Gross said she saw the early announcement on social media and thought it was unfair to other candidates who had spent more time in the state than former President Trump.

Gross, 29, said she’s a Democrat but followed the run-up to caucus night. 

“I think it was early. I don’t think it was a fair representation of what people think. It’s just people riding the Trump train,” Gross said.

Over at the downtown Marriott, traditionally a hangout for Republican operatives during the caucuses, GOP political consultant Rob Stutzman from California said the call wasn’t surprising given the weather, low turnout and that first place wasn’t in question.

“It was a bit disappointing to call it while people were still in caucus meetings,” said Stutzman, who had been following longtime Iowa political operative David Kochel earlier in the day. “But I don’t think it had any material effect on turnout.”

Here’s why the AP called Donald Trump the winner of the Iowa Caucuses

It declared Trump the winner based on an analysis of early returns as well as results of AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who planned to caucus on Monday night, according to an AP story.

“Both showed Trump with an insurmountable lead,” AP reported.

“Initial results from eight counties showed Trump with far more than half of the total votes counted as of 8:31 pm. ET, with the rest of the field trailing far behind. These counties include rural areas that are demographically and politically similar to a large number of counties that have yet to report.”

The AP story said VoteCast showed Trump with “sizable leads among both men and women, as well as every age group and geographic regions throughout the state.”

AP VoteCast is a survey conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research of more than 1,500 voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Republican caucuses in Iowa, the AP reported.

“Among voters who identify as born-again Christians, the survey found that Trump was favored by 58% (of) voters intending to caucus, compared to 18% for DeSantis and 13% for Nikki Haley. Polls showed that was a relatively weak group of backers for Trump in Iowa in 2016,” the AP reported.

This story will be updated.

Reporters Galen Bacharier, David Jackson, Lee Rood, Amanda Tugade and Dominick Dausch contributed to this story.

Mike Trautmann is the News Director/Politics Editor for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at mtrautmann@gannett.com; Twitter: @DMRPoliticsCzar.

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