“It's always a great day to be a polar bear,” reads a slogan in the hallways of North High School in Des Moines, Iowa. The Polar Bears are this high school's sports team for which a group of Republican voters have gathered to choose their candidate for the November presidential election. It's 21 degrees below zero outside and there are mountains of snow. It's undoubtedly a good day to be a polar bear, but it's also a good day to be Donald Trump. As expected in the polls, the former president won the Iowa caucuses, including the one at North High School, with a record victory.
Trump was the candidate with the most votes in the hundreds of caucuses held in Iowa on Monday, the start of the Republican primary to decide who will face Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 presidential election. Trump's victory in icy, snowy and arctic temperatures-hit Iowa is just the first step in the primary race, but it is a show of force for the former president, who faces 91 charges in four different cases – a situation that appears to have helped rather than hindered him . In one fell swoop, Trump dispelled all doubts about his leadership role among the base of the Republican Party.
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his caucus vigil party in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., January 15, 2024. BRIAN SNYDER (Portal)
Trump's victory was overwhelming. He won more votes than all of his competitors combined, winning in 98 of Iowa's 99 counties. Television and media data analysts confirmed his victory, including the almost infallible AP, barely half an hour after caucuses began. His victory was larger than that of Republican Bob Dole, who won the 1988 Iowa caucuses by just over 12 points, a record for presidential re-election campaigns. According to AP data, with more than 95% of votes counted, Trump won 51.1% of the vote, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with 21.2% and former South Carolina Gov. and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley with 19.1%. Such a lead practically eliminated his rivals in the first round.
Trump appeared at a convention center in Des Moines, the state capital, on Monday evening to celebrate his stunning victory and congratulated his rivals in a message tinged with sarcasm: “I want to congratulate Ron and Nikki on having a good time together.” DeSantis and Haley have tried to appear pleased with the results, but DeSantis is relieved at best while Haley is hopeful.
DeSantis beats Haley
The battle for second place was won by DeSantis, who exceeded poll expectations. Nevertheless, the result is a real disappointment. Recently, television news programs have followed how his message has changed. A few months ago he said, “We're going to win in Iowa,” but a few weeks ago that changed to “We're going to do well.” The reality is that the governor, even though he had visited all 99 counties and even though Iowa was a white, conservative and religious, which favors DeSantis' political profile, he still trailed Trump by nearly 30 points and narrowly beat Haley. On Monday, he appeared highlighted and thanked his supporters: “Despite everything they threw at us, all against us, our ticket was canceled from Iowa,” DeSantis told them.
Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis greets his supporters at his Iowa caucus watch party in West Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., January 15, 2024. BRENDAN MCDERMID (Portal)
Haley had hoped to come in second place and present herself as a candidate on the rise, especially since the next stop in the primary is New Hampshire, where she is polling well. After finishing just behind DeSantis in third place, she is still trying to push that narrative, but it sounds less convincing, especially since Trump's lead is huge. “When you look at how well we're doing in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond, I can say with certainty that Iowa turned this Republican primary into a two-person race tonight,” she said. It sounded like the speech they had prepared in case she came second.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy came in fourth place with 7.7% of the vote, while support for Ryan Binkley (pastor, businessman and politician) and Asa Hutchinson (former governor of Arkansas) was minimal, less than 1%. Ramaswamy announced he is withdrawing from the race and will support Trump, with whom he will appear at a rally in New Hampshire this week.
The Iowa caucuses were held in hundreds of community centers, schools, colleges, institutes, sports centers, churches and even private homes across the state of 3.2 million residents. Sometimes there are speeches and debates before the vote, but that is not always the case. In the Republican caucuses, candidates do not have to meet a certain threshold to qualify for the delegate election.
In a caucus
At the North Institute, John Satre was in charge of the Trump campaign. He told EL PAÍS that this was the second time he had served as faction captain. Curiously, he defended Senator Ted Cruz against Trump in 2016, but now he's turning his attention to the former president. “Trump is what the country needs, he has shown that he has common sense,” he argued. Satre defended Trump almost simultaneously in Spanish, even though there were hardly any Latino voters in the room.
Irma Fralic, 60, of South Carolina, Nikki Haley's home state, traveled from Pennsylvania to campaign for her. “Nikki can beat Biden. Trump has a very strong base, but it is not enough. “Nikki can unite the country, she is conservative, she doesn’t want big government, she wants a balanced budget,” he explained to EL PAÍS.
Mike Dorwart, 63, lived in Florida before moving to Iowa, and that's partly why he supports Ron DeSantis. “I think he would be good for the country, he is the right person for this time, because of his experience and for everything,” he said. “One thing that unites all of us Republicans is the desire to defeat Joe Biden in November.”
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump arrives to deliver pizza to firefighters at the Waukee Fire Department in Waukee, Iowa, on Sunday, January 14, 2024. Associated Press/LaPresse (APN)
The North Institute caucus was a disorderly meeting without a public address system, with several people speaking at the same time. There were protests against the late start and some chaos in the voting process. Almost a hundred Republicans were present. “You can see the effects of the bad weather,” organizers said. The news that Trump had swept Iowa reached the high school auditorium before those in attendance had even begun voting. A paradox of a live-streamed democracy. Minutes later, the results from the three North High School polling stations were in: Trump won 45 of the 74 votes, 61%. The news was true. DeSantis received 13 votes; Haley, 9, and Ramaswamy, 5.
The DeSantis campaign protested the very early release of the results, arguing it amounted to election interference. AP, which sets the standard on the matter, said early results from eight counties showed Trump with an insurmountable lead just half an hour after caucuses called. The agency explained that unlike states with primaries, Iowa has no elections and no set time for all voting to end. At some polling stations it can close in minutes, while at others it may take some time for the result to be determined. The agency said it announces the results when it believes there is no doubt about them.
Democrats decided not to start the Iowa caucuses after the state held contentious caucuses in 2020 that saw long delays in releasing results. Biden — who had a dismal performance in Iowa four years ago — pushed for the race to start in more diverse states that better represent the Democratic Party and the country. Democrats in Iowa approved mail-in voting, with voting possible through March. On Monday, Iowa Democrats met to discuss party business, but not to vote.
Officially, the Democratic Party primary begins February 3 in South Carolina and then moves to Nevada. However, the New Hampshire Democratic Party is moving forward with its primary election on January 23, which party officials say will be invalid.
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