DES MOINES, Iowa: Donald Trump muscled past his rivals to capture the first 2024 Republican presidential contest in Iowa on Monday (Jan 15), according to Edison Research projections, once more asserting his dominance over the party as he seeks a third consecutive nomination.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley were in a battle for second place, Edison projected.
With Trump’s victory all but a foregone conclusion given his lead in public polls, the runner-up competition was expected to produce most of the evening’s intrigue, as DeSantis and Haley seek to emerge as the chief alternative to the former president.
Iowans braved life-threatening temperatures to gather at more than 1,600 schools, community centers and other sites for the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus, as the 2024 presidential campaign officially got underway after months of debates, rallies and advertisements.
A commanding victory for Trump in Iowa would bolster his argument that he is the only Republican candidate capable of taking on Democratic President Joe Biden, despite the four criminal cases Trump faces that could potentially turn him into a convicted felon before the Nov 5 general election.
“Trump is very narcissistic, he’s very cocky, but he’s going to get stuff done,” said Rita Stone, 53, a Trump backer, who attended a caucus at a West Des Moines high school. Like many other voters, Stone said her top concern was the US southern border with Mexico, praising Trump’s effort to build a wall when he was president.
Only one-third of caucus-goers said Trump would be unfit for president if convicted of a crime, according to an Edison entrance poll.
Both DeSantis and Haley were aiming for a strong second-place finish that could demonstrate they might prevent Trump’s inexorable march toward the nomination.
DeSantis in particular had wagered his campaign on Iowa, barnstorming all of its 99 counties, and a third-place finish could increase pressure to end his bid.
Polls show him far behind Trump and Haley in the more moderate Northeastern state of New Hampshire, where Republicans will choose their nominee eight days from now.
Unlike a regular election, Iowa’s caucus requires voters to gather in person in small groups, where they cast secret ballots after speeches from campaign representatives.
The wind chill in parts of the state had been forecast to reach minus 43 degrees Celsius on Monday, according to the National Weather Service, potentially depressing turnout.
If so, Trump’s grip on his most loyal supporters may have given him an edge.