For all the talk of miracle bounces, the Iowa race is hardly competitive: A new NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll has Trump at 48 per cent among likely caucus-goers, with Haley surging into second place but still only at 20 per cent.
“I’m voting for Trump again,” 37-year-old trucker Jeff Nikolas told AFP, adding that “he may be bullheaded, but he can actually get stuff done”.
The poll was more bad news for Florida Governor DeSantis, who scored just 16 per cent and has seen his claim to be heir apparent to the post-Trump Republican Party eclipsed by Haley.
But DeSantis insisted Sunday that his “very motivated” backers would turn out in sufficient numbers – despite the frigid conditions – to keep him relevant in a vote open only to registered Republicans.
In 2016 only 186,000 Iowans took part in the caucus, he told ABC, and “now, with this weather, it could be significantly less”, making turnout paramount. He urged his supporters: “Bring in friends and family, man, that’s going to pack a punch.”
Haley, a former South Carolina governor, is looking to outperform expectations to cement her claim to be Trump’s top challenger going into her preferred state of New Hampshire the following week.
“You don’t defeat Democrat chaos with Republican chaos,” she told Fox News Sunday. “We have got to put these names of Biden and Trump in the past and look forward with new solutions.”
Iowa is a notoriously poor predictor of the eventual nominee but it is considered crucial for winnowing the field and as a springboard to the next few battlegrounds, which include Haley’s home state.
Stung by defeat in 2016 after skipping much of Iowa’s campaign trail, Trump has built up an impressive network of “precinct captains” to corral votes this time around – but he has been as notable for courtroom appearances as campaign events.
In a state that likes to meet its candidates face-to-face, DeSantis has been at pains to highlight his own ground game, which has taken him to all 99 counties.