2024 showdown: Trump, DeSantis battle for votes in the crucial lead off state of Iowa

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Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will make competing visits to Iowa this week as the 2024 GOP presidential primary heats up.

DeSantis returns to Iowa for the first time as a declared presidential candidate. The popular two-term conservative governor of Florida on Tuesday evening will kick off two days of campaigning in the Hawkeye State with a stop at the Eternity Church in Clive. The stop at the mega church in suburban Des Moines illustrates the outsized role evangelical Christians play in Iowa’s Republican presidential caucuses. 

Fox News Digital will livestream the address by DeSantis, at 8pm ET.

On Wednesday, DeSantis will crisscross the state from west to east, holding events in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Pella, and Cedar Rapids, before campaigning Thursday in New Hampshire and Friday in South Carolina, which hold the second and third contests in the Republican primary and caucus schedule.

Trump, who remains the commanding front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination as he makes his third straight bid for the White House, returns to Iowa on Wednesday afternoon, with his trip overlapping with DeSantis.

The former president will make an in studio appearance with popular radio host Simon Conway. On Thursday Trump will address Republican activists on Thursday at the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale, in suburban Des Moines, before sitting down with Fox News’ Sean Hannity for a town hall in nearby Clive, which will air on the Fox News Channel at 9pm ET.

Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann, pointing to the former president’s ‘near universal name recognition and universal knowledge of his policies,’ told Fox News recently that that Trump ‘obviously has an inside track.’

‘Do I believe that Donald Trump is ahead in the polls in Iowa? Absolutely. Do I believe that the Iowa caucuses is a done deal? Absolutely not,’ Kaufmann said. ‘It’s not in our nature to do that. And I think a lot of Iowans would be reticent about calling a caucus before January when we actually have it.’

Earlier this month Trump and DeSantis scheduled rival events in Iowa — with the Florida governor headlining events in both the western and eastern parts of the state to fundraise for fellow Republicans, while Trump planned to hold what was billed as a large rally in Des Moines. 

After Trump’s event was canceled at the last minute due to severe weather warnings, DeSantis made an unscheduled stop in Iowa’s capital city on Saturday night and spoke with supporters at a barbeque joint just a couple of blocks from where the Trump rally would have been.

‘Iowa is very important,’ DeSantis said on Monday in an interview on Fox News’ ‘Fox and Friends.’

Showcasing his commitment to campaigning in Iowa, DeSantis added that ‘we obviously have a lot in common with Iowa in terms of what Florida has done and what they’ve done under Gov. Kim Reynolds. And I think the groundswell of support has been really, really strong. We’re going to press the case.’

Never Back Down, the deep-pocketed super PAC supporting DeSantis, has hired political operatives in Iowa as they’ve built up a field operation, sent out mailers, organized events, and showcased a slew of endorsements by state lawmakers.

Among those heading up the super PAC are veterans of the Republican presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who narrowly edged Trump to win the 2016 Iowa caucuses thanks in part to strong support from social conservative voters. 

The Trump campaign is cognizant of the DeSantis efforts in Iowa.

‘I understand everything they’re doing to try to make it into a competitive race, and we will fight as it as a competitive race to the end, but the challenges they face to bring the race into a competitive stature are much greater,’ senior Trump campaign adviser Chris LaCivita argued in a statement. ‘Anyone underestimating President Trump’s willingness to campaign is making a huge mistake. People will see plenty of Donald Trump.’

The Trump campaign says they’ve upped their game since 2016, when their organizational skills in Iowa were criticized.

‘Where we are now compared to 2016 is just not comparable,’ LaCivita told Fox News.

Iowa’ has seen plenty of campaign traffic so far this year, with numerous visits from former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who launched her campaign in February, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — who declared his candidacy last week — as well as three other declared presidential candidates: former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson; multimillionaire entrepreneur, best-selling author and conservative commentator Vivek Ramaswamy; and businessman Perry Johnson. And former Vice President Mike Pence, who’s expected to launch a 2024 campaign in the coming days, has also heavily traveled through Iowa.

Kaufmann spotlighted that ‘there is more than one ticket out of Iowa,’ as he pointed to Trump’s second-place finish in 2016 caucuses, narrowly behind Cruz, the eventual nomination runner-up for the nomination.

He emphasized that candidates who over-perform in the caucuses ‘can leave Iowa with some momentum for the long game. And that’s what Iowa’s all about. It’s the beginning of the long game.’

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