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Trump will campaign in Iowa — site of the first presidential primary for the GOP

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is in Iowa today for the first time since he announced his latest presidential bid.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Iowa is still the first state in the nation to formally nominate a Republican presidential candidate every four years. So Trump knows he has to show up to win there.

FADEL: That's why Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters has been following all the presidential hopefuls around the Hawkeye State, and he joins us now. Good morning, Clay.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So what are you seeing in Iowa as the race gets underway there?

MASTERS: Well, it was a bit of a slow start, but things are starting to pick up here. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made a trip to the state on Friday. Now he has not officially announced he's running, but he's on a book tour as he thinks about a run - a classic pre-announcement move. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is a declared candidate. She just wrapped up a second trip to Iowa last week.

And then, of course, former President Trump will be here today. His visit comes on the heels of the news last week that he's been invited to testify in front of a New York grand jury, a move that's widely understood to mean he could face criminal charges. Certainly the folks who will be seeing Trump at the Adler Theater in Davenport today won't think much of that. But I have been speaking with Iowans coming to some of these early events, and they're saying that they're kind of ready to just move on from Trump.

FADEL: So what are you hearing from Iowa voters in these early campaign visits? I mean, you mentioned some are ready to move on from Trump.

MASTERS: Yeah, there was a new Des Moines Register poll last week that shows Iowa Republicans remain committed to Trump.

FADEL: OK.

MASTERS: Want to make that clear. But the former president is seeing his support erode a little bit. Keep in mind, we're still, like, 10 months or so away from the Iowa caucuses...

FADEL: Yeah.

MASTERS: ...And the people who come out this early are obviously politically engaged. Sherrie Pleis is a veterinarian. She and her husband braved the snow to go see Nikki Haley at a farm last week in central Iowa. She told me she likes Trump's policies, didn't care for how divisive he was as president. And then another setback for her is that he'd already served one term.

SHERRIE PLEIS: Can you get anything done in four years? You know, can we hold on to it for eight years and get some policies moved through to undo a lot of the bad Democratic policies?

MASTERS: So that's something I also heard from other people seeing Haley as well as Ron DeSantis at these events last week.

FADEL: How has DeSantis been received in Iowa so far?

MASTERS: He's seen as perhaps the biggest challenger to Trump in 2024, even though, again, he's not yet announced his bid. Privately, he met with state lawmakers at the Iowa Capitol when he was here, had two pretty large public events, hundreds of people at each - one in Davenport, one in Des Moines. He gave campaign-style speeches highlighting how he responded to the pandemic early on - banning mask mandates, vaccine mandates and then opening schools early. He also mentioned policies he's passed in Florida, like the law critics dubbed Don't Say Gay. And he told the crowd those kinds of policies are what made him get reelected by an even larger margin in 2022.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: We just do the right thing. Let the chips fall where they may. We fight back with the truth. And look, all I can tell you is I got elected by 32,000 votes. I spent four years of them attacking me and me fighting back, and I won by 1.5 million. So I'm fine with that.

MASTERS: And his message spoke to Ron Schorg from Davenport. He says he wants DeSantis to make it official.

RON SCHORG: I don't disagree with a lot of Trump's policies, but I think he's just too abrasive. He's got too much baggage right now to get anything done if he could get elected, and I don't think he can get elected.

MASTERS: And I should note, DeSantis was joined by Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa for both those events, and she said she'll remain neutral in this primary. And I expect to see her tonight in Davenport with Donald Trump as well.

FADEL: That's Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Clay Masters
Clay Masters is a reporter for Iowa Public Radio and formerly for Harvest Public Media. His stories have appeared on NPR