The US Republican presidential primaries start in bitter cold in Iowa

The starting signal for the Republican presidential primaries will be given on Monday in arctic temperatures in the US state of Iowa. According to surveys, former President Donald Trump is the favorite in his party’s voting, which begins at 7 p.m. (local time, Tuesday 2 a.m. CET). His strongest competitors are former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Due to the extreme weather conditions, all three candidates were forced to cancel performances.

“Dress up warm tomorrow,” Trump said on Sunday at a campaign rally in Indianola, south of Iowa’s capital Des Moines. “Despite the weather, go out and save America,” the 77-year-old urged the crowd.

Some parts of Iowa are currently experiencing historic low temperatures as low as minus 42 degrees Celsius. The Midwestern state was also hit by massive snowfall and severe winter storms. It is unclear how much the freezing weather will affect the outcome of the primary election.

Trump has been leading the pre-election polls by a large margin for a long time – despite his many judicial problems with four indictments. The competitors in Iowa are therefore primarily concerned with the question of who can establish themselves as the most promising Trump challenger in the primaries.

The 37-year-old truck driver Jeff Nikolas says he will vote for Trump again. “He may be stubborn, but he can actually make a difference,” Nikolas told AFP.

In addition to Trump, five other Republican candidates will face the vote of their party members, who will cast their votes in the traditional form of the caucus at meetings in schools, churches, sports halls or living rooms. However, the race will be decided between him, DeSantis and Haley. According to his campaign team, Trump plans to attend several of these meetings during the evening.

Trump could face a blow in the Iowa caucuses, according to political analyst Alex Avetoom, who worked on Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“If DeSantis’ massive grassroots effort, coupled with Haley’s recent surge, can push Trump a few points below 50 percent, it would be the first significant sign that he can be defeated,” Avetoom said. However, this “paradigm shift” can only be accomplished “if the rest of the field rallies behind an anti-Trump candidate.”

In a survey published by the regional newspaper “Des Moines Register” and the broadcaster NBC, the right-wing populist recently received 48 percent of the vote. Haley moved up to second place with 20 percent, while DeSantis came third with 16 percent.

DeSantis emphasized on ABC News that his “very motivated” supporters would take part in the election in sufficient numbers. He went on to say that it’s “good to be an outsider when people don’t expect you.”

Like Trump, DeSantis later called on his supporters to brave the cold and support him. “You will never have the opportunity to use your voice to have a greater impact than tonight,” he said early Monday morning on the online service X (formerly Twitter).

Strictly speaking, the primaries in the agricultural state of Iowa have only limited significance; But they are symbolically important and can influence the dynamics of the race. The next primary elections will take place on January 23rd in the state of New Hampshire, where candidate Haley is hoping for a particularly good result.

The winner of the statewide Republican primary will challenge incumbent Joe Biden of the Democratic Party in the November 5 presidential election. The 81-year-old is running for a second term despite his old age. As his campaign team announced on Monday, it raised over $97 million in the fourth quarter of 2023 alone, meaning it already has a record-breaking $117 million (just under 107 million euros) in its campaign coffers.

The Democrats are also holding primaries, but Biden has already been de facto determined as the candidate. In Iowa, Democrats are voting by email, and the result is not expected to be announced until early March.