(The Center Square) – The Iowa Caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 15, leaving just over a week of breakneck campaigning before what could be a decisive day in the Republican primary.
The Iowa Caucuses provide an opportunity for underestimated candidates to nab a key win by focusing their time and money on the early state. A victory there can help build steam and boost fundraising before the following primary later this month: New Hampshire.
A poor performance in Iowa, though, can end an already struggling presidential campaign or at least raise doubts about its viability.
“We’re moving away from persuasion and into the expectation-setting phase of the campaign,” Colin Reed, a Republican strategist, former campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and co-founder of South and Hill Strategies, told The Center Square. “Voters in the early states have been getting hammered for months with candidate events, town halls, ads, meet and greets. There’s less and less new information likely to change their minds.”
Goals vary for each candidate, Reed said. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley appear to be duking it out for second place.
“For Trump, he needs to show a result that’s consistent with his lead in the polls or risk losing the veneer of inevitability,” Reed continued. “For DeSantis, he needs a decisive second place showing or loses a credible rationale to continue on. Nikki Haley placed more of her chips in New Hampshire so she has the least to lose and most to gain. Either way, the events in Iowa have the potential to re-shuffle the deck in the eight days between the caucuses and New Hampshire primary.”
The last Republican debate before Iowa voters weigh in is scheduled for Jan. 10 to be hosted by CNN, which announced that only DeSantis and Haley will participate. Trump will again skip this debate, opting for a Fox News Town Hall the same night.
Notably, billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy will be absent from the debate after CNN said he did not qualify. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not qualify either.
Ramaswamy made headlines for his recent endorsement from Steve King, a long-time Iowa congressman who was primaried out of his seat amid controversy over his comments about white supremacy.
“If you want someone who is going to take on the deep state and speak truth to power, then vote for someone who is going to speak the truth to YOU,” King, 74, said in a statement.
DeSantis, who has been campaigning hard in the Hawkeye State, has repeatedly touted his support from the state’s governor, Kim Reynolds.
A coveted endorsement, Reynolds praised DeSantis in her November endorsement remarks, calling him “someone who calls out our moral decline for what it is, who looks to the future and not the past, someone who most importantly, can win.”
The Trump campaign, though, has run ads featuring Reynolds’ past positive comments about Trump, something Reynolds has called “misleading.”
The latest polling, though, is on Trump’s side. While Trump dominates national polling, his opponents perform better in Iowa. Trump also faces nearly 100 criminal charges across several states as well as ongoing efforts to remove him from the ballot for his role in the Jan. 6 protests at the U.S. Capitol. Translated, those challenges mean Trump’s campaign could be upended later this year and make second place in the GOP primary more important than ever.
The latest polling aggregation and analysis from FiveThirtyEight, a top polling firm, has Trump with 50% support in Iowa. DeSantis follows with 18.4% support, Haley at 15.4% and Ramaswamy at 6%. Christie has 3.7% support.
Nationally, Trump polls better with about 62% support in the Republican primary, more than all his challengers combined. DeSantis and Haley are roughly tied for second with about 12% and 11% support, respectively.