DES MOINES, Iowa — Republicans here expected a surge in political activity in the closing days before Monday’s caucuses. Instead, they faced a “life-threatening” blizzard that, along with bone-chilling temperatures, jeopardized voter turnout.
“Twenty below [zero] said former Polk County GOP chairman Will Rogers, who plans to hold a caucus for former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Rogers said he believes the stay-in temperature will help former President Donald Trump, who has a highly loyal base of voters and leads by dozens of points in every major state poll.
Indeed, nearly a dozen interviews with party officials, campaign operatives and candidate surrogates suggested that Trump would benefit more if the snow, ice, wind and cold combined to reduce turnout in the state. December one NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom request Perhaps the Iowa caucuses showed that Trump voters are the most likely to be enthusiastic about and committed to their candidate.
“His people would literally put a truck through anything,” said David Oman, a former co-chairman of the state Republican Party who supported Haley.
The worry for Haley’s supporters is that the bad weather could halt her momentum as polls rise and crowds say she has a chance to beat Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for the second spot.
On Thursday, he was forced to turn several planned Friday rallies into virtual events. Americans for Prosperity Action, an outside group supporting it, had to consider engaging in a door-knocking campaign.
“The reality is that every candidate and every organization asks themselves this question. Iowans aren’t very affected by the weather, but it’s definitely a factor these days,” said Drew Klein, Iowa-based senior adviser for AFP Action.
“We beat. We’re going to adjust our tactics, obviously, we want to keep our people safe,” Klein said, adding that the group will knock on 150 doors in Iowa this weekend. They will likely hit denser neighborhoods where they can target the most homes in the shortest possible time.
“We’ll jump in, get a bunch of houses, then get back in the vehicles, jump back in and warm up,” he said.
Haley, a clear runner-up to Trump in New Hampshire, has carefully avoided making promises about her performance in Iowa. That’s in contrast to DeSantis, who had pinned his hopes on Iowa earlier in the campaign and he was saying in December said that he will win the state. He traveled to all 99 of the state’s counties, where he boasted he would defeat Trump, and watched his aligned super PAC, Never Back Down, build an expensive and sprawling field operation that could make a difference to him on caucus night.
“Basically, it’s up to whoever founded the organization,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a DeSantis ally and head of the religious conservative group Family Leader. “You ask every Iowan, ‘Who knocked on your door?’ They will say “DeSantis” over and over again. They won’t say Trump, they won’t say Nikki, they won’t even say Vivek. [Ramaswamy]. … He has the best ground game I’ve ever seen.”
It’s not just DeSantis allies who say his activism is highly organized. That’s a common sentiment among Republican and Democratic operatives working on campaigns across the state. His aides say he’s built for the weather.
“Organization is going to be key, and it’s been a top priority since day one,” said David Polyanski, deputy campaign manager. “But the sub-zero weather also suits our teasing mentality – we’re looking forward to forcing our opponents to try to match our campaign pace when they’re struggling to breathe outside.”
Ramaswamy, who finished fourth in the final poll, also said he was confident the unforgiving weather would give him a boost.
“When you’re cold, you get out a little bit less,” he told reporters this week. “I think it will work in our favor. Most of my supporters are not tidy supporters.”
For Trump, the fear is not complacency, but complacency. He would like to win with a majority of the state to defuse critics who argue that Haley or DeSantis could defeat him in a one-on-one fight for the nomination. But Trump advisers have tried to lower the bar, saying a victory of more than 12 points would set a record in the contested Iowa caucus.
Donald Trump Jr. has said that the media is raising expectations about his father’s vote share in the bank shooting to reduce his turnout.
“I think they’re going to try to design it to make Trump voters think there’s leadership, which they don’t. [vote]so they can run the underperformance story, so I think people have to come forward,” Trump Jr. said in an interview Thursday.
For some Iowans, going to the caucuses will be a game-time decision. For others, the plan is to either face the elements or stay indoors.
Marion County GOP Chairman Steven Everly said he still expects a decent turnout Monday, fielding more than 150 calls from potential caucus members pledging to attend over the past four days.
But he’s also heard from some older voters who say they should get a pass because of the perceived danger.
“The 2016 caucus was the largest Iowa caucus in recent history, and depending on the weather, it could meet or exceed that,” Everly said. “Your most ardent supporters, whoever the candidate is, will normally brave the weather.”
DeSantis spoke about the weather at a Thursday night event hosted by Never Back Down.
“Temperatures are dropping; my Florida blood is matching,” he said. “I’ve got more boosters and layers on the way. And we’re going to look forward to going all the way. Go as low as you’ll go. We’re not stopping.”
When asked by a reporter how the projections might affect voter turnout, DeSantis discussed the caucus effort, which is largely led by a super PAC.
“Obviously, organizationally, it’s something you plan to do — to help bring out people who are committed to caucuses for you,” DeSantis said. “So this will be done. I think we’re the only ones who are really on point.”
If Haley can get the better of DeSantis, despite the team he’s put in place and the weather, he’s sure to score a shot toward New Hampshire. But snow and cold could deprive him of it.
Oman, a former state party co-chairman, said a successful candidate must be organized, organized and eventually warmed up, pointing to old Iowa.
“She’s in that space right now,” he said of Haley on Thursday.
But he also pointed out a difference that could end the hot streak on caucus night.
“It’s always cold and dark in January. “But it’s not that cold.”