CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Donald Trump on Saturday called for a show of strength in Iowa, arguing before big audiences that dominating in the Republican presidential caucuses in January would signal to voters around the country his strength in the November election next year.
“We have to win big,” Trump told about 2,500 in a downtown Cedar Rapids hotel ballroom on his second of stops, part of a fall push to lock in supporters. “I think we’re in great shape in the primary. But it sets a tone for the general election.”
Trump’s afternoon stops in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids were his third and fourth in a little more than two weeks, part of a stepped-up campaign schedule as the opening contest for the 2024 Republican nomination approaches. Late-summer polls of likely GOP caucus attendees showed Trump well ahead of his opponents.
Trump, who has drawn big audiences to eastern Iowa events in recent weeks, is expected to return again in mid-October, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hopes to reignite attention with a stepped-up Iowa campaign and as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley seeks to seize on new interest since the two GOP presidential debates with a built-out Iowa operation.
Trump drew 1,700 people in Waterloo for an event aimed at encouraging attendees to pledge to support him in the caucuses, which are scheduled for Jan. 15. Hundreds more people waited outside, a sign of his advantage in the state and nationally.
The former president blamed President Joe Biden for Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel, alleging Biden had demonstrated weakness that emboldened U.S. adversaries. He also renewed his attacks on New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office is pursuing a civil fraud case currently on trial. Trump called James “grossly incompetent” and “an evil person.”
James has accused Trump of grossly inflating the value of his assets in making business deals and securing loans. A judge ruled last month that Trump had committed fraud and the ongoing trial is to determine potential penalties.
Campaign advisers have said they expect Trump to win the caucuses, which are precinct-level, party-run meetings where party members also register the first votes of the 2024 GOP campaign.
Other campaigns are trying to cut into his lead in Iowa.
DeSantis ‘ team announced this past week that it was moving roughly 20 of his Florida-based national campaign staff to Iowa, emphasizing the effort to beat Trump there. DeSantis was scheduled to campaign in Iowa Saturday, while Haley, who is also the former ambassador to the United Nations, was scheduled to campaign in Iowa Sunday and Monday.
Retired childcare provider Frances Peters from Eldora, Iowa, said she was fully committed to Trump, “because he did what he said said he’d do,” using an oft-repeated line of his supporters. She pointed, as many evangelical conservatives in Iowa do, to Trump’s selection of U.S. Supreme Court justices who helped overturn the 1973 precedent in Roe v. Wade, which had recognized a federal right to abortion for almost 50 years.
“He is also the one God has chosen this time,” Peters said of Trump.
After Trump’s loosely organized Iowa campaign produced a second-place finish in Iowa in 2016, his team says it is now running a more disciplined, data-driven campaign in the state. At his rallies, people are directed to a text number that tracks their interest in supporting the candidate, as well as representing him at the caucuses and volunteering for the campaign.
Trump had planned to host a Des Moines kickoff organizing event in May where advisers expected a crowd of roughly 5,000, but that appearance was scrubbed at the last minute due to the threat of severe weather.
After late summer stops at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines and Iowa State-Iowa football game in Ames, Trump drew large crowds in rural eastern Iowa as well as Dubuque last month and Ottumwa last Sunday. Those were areas he won in the 2016 caucuses and carried as the GOP nominee in 2016 and 2020.
“My sense of it is that there is lots of time left,” said strategist David Kochel, a senior Iowa and national adviser to previous Republican presidential candidates. “And Iowa is going to tell us something really meaningful and Trump shouldn’t take it for granted.”
Trump is scheduled to return to Iowa on Oct. 16.