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Trump prepared for Iowa caucus blowout as DeSantis lags in new poll

New poll shows DeSantis’s ground game failing to yield results

John Bowden
Washington DC
Sunday 17 December 2023 21:14 GMT
DeSantis says Trump making election 'all about him'

Donald Trump is on course for a sweeping victory in the first contest of the 2024 presidential election as he leads his rivals by significant margins in a new poll.

The survey from CBS News, published on Sunday, will be one of the last measures of the Iowa GOP electorate before caucusing begins on 15 January. Iowans are set to deliver the former president a commanding win, with his nearest competitor trailing him by 36 percentage points.

That rival is Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who has bet it all on a convincing performance in the first contest of the Republican primary. He has been the only candidate to complete the so-called “Full Grassley” — a tour of all 99 counties across the state, named after the state’s senior senator, Chuck Grassley. But that has not boosted his poll numbers in any serious way, and Mr DeSantis is far closer to losing his second-place position to fellow Trump-alternative Nikki Haley than he is to dethroning the frontrunner.

It’s news that could spell doom for the DeSantis campaign. The Florida governor has put much effort into winning Iowa and has racked up key endorsements from local politicians, including the governor. In doing so, he has taken focus off of states which will immediately follow Iowa in the primary calendar, including New Hampshire where Haley is hoping for her own breakout performance. Should Mr DeSantis underperform in the Iowa caucuses and allow Ms Haley to steal his thunder (or his delegates), the path opens up for her to deliver a knockout blow in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where she served as governor.

Mr DeSantis trails Ms Haley in New Hampshire, where the former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor is currently mounting the most believable attempt at actually beating Donald Trump in a statewide race. She still trails him, of course, but a strong performance in Iowa has a tendency to boost one’s numbers — and hers are already high enough, according to the CBS poll, where any real bump of support could put her, at least theoretically, in striking distance of a first-place finish. Were former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, currently polling at 10 per cent in a state where he himself has focused campaigning, to drop out before New Hampshire votes those dynamics would likely shift even further in Ms Haley’s favour.

Unfortunately for Ms Haley, that last possibility looks less and less likely by the day. On Sunday, Mr Christie was on the cable news circuit attacking the former South Carolina governor (whom he had won points for defending from ugly personal attacks days prior on the debate stage), calling her shameless for refusing to rule out the idea of serving as Mr Trump’s vice president, were he to offer the job, during a second Trump presidency.

Ms Haley remains the only Trump-alternative on a real polling upswing, and in recent weeks won an endorsement from the far-reaching and exceedingly wealthy Koch political network — an affiliation of groups tied to billionaire Charles Koch and his late brother David. The group has pledged its ground operation, long absent from presidential contests, to her cause.

Voters in Iowa could also put a knife in the sides of both Mr DeSantis and Ms Haley. A blowout performance by the former president in which both his top-polling rivals saw their support bases collapse could be devastating to their abilities’ to convince donors that they have real paths to the nomination. Many wealthy GOP donors who privately oppose Mr Trump are reported to be sitting out the 2024 contest simply due to the belief that the former president is already presumed to be the nominee.

Mr Trump himself has sought to further that narrative, and has sat out the 2023-2024 primary debates while his rivals attended. Instead, the Republican frontrunner has launched a campaign of counter-programming, with rallies and major TV interviews scheduled during the same timeslot as the GOP debates.

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