Trump absent as the 2024 Iowa Republican caucus train begins to roll

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nikki haley is strolling through Iowa this week just announcing his presidential campaign. His fellow Republican from South Carolina, Sen. Tim Scott , will also be present while he decides his political future. and the former vice president Mike Pence he had just been in state courting influential evangelical Christian activists.

After a slow start, Republican presidential prospects are flowing toward early presidential caucus status. Notably absent from the list, at least for now, is the former president donald trump .

Few of the White House hopefuls face the lofty expectations in Iowa What does Trump have? He finished a competitive second behind devout social conservative ted cross in 2016, and then carried the state twice, by healthy margins, as the Republican presidential nominee in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

“It's really impossible for this guy to try to manage these expectations,” said Luke Martz, a veteran Iowa Republican strategist who helped run Mitt Romney's Iowa caucus campaign in 2012. “They're huge. They are self made. I don't see how someone who says 'I'm the guy' can get in and even get second place."

Yet in the three months since announcing his bid to return, Trump has not set foot in Iowa, the first place where his claim to party dominance will be tested early next year.

Trump is undoubtedly making moves in Iowa. On Monday, his team announced that it had appointed a state campaign manager, Marshall Moreau, who led the 2022 campaign of Republican attorney general candidate Brenna Bird. Bird defeated Democrat Tom Miller, who had been the country's longest-serving attorney general, first elected in 1978.

Trump has maintained a political presence in Iowa, with a member of the national campaign team, Alex Latcham, based in the state. But Trump did a launch rally on January 28 in South Carolina, where his victory in the 2016 primary sealed his status as the GOP frontrunner. And he slipped into a spot to speak that same day at the Republican Party's annual state meeting in New Hampshire, where he also won the first primary in the nation seven years ago.

Although the caucuses are almost a year away, they are still the first event on the calendar, and some Iowa Republican activists have taken notice of Trump's absence.

“I found it quite interesting,” Gloria Mazza, the Polk County Republican Party chair, said of Trump's stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina. "Since Iowa is first in the nation, doesn't everyone come here first?"

Meanwhile, others are making inroads.

Although Pence is not yet a candidate, his advocacy group Advancing American Values ​​launched a campaign last week to organize opposition to school policies like the one in an eastern Iowa district that has become a flash point among conservatives. .

pence was in cedar rapids on Wednesday rallying opponents of a policy from the nearby Linn-Mar Community School District that is at issue in a federal lawsuit. The school board signed into law last year a measure that allows transgender students to request a gender support plan to begin the social transition in school without parental permission.

The issue, an early focus of the 2024 Republican presidential prospects, is particularly contentious among Christian conservatives, with whom Pence says he routinely identifies. And at Wednesday's pizza parlor event, which felt like an early stop to the caucus campaign, Pence illustrated his traction.

“We are not co-parents with the government,” Pence told a cheering audience of more than 100. "We trust parents to protect their children, and no one will protect America's children better than their moms and dads."

Haley has rallies planned in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas on Monday and Tuesday. Meanwhile, Scott will speak at an event at Drake University on Wednesday, part of what attendees are calling a national listening tour aimed at informing his plans, before addressing the annual Polk County Republican fundraiser in the suburban Des Moines that night.

Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who visited Iowa in January and met last week with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Des Moines and Republican activists in western Iowa, is quietly making inroads.

Although several potential candidates, including Trump, were in Iowa last year campaigning for the midterm candidates, these first impressions at the start of the GOP presidential primaries are important. That's especially true as many in the Republican Party wait to see if the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis proceeds with a run for the White House.

But as the field of candidates grows in the coming months, Trump still retains a core of Republican support that could be hard to beat.

In October, 57% of Iowa Republicans said they expected Trump to decide to run in 2024, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll, while 33% said they hoped he would not and 10% said they I was not sure.

“Of course, there is a contingent that will support him regardless,” said Steve Scheffler, a member of the Iowa Republican National Committee. “But there are an increasing number of people who want to kick the tires before making a decision. That's what gives others an open door."

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