In Iowa, potential 2024 GOP Trump challengers quiet for now

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — At this point four years ago, at least a dozen Democratic presidential candidates keen to argue against Donald Trump had either visited Iowa or announced plans to visit the leading voting state before the 2020 election soon.

Iowa’s campaign landscape is markedly different this year, with a Republican field seemingly frozen by Trump’s early announcement of a 2024 campaign. So far this year, only former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has visited, and US Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina plans to stop by in the coming weeks.

Even Trump, currently the only declared candidate in the 2024 race, was absent from Iowa, opting instead to boost his campaign last weekend in New Hampshire and South Carolina, two other early voting states.

With Iowa’s first nation’s GOP caucuses just a year away, the field of potential White House candidates has largely been content to avoid bone-dry Iowa — and, perhaps more importantly, avoid the first candidate to be announcing a bid against the former president.

“No one wants to be left behind against Trump alone,” said Alan Ostergren, a Republican attorney in Des Moines who is involved in GOP politics. “One day they will all break down. But nobody wants to go first.”

For now, the calm in Iowa is giving other contenders time to weigh campaigns — including former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, all of whom campaigned for GOP candidates in Iowa last year to speak Meet potential donors, promote your new books, and muster up the courage to take on Trump.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a leading GOP presidential candidate who won a blowout re-election victory, is not expected to take any action until spring 2024 after the Florida legislature adjourned and he wrapped up a national book tour.

As a warning to other potential competitors, Trump and his team have lashed out at potential rivals. The former president has called DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious” and said that challenging DeSantis for the 2024 GOP nomination would be “a major act of disloyalty.”

Trump’s universal name recognition gives him room to stay away from Iowa for now, GOP officials say, as his team develops a strategy that is expected to be more organized than his freewheeling 2016 campaign, which resulted in a second-place finish in the state’s caucuses.

Though he remains well-loved within a core of the Republican Party, Trump faces a series of investigations that could complicate his third White House bid. These include a criminal investigation into top-secret documents found at his Florida home, an investigation in Washington into his efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election, an investigation in Georgia into his efforts after losing re-election in the to stay in the presidency. and other probes in New York.

“He’s not seen as someone who should be automatically nominated. He’s out of office and two years have passed,” said Steve Scheffler, a Republican National committee member in Iowa who has pledged to remain publicly neutral. “Although the base loves him and his politics, he may need to do more of what others need to do. I definitely think he’s more vulnerable.”

So far, Trump is the only Republican of 2024 with a paid presence in Iowa. Alex Latcham, the former regional political director of the Iowa Republican Party, now works for Trump’s national team but still lives in Iowa. He’s helping recruit an Iowa campaign director for Trump.

Unlike four years ago, when then-California Senator Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and then-Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, among others, visited Pete Buttigieg, Iowa, this year the Democrats are standing with the Democrats aside anticipation that President Joe Biden will seek a second term. In any case, the Democratic National Committee is expected to strip Iowa of its leadoff-voting status for the 2024 presidential nomination calendar, though Republicans plan to keep Iowa as their first-choice state.

Despite Iowa’s relative calm this year, prospective Republican candidates are still finding ways to gain a foothold in the state with GOP activists without setting foot there.

At the Jan. 9 GOP law breakfast, lawmakers and party officials flipped through a printed program that contained full-page ads from Trump, Pompeo and Scott.

That’s in addition to the tens of thousands of dollars she and others, including Haley and Pence, have donated to Iowa’s Republican candidates from their political fundraisers for their 2022 midterm campaigns.

Without setting foot in Iowa, DeSantis also worked to sow goodwill with Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last year by inviting her to a meeting in Florida.

Several potential presidential candidates are expected to attend an annual spring fundraiser for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian group, on April 22.

Hutchinson, the only 2024 GOP nominee visiting Iowa this year, made a low-key visit to Iowa earlier this month, holding private meetings and speaking before a GOP state legislature breakfast. Scott is scheduled to speak at the Polk County GOP’s annual fundraising dinner on February 22nd.

Polk County Republican Party Chairwoman Gloria Mazza said it was only a matter of time before the behind-the-scenes maneuvers of potential GOP-Trump rivals became public.

“It’s going to burst, but it’s hard to say when. It’s like a chess game,” Mazza said. “Who will make the first move against him?”

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