Iowa caucus still first in the nation for Republicans and candidates know it : NPR

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South Carolina US Senator Tim Scott has his first hall as a declared Republican presidential candidate at Novelty Machine and Supply Co . in Sioux City, Iowa on May 24, 2023.

Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio


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South Carolina US Senator Tim Scott has his first hall as a declared Republican presidential candidate at Novelty Machine and Supply Co . in Sioux City, Iowa on May 24, 2023.

Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio

At the same time Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his candidacy for president on Twitter, dozens of voters gathered at Machine and Supply Company in Sioux City, Iowa. DeSantis is not the only politician to announce a bid for the White House this week so these voters are here to see South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, another Republican presidential hopeful.

Retired music teacher Myra Nelson was hoping Scott would enter the race and was excited to see him in Northwest Iowa holding his first Town Hall so soon after he announced.

“I was for Donald Trump but if he gets in, it’s going to be the same thing,” Nelson said. “A lot of slander, a lot of bad news about him. We need someone fresh and someone with good and solid ideas.”

Scott did not bring DeSantis or Trump as he gave a speech and took questions from the crowd. Instead, he talks about the US southern border, the fentanyl crisis and tells his story about growing up poor in a single parent home. He bragged about Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill she signed this year that created voucher-style education savings accounts for children to go to private school.

Scott has criticized Democrats on a number of issues, such as education and public school funding.

“They’re more interested in keeping those kids trapped in their schools and trapped out of their future,” Scott said. “They’re going to talk about the big opportunity party, give me a break!”

Scott has been well received but is relatively unknown in an area where Donald Trump is the frontrunner and enjoys widespread popularity with Republicans, especially in Iowa. Candidates such as Senator Scott, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, hope that a victory in Iowa can give them momentum to beat the former president who has made only one trip to the state since announcing his third offering.

After DeSantis’ announcement, he will make a three-state swing through early voting states with a specific focus on the first in the nation’s Republican caucus state. In previous appearances, DeSantis has hinted at what a campaign speech will be like. He will likely draw comparisons between Florida and Iowa as he did earlier this month at a fundraiser for Rep. Randy Feenstra of Iowa.

“You know, sometimes people say to me … they’re going to be like ‘Governor, why aren’t other Republicans doing what you’re doing in Florida?'” DeSantis told the crowd in Sioux Center, Iowa. “I say ‘I say they are doing’ and they say ‘where?’ and I say ‘they’re doing it in Iowa!'”

The importance of the state is clear to those who support Trump and those who want to derail his candidacy. Special interest groups like the conservative Americans for Prosperity are beefing up staff to knock on doors and make phone calls.

Drew Klein is the director of its Iowa chapter.

“There’s a lot to be thankful for among GOP voters for the policies that Trump helped implement when he was president,” he explained of the group’s interest in new Republican leaders. “It doesn’t do us any good if he can’t win a general election again.”

Voter and residential builder Kenan Davis prefers DeSantis.

“I think there’s a very strong opportunity that he can win over a lot of voters who just have contempt for Trump,” Davis said.

Davis’ wife, Cui Davis, a real estate agent, is undecided.

“For me, I’m still shopping,” she said. “I want to hear from all the candidates.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Iowa voters at an after party in Des Moines, Iowa on May 23, 2023.

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Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to Iowa voters at an after party in Des Moines, Iowa on May 23, 2023.

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This week, the couple was invited to meet Mike Pence at a small backyard party in Des Moines, where the former Vice President spoke poolside and took photos with voters. Pence is expected to announce his bid early next month. As he finished his speech, he told the crowd to take their job seriously as the first voters in the nation.

“Ask the tough questions. Form the leadership,” Pence urged. “Whatever role my little family and I end up playing in the coming days, I know Iowa will provide us with a standard bearer.”

Republicans in this area can take some lessons from history. Even though Trump won Iowa in 2016 and 2020, he came in second in the caucuses when he first ran nearly eight years ago.

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