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Trump and DeSantis make appearances in Iowa ahead of the January 15 caucuses


Former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are in Iowa today. They're trying to make headlines and woo voters ahead of the first contest in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. That's the Iowa caucuses on January 15. Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters has been covering all the campaigning leading up to caucus night, and Clay joins us now. It's great to have you with us.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Yeah, great to be here.

KHALID: So let's begin with what Ron DeSantis is exactly doing in Iowa today.

MASTERS: Well, he's just trying to be successful in the caucuses by playing the traditional Iowa caucus strategy. He's going to be in the small town of Newton, where he is wrapping up his 99-county tour - that's every county in Iowa - which has been a winning strategy for the last three Republican caucus winners. One thing DeSantis has that past caucus winners really haven't is that he'll be joined today by Iowa's governor, Kim Reynolds, who, like him, won her midterm race by double digits last year and has actually endorsed him. I mean, you have to go back 30 years to former Governor Terry Branstad's first stint in office to find the last time a sitting Iowa governor actually backed a candidate ahead of the caucuses. We're talking about Bob Dole. So, yeah, DeSantis continues to call for Trump to debate him as well. He held a virtual press conference with Iowa reporters this week where he said he wants an RNC debate in Iowa.


RON DESANTIS: And if he doesn't show up to that, I think there's going to be a lot of caucus-goers who are going to say, well, wait a minute, how are we going to go with him when he's not even willing to come here and make the case to us?

KHALID: So on that note, Clay, what is Donald Trump planning to do today?

MASTERS: Well, he'll be here as well. He's holding a caucus event at a restaurant and bar in suburban Des Moines and one at a community college in Cedar Rapids. It's noteworthy that Trump's events are happening before and after DeSantis' 99th county tour stop. It's been common for Trump to try and steal the spotlight away from his competitors, especially DeSantis.

KHALID: So polls, you know, only give us a limited picture of the entire political environment. That being said, pretty much every poll we've seen of the Republican presidential field shows Donald Trump well ahead of his competitors, both nationally and in Iowa. And so, Clay, that leaves me wondering, are you seeing anything on the ground that might shift that or paint a potentially different picture from what we're seeing in the polls?

MASTERS: Well, we are seeing some movement among those in the Republican Party who have been from the outset, kind of clamoring for one alternative to Donald Trump. DeSantis and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, seen as the two battling for second place right now, are increasingly outsourcing central parts of their campaigns. The Associated Press reports DeSantis recently encouraged his donor network privately to support a newly formed superPAC that's taking over advertising responsibilities for him. And Haley's political campaign won the support of the Koch network. That's the large conservative organization with a lot of cash on hand. DeSantis and Haley are seen as the biggest rivals to Trump, but they're not coming anywhere near the former president in these polls, as you said a moment ago.

KHALID: Iowa voters, as those of us who cover politics know well, are very politically engaged. With a front-runner so far ahead, as we're seeing with Donald Trump, is that engagement or interest in politics tapering off? How does it compare to years past?

MASTERS: Oh, there seems to be some voter fatigue out there with kind of a seemingly foregone conclusion, maybe, of who the Republican nominee is going to be. But now that we're in the homestretch, I'm mostly interested to hear what Iowa voters are saying as the caucuses are right around the corner. Have they convinced friends and family to caucus for someone? Are they bringing people to hear from the candidates?

And remember, the caucuses are not a primary election. Iowans have to show up at a set time. That's 7 p.m. on caucus night. It's not at their normal polling place. And with snow in the forecast this weekend, I mean, it's a reminder - you have to really want to show up on a cold night because this isn't just showing up at your polling place on January 15 to just cast a ballot and then be done with it.

KHALID: All right. That's Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters. Always good to talk to you.

MASTERS: Likewise. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter. He was part of a team of member station political reporters who covered the 2016 presidential race for NPR. He also covers environmental issues.