Campaign events falling fast as Iowa braces for record cold

Campaign events falling fast as Iowa braces for record cold

By Meg Kinnard | Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Campaign events have continued to fall as swiftly as the Iowa snow as wintry weather hampers the leadoff GOP caucus state, with Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump all shuffling their schedules ahead of Monday’s presidential votes.

Prolonged freezing temperatures, combined with strong winds, foreshadow possibly life-threatening conditions on the night that Republican voters are set to gather to make their pick for their 2024 nominee.

Iowans are accustomed to the cold, though the latest winter wave, combined with temperatures that threaten to dip deeper into negative territory in the coming days, could mean unprecedented conditions for caucus night itself. Early into next week, forecasters said significant winds would make things feel as cold as 45 degrees below zero, a record-breaking forecast that could keep potential voters at home.

“This is kind of what it means to live in Iowa, in the middle of winter, but two snowstorms back-to-back feels like a little much,” said Jillian McKee, of Des Moines, as she walked her Shiba Inu named Bear on Friday morning in the pouring snow. “Usually, I’m just used to one a week.”

McKee said she still plans to show up on Monday night and is leaning toward caucusing for Haley.

Haley pulled down a trio of events that had been slated for Friday in central and eastern areas of the state, shifting them instead to tele-town halls at which, unlike her in-person events held earlier this week, Haley took questions from caucusgoers.

Volunteers for AFP Action, the political arm of the powerful Koch network that’s supporting Haley, were out meeting with caucusgoers in the storm on Friday. Senior adviser Tyler Raygor noted that “knocking doors in snow takes more time,” but that it also made it more likely that people were at home.

DeSantis postponed four events on Friday that had been planned for cities further from Des Moines, citing unsafe weather conditions.” He did campaign earlier Friday north of the capital city with Gov. Kim Reynolds, saying he was impressed with those who turned out.

Less than an hour before DeSantis’ event with Reynolds, Iowa’s state patrol posted a warning about the weather on social media. “Please, don’t put yourself or others in danger,” it said, adding that road conditions were “extremely dangerous!”

The National Weather Service’s Des Moines office, meanwhile, posted white-out conditions of jack-knifed tractor-trailers littering interstates as much of the state was under a blizzard warning.

Trump — who has not stumped in Iowa in the closing week, instead choosing to make court appearances in Washington and New York — on Friday shifted a handful of rally events planned for over the weekend in central and western Iowa to tele-rallies, with his campaign posting the adjusted schedule “out of an abundance of caution amid severe weather advisories.”

Trump was still slated to appear at an in-person rally on Sunday in Indianola, south of Des Moines. Earlier Friday, his campaign appeared determined to hold all of the weekend’s rallies as scheduled.

“Wear a coat,” Trump senior adviser Chris LaCivita quipped when asked about concerns about the weather over the next few days. He also noted that the campaign has “contingencies” in place, including drivers to get people to caucus sites.

“It’s old school, you know — poll workers and people who pick up people and drive ’em to the polls, so we have all of that stuff planned,” he said.

On turnout, LaCivita said he felt confident the “enthusiasm” that Trump’s large events have generated would translate into caucusgoers’ commitment to sticking out the cold weather.

“You guys have seen the lines that people have stood just to go to a rally,” he said. “I’m not worried about lines at a caucus site.”

Another presidential candidate, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, canceled an event Tuesday morning, saying it was “effectively impossible to safely get from Des Moines to Coralville” — hours after criticizing Haley for calling off her Monday event in Sioux City.

On Friday, Ramaswamy appeared poised to keep to his campaign schedule, posting on X that “George Washington braved the weather to cross the Delaware” and that he would stay on the trail “for as long as we can (asterisk)physically(asterisk) make it.”

Never Back Down, the super PAC orchestrating much of DeSantis’ on-the-ground efforts, said its staff had been in close touch with tens of thousands of committed Iowa supporters, whom it expected to turn out regardless of Monday night’s conditions.

The scheduling of the caucuses has thrown the time-tested process more to nature’s whims than others in the past. Last summer, the Iowa Republican Party’s state central committee voted unanimously for the third Monday in January. The 15th, which falls on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is earlier by several weeks than the past three caucuses, though not as early as 2008 when they were held just three days into the new year.

With the storm bearing down and the almost other-worldly cold predicted to set in thereafter, Iowa Republicans said Friday said there were no plans to change the timing of this year’s caucuses.

Iowa GOP spokesperson Kush Desai said the party has held caucuses “through all sorts of weather events before.” Desai said state Republicans were keeping an eye on things but “not entertaining anything drastic yet” in terms of postponing any votes.

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“There’s no doubt on our end about our commitment to keeping Iowa first in the nation and maintaining Iowa’s critical voice, not just for Iowa but for the heartland, in the presidential nominating process,” Desai said. “Even through the winter.”

National Weather Service data shows there has never been a colder Iowa caucus night than what’s forecast for Jan. 15. The previous coldest was in 2004, when the high temperature for that year’s Jan. 19 caucuses was 16 degrees.

McKee, who was walking her dog outside Friday, had words of apology to the visiting journalists and politicos who traveled to Iowa, only to get socked with the torrential snow and bone-chilling temperatures.

“This is definitely making it a little more complicated for everybody, especially all the out-of-towner people,” McKee said as wind and snow whipped around her. “I’m sorry that you’re coming into the Iowa caucuses in a big ol’ Iowa snowstorm, but it seems right on brand.”

Associated Press writers Hannah Fingerhut, Jill Colvin and Mark Vancleave in Des Moines contributed to this report.