DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Ambitious Republicans are beginning to make moves in Iowa, a testing ground for future presidents. Your first step is to find out if the activists have made it past the last one.
Former President Donald Trump remains a gargantuan presence in Iowa, where he won twice by healthy margins. He has hinted that he will run again, and his false claims that the last election were stolen still dominate some Republican circles.
But that doesn’t mean Trump has frozen the field of potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates. Several Republican politicians have plans to travel to Iowa and other early-nominating states this spring. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is the first since the election to measure the interest of Iowans in person this week.
Party activists say these early arrivals are welcome, despite Trump’s enduring popularity and widespread belief that he was somehow harmed in his 2020 defeat. But interviews with county Republican party leaders and Local activists across the state expose the difference between their declared love for Trump and the hope that he will show up again.
“There are winners who can’t wait for me to run again. They’re the ones still complaining and complaining that they were duped in the election, “said Gwen Ecklund, a veteran former county president in conservative western Iowa.” But there are some, average, grassroots Republicans who are passing page”.
That’s what Pompeo will be looking for in this early phase. The former Trump diplomat and successful Kansas politician planned to speak with a regular Republican breakfast group and up-and-coming Republicans in Des Moines on Friday, as well as meet privately with top Iowa party officials.
Pompeo just made his national political debut at the Conservative Union of America’s CPAC conference last month in Florida. As expected in Iowa, Pompeo subtly distinguished himself, without alienating Republicans who are still loyal to Trump and expect a return in 2024.
“I had the opportunity to bring home American hostages from Pyongyang,” Pompeo told the audience in Orlando. “’America First’ requires something of courage. You need a secretary of state willing to walk into a room and tell it like it is, and a president to back you up. “
Others will try to walk the same line.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott plans to follow the beaten path of presidential prospects with an April 1 trip to Cedar Rapids. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott will meet Republicans in the Quad Cities in eastern Iowa on April 15, all signs of an exceptionally early start to the 2024 campaign.
Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who has met with Republicans virtually in New Hampshire’s state primaries, is also making plans to visit Iowa in the coming months, advisers said.
They will have a fair hearing, said Henry County Republican President Nancy Amos. But the majority in their southeastern corner of Iowa want Trump to run again.
“Oh sure, we will go hear them. It’s not that we don’t give others a chance, ”said Amos, who represents one of a series of Mississippi River counties that Trump led after Democrat Barack Obama. “It’s just that most of the talk is about Trump.”
However, Trump’s enduring popularity doesn’t mean everyone wants him to run again. Though Trump led Crawford County, where Ecklund is the Republican Party co-chair, by more than 30 percentage points twice, he found Republicans “ready to move on” and “tired of extreme controversy.”
Across the state, opinions on Trump have dimmed since he took Iowa by about eight percentage points in November. In The Des Moines Register’s March Iowans poll, 53% of Iowans viewed the former president unfavorably and 45% favorably, roughly the reverse of a year ago.
In an unscientific measure, a poll of 1,000 attendees at the CPAC conference found that 97% of these devoted conservative activists approved of the work Trump had done as president, though only 68% said he, now 74, should run again in four. years.
However, Trump drew huge applause and a standing ovation in Orlando when he told the audience, “Who knows, I may even decide to beat them a third time,” alluding to his false claim that he won the 2020 election.
Members of his own administration, including Attorney General William Barr, say no evidence of widespread voter fraud has been discovered. Courts in various states on the battlefield have thrown out a number of lawsuits filed on behalf of the president.
In a January Pew Research poll, taken after the deadly riot in the United States Capitol by Trump supporters, a 57% majority of Republicans said Trump should remain a major political figure for many years.
To maintain his influence, he will have to find a way back to the limelight, a challenge without his Twitter account signing, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who has advised Republican Senate candidates, including Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.
“At some point he’s going to figure out how to get more attention than he’s getting right now, or he’ll fade into the sunset,” Goeas said. “I think Donald Trump two years from now will look very different from Donald Trump a month ago.”
Hannah Fingerhut contributed from Washington.