In the upcoming 2024 Republican presidential nominating contest in Iowa, the primary focus appears to be on who will secure second place. Former President Donald Trump is in a strong position to win the state. However, his competitors often highlight the potential for shifts in support during the final months leading up to the Iowa caucuses.
Iowa’s history suggests that even coming in second or third place can help a candidate remain relevant as the race moves to the New Hampshire primary, a state with a different political landscape known for reversing Iowa’s outcome.
There has been an intensification of the race for second place in Iowa, especially between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. This rivalry has been fueled by the fact that the sizable field of candidates has divided the non-Trump vote.
According to a recent Iowa poll, Trump leads with the support of 43% of likely GOP caucus attendees, followed by DeSantis and Haley, tied at 16%. Senator Tim Scott, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are trailing behind, with Pence announcing his withdrawal from the race after failing to gain traction in Iowa.
However, many observers believe that despite the competition for second place, Trump is the clear frontrunner and is likely to win comfortably in Iowa. The real question is whether any candidate can narrow the margin enough to make it a competitive race in New Hampshire.
DeSantis and Scott have heavily invested their resources in Iowa, and a finish outside the top three for either of them could diminish their chances. In contrast, Haley has managed her Iowa campaign strategically, allocating time and money to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Some donors looking for an alternative to Trump speculate that Haley, who has risen in state and national polls following strong debate performances, could be his last serious challenger. They hope she can exceed expectations in Iowa, build momentum in New Hampshire, and potentially defeat Trump in her home state. However, given Trump’s strong polling, this remains a challenging prospect.
There is also a segment of Haley’s supporters and other Trump opponents who believe that Trump’s legal issues, including the possibility of multiple criminal trials in 2024, could eventually pose a significant obstacle to his candidacy. So far, Trump’s legal troubles have not deterred many GOP voters from rallying around him.
While Trump has made no effort to downplay his Iowa expectations and confidently declared his intention to win the caucuses, anything short of a resounding victory could raise questions among GOP voters in subsequent states.
At a recent rally, Trump criticized Haley and DeSantis, but his primary focus was on the latter, whom he described as a “wounded bird falling from the sky.” Trump is expected to make regular appearances in Iowa in the final months of the campaign, with a more organized campaign for voter turnout compared to 2016.
Ramaswamy, another candidate, has expressed bold confidence about his prospects in Iowa, believing he can secure an outright victory or something close to it. Some undecided voters are still considering their options, including Ramaswamy, Haley, and DeSantis while expressing concerns about Trump’s ability to govern if re-elected.
Many Trump supporters remain loyal, believing that the real contest in Iowa is for second place, as Trump is expected to win.