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Trump and DeSantis display different campaign styles in competing visits to Iowa

Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a Commit to Caucus rally Dec. 2 in Ankeny, Iowa.
Matthew Putney
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AP
Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a Commit to Caucus rally Dec. 2 in Ankeny, Iowa.

Updated December 6, 2023 at 11:01 AM ET

ANKENY, Iowa – The Fire Marshall won't let anyone else into this crowded suburban Des Moines bar, and it's still hours before Donald Trump speaks.

"Today's opening [of] deer season. I mean, it's a miracle I'm even here, right?" joked one ardent Trump supporter, Gary Leffler.

Leffler comes to a lot of Trump events, but he warns that despite a double-digit polling lead, Trump shouldn't take Iowa voters for granted.

"There's still quite a few Iowans that are in that campaign that are like 'we're not going to be totally decided until it's game time,'" he predicted.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump stand on the bar at Whiskey River in Ankeny, Iowa to get a look at him as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio
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Iowa Public Radio
Supporters of former President Donald Trump stand on the bar at Whiskey River in Ankeny, Iowa to get a look at him as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Leffler was lucky enough to get into the Whiskey River bar to see Trump. People are standing on stacked cases of Busch Light and some are even on top of the bar itself to see over the crowd. Dozens of other people who couldn't get in stand outside to catch a glimpse of the former president.

As Trump takes to the stage, cheers fill the packed space. Trump's speech hits on his common meandering topics from pushing falsehoods about the last election to touting farm subsidies his administration doled out during his administration. He also reminisces about his second place finish to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucuses 8 years ago.

"We should have won it with you know, a lot of sort of foolish things happened. And it's the only time I had a minor defeat, but I learned a lot," Trump said.

Trump's campaign did seem to learn the lessons of the past and is more organized this time around. At this event in Ankeny, they show a video about how the caucuses work, as volunteers get people to sign commit-to-caucus cards.

"I checked the box to knock on doors," Sandi Carpenter said. "I'm going to try and get all my neighborhood to go because honestly when we went 8 years ago, that's how we got involved was somebody knocked on my door and said 'hey, do you want to come to the caucus with us?'"

Many in the crowd, like Dee McKnight and Deanna Hiatt, say they're frustrated that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced her endorsement of DeSantis.

"It's like a stab in the back. I could not believe it," McKnight said with a laugh about the endorsement. "It's not up to her to try to manipulate our vote," Hiatt added. The crowd even boos Reynolds when Trump brings her up.

Meanwhile, in the small town of Newton, Reynolds tries to energize a markedly different crowd as she introduces the Florida governor.

"Gov. DeSantis was the only candidate that made the commitment to go to all 99 counties," Reynolds cheered to a crowd gathered at the Thunderdome in Newton. "Today we get to celebrate delivering on that promise, right here in Jasper County! Number 99!"

Visiting every county in the state is a traditional strategy that's historically paid off in the caucuses.

DeSantis has also held more than four times the number of events that Trump has in the state.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on with a smile while his wife Casey DeSantis speaks to a crowd in Newton, Iowa following DeSantis's final county of his 99 county tour ahead of Iowa's caucuses.
Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio
/
Iowa Public Radio
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on with a smile while his wife Casey DeSantis speaks to a crowd in Newton, Iowa following DeSantis's final county of his 99 county tour ahead of Iowa's caucuses.

"The fact that I'm willing to do this that should show you that I consider myself a servant, not a ruler," DeSantis said. "That's how people who get elected should consider themselves."

Unlike those Trump supporters at the bar in suburban Des Moines, some in this crowd are still weighing their options. Bob LeBlanc says it's between DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley for him.

He thinks there's an opportunity for another candidate to rise above Trump.

"I think we have a very winnable fight against the real hard Trump supporters," LeBlanc explained. "We like him. We love what he did for us. But he's not worth the trouble right now. It's too important."

The Iowa Caucus has been known to lead to a surprise outcome, but with the former president's continued grip on the electorate, the race may trump the state's tradition.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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.