Trump Iowa visit tests appetite for yet another presidential bid

Former President Donald Trump is taking his most affirmative step yet toward a possible campaign in 2024 by returning to a crucial state on the nomination calendar for the first time since his presidency, though Republicans express mixed feelings that he is running again.

Mr. Trump will host a rally Saturday night in Iowa, the state that traditionally launches the nomination process. His event at the state fairgrounds in Des Moines is likely to raise speculation about his previously declared interest in trying to win back the White House and follows his hiring of two state agents to work for his political committee.

Iowa Republican activists express differing views when asked how much support Trump is likely to receive in the state for a third White House campaign.

“My preference is that Donald Trump has a role towards our country and party and some influence on candidates, but I think it would be best for someone else to become the standard bearer,” said Mark Lundberg, financial adviser and former Republican president of northwestern Iowa’s Sioux County, one of the most conservative areas in the state.

In conservative Sioux County, Iowa, a former GOP chairman prefers ‘someone else to be the standard bearer’.


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KC McGinnis for The Wall Street Journal

Rich Schwarm, a former GOP chairman in Iowa, said there is strong support among Republican voters there for Trump’s policies. However, there are mixed feelings about “whether he is the strongest messenger” for the party. “I think he would be the frontrunner here if he were to run,” he said.

Trump keeps “all options open,” a spokeswoman said.

There is no doubt that Trump, 75, is still the dominant figure in the GOP. His events after the White House have attracted large crowds, candidates in strongly Republican areas are craving his endorsements, and his fundraising since November has proven to be amazing.

A Des Moines / Mediacom Iowa poll released earlier this week showed that Trump now has higher-ranking ratings in the key state than he did as president, with 53% of Iowans – including 91% of Republicans – looking positive. him. The state’s most respected political survey did not ask Republicans if they would see him run again.

The results of a national poll by the impartial Pew Research Center published this week showed that 44% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents want Trump to run for the White House again, while 32% say that they would like him to no longer be a great national political figure. A further 22% say they would like him to remain a major figure in politics, but prefer that he support another candidate who shares his views rather than driving himself.

Mr. Trump, who carried Iowa last November by more than 8 percentage points, has long understood the political significance of the state, where neighborhood assemblies called caucuses have been kicking off the presidential race for nearly five decades.

Donald Trump fought for the 2016 Republican nomination in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in late 2015.


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Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

He finished close to second place in the 2016 assemblies behind Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. If Mr. Trump moves forward with a campaign in 2024, some GOP activists in the state say he would not be assured of an easy victory in the assemblies.

“I do not see an immediate coronation,” said Mary Kramer, a Republican activist and former state senator whom President George W. Bush appointed ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean. “Even people who have strongly supported him see him as rather divisive.”

As an expression of his interest in Iowa, in August, Trump hired two political agents in the state — Eric Branstad and Alex Latcham — as advisers to his Save America political committee.

Mr. Branstad helped Trump in his 2016 and 2020 campaigns in the state and is the son of former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who served as Trump’s ambassador to China. Mr. Latcham, who worked for the Trump campaigns and the White House, has previously helped Iowa’s presidential campaign for Mitt Romney and has worked for the state party.

Jeff Kaufmann, the Republican Party of Iowa chairman, said Trump was completely focused on next year’s midterm elections – including potentially competitive house races in the state – when the two men spoke by telephone in August.

“He never got him to run for president,” Kaufmann said. “He understands very clearly that the path to the majority in the Federal House of Representatives may go through Iowa, and he will certainly be a part of it.”

Sir. Kaufmann said Trump would start from a strong position in the state, but it would still be expected to run a comprehensive campaign there. “Even someone who gets a 91% approval has to make their case to run for president,” he said.

Former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke in Urbandale, Iowa, in March. He is one of a number of possible GOP presidential candidates to visit the early assembly state.


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Jack Kurtz / Zuma Press

Other potential 2024 GOP candidates have also been traveling to the state this year, including three from the Trump administration: former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas has also visited this year, as has South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

“When we get to 2022, we probably have somewhere between 12 and 15 potential candidates here,” Kaufmann said. “The level of activity here for the first year in a four-year cycle has certainly been stronger than anything we’ve had before.”

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One piece of business that Trump could perform from the stage would be the approval of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. The 88-year-old said late last month that he plans to run for an eighth term, a decision that increased the GOP’s prospects of holding the seat and potentially gaining control of the chamber in 2022.

Sir. Trump and Grassley have generally had a cordial relationship, though Iowa’s senior senator was critical of the then president for his role in an attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 by a crowd of his supporters.

While the Democratic National Committee is considering changing the order of its nomination calendar, Republicans have shown no sign of changing a schedule that traditionally had Iowa’s caucuses first and New Hampshire’s primary second.

Write to John McCormick at mccormick.john@wsj.com

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