DES MOINES, IOWA – On the eve of former President Trump’s return to Iowa for the first time since last year’s election, Eric Branstad and his team were busy putting the finishing touches on the venue at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, where Trump will hold a rally on Saturday.
“The president loves Iowa. I think he loves Iowa more than any other state,” said Branstad, who led Trump’s campaign efforts in Hawkeye State in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
The former president made headlines in the political world in August when his Save America political action committee hired Branstad, a veteran campaigner who also worked in the Trump administration and is the son of former longtime Republican governor of Iowa Terry Branstad (who served as ambassador to China under the Trump administration), as a senior adviser. Also on board the PAC in the same capacity was colleague Iowa, native Alex Latcham, Trump’s political director in Iowa during the 2016 election campaign and a deputy political director in the Trump White House.
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The hiring of the state, whose assemblies for half a century have kicked off that presidential candidate calendar, naturally sparked more speculation that Trump is getting ready for another run in the White House.
But the younger Branstad told Fox News that the midterm meeting in 2022 ahead of the 2024 presidential election is at the top of his agenda. He said he and the rest of the former president’s team in Iowa “are focused on picking Republicans up and down the ticket. This is where our focus is.”
And while their focus is not just on Iowa – they advise on running across the country – there is no doubt that Hawkeye State will get plenty of campaign attention next year as the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. Republicans need a net gain of one seat to regain control of the 100-member Senate and a net gain of five seats in the House of 435 members.
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Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and longtime GOP senator Chuck Grassley, who is up for re-election next year, will speak at Saturday’s rally in front of Trump. The same goes for the state’s three members of the GOP House. Two of them-rep. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks-won their seats by razor-sharp margins last November and are likely to face challenging re-election. And the GOP is targeting the state’s only Democrat in Parliament, Rep. Cindy Axne, who narrowly won re-election last year.
“Gov. Reynolds is going to be here. Sen. Grassley is going to be here. We have a star cast. All of our Republican congressional delegations,” Branstad pointed out. “We are pleased to welcome thousands and thousands of people to see President Trump.”
Although Trump may make some 2022 approvals during his trade show rally, it will be hard to escape the 2024 story.
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Trump repeatedly teases to run yet another presidential campaign to try to return to the White House, telling Fox News in an interview last month that “I do not think we have a choice.”
The former president said in an email to supporters earlier this week that “IOWA is absolutely vital to our efforts to take the House and Senate back in 2022 and then the White House in 2024.”
And Trump’s hiring of Branstad and Latcham sparked more speculation.
“If he intends to run, there are no two better people to hire than the two,” said Iowa’s longtime GOW consultant, David Kochel. “If you want to do it, or even if you want to send the signal that you must drive, that’s the step you take.”
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Kochel, a veteran of several Republican presidential campaigns, noted that “they are both very effective agents and a pretty formidable team, and they would be hard to beat.”
Trump is still very popular and influential among Republican voters as he continues to play the role of a monarch in the GOP’s primary policy, and he would be the clear frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination if he decides to run. But his repeated flirtations have prevented other potential 2024 candidates from visiting Iowa as well as New Hampshire, which for a century has held its first presidential primary, and South Carolina and Nevada, the other two states with early voting.
Trump’s team in Iowa could be a warning sign to other potential rivals.
Bob Vander Plaats, who for a dozen years has served as president and CEO of The Family Leader, a socially conservative organization in Iowa, tells Fox News that hiring Branstad and Latcham is “definitely a message” that if Trump wants to get organized in Iowa he can do it fast.
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And he noted that while many of the other potential hopefuls in the GOP White House have PACs, they “do not employ staff in the early states, especially Iowa.”
Asked about having staff on the ground in Iowa, the former president gives a leg up, Branstad said “I would definitely think so.”