GOP 2024 contenders enter Iowa, wary of Trump’s long shadow

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Ambitious Republicans are starting to take steps in Iowa, long a testing ground for future presidents. Their first step is to find out if activists got over the last one.

Former President Donald Trump remains a colossal presence in Iowa, where he won twice with healthy margins. He has hinted that he will flee again, and its false claims that the last election was stolen still dominate some Republican circles.

But that doesn’t mean Trump has frozen the field of potential Republican presidential candidates in 2024. Several GOP 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 this week to gauge Iowans’ personal interest.

Party activists say these early arrivals are welcome, despite Trump’s continued popularity and the ubiquitous belief that he was somehow wronged in his defeat in 2020. But interviews with GOP party leaders and local activists statewide explain exposes the difference between their declared love for Trump and hoping that he will run again.

There are Trumpsters who can’t wait for him to run away again. They’re the ones who are still moaning and groaning that they were cheated in the election, ”said Gwen Ecklund, a former district president in conservative western Iowa. “But there are a few – average, ordinary Republicans – who turn the page.”

That’s who Pompeo will be looking for at this very early stage. The former Trump top 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 officials from the Iowa Party.

Pompeo is fresh off a national political speaking debut at the American Conservative Union’s CPAC conference last month in Florida. As he expected in Iowa, Pompeo distinguished himself subtly, without alienating the Republicans still loyal to Trump and hoping for a comeback in 2024.

“I had the opportunity to take home American hostages from Pyongyang,” Pompeo told the Orlando audience. “America first takes real courage. It takes a secretary of state willing to walk into a room and tell it as it is, and a president to turn his back. “

Others will try to walk the same line.

Florida Senator Rick Scott plans to follow the worn-out path of presidential prospects with a trip to Cedar Rapids on April 1. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott meets with Republicans in the Quad Cities of eastern Iowa on April 15, all signs of an exceptionally early start to the 2024 campaign.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has virtually met Republicans in the first state of New Hampshire, is also making plans to visit Iowa in the coming months, advisers said.

They will get a fair hearing, said Henry County Republican Chairman Nancy Amos. But most in her southeast corner of Iowa want to see Trump running again.

“Oh, of course, we’re going to listen to them. It’s not that we don’t want to give others a chance, ”said Amos, who represents one of the many Mississippi counties that Trump carried after Democrat Barack Obama did earlier. “It’s just most of the conversation is about Trump.”

However, Trump’s enduring popularity doesn’t mean everyone wants him to run again. Although Trump bore Crawford County – where Ecklund is the GOP co-chair – twice by more than 30 percentage points, she has run into Republicans who were “ ready to move on ” and “ tired of extreme controversies. ”

Statewide, views on Trump have softened somewhat since he transported Iowa by about 8 percentage points in November. In The Des Moines Register’s March Iowa Poll, 53% of Iowan residents saw the former president unfavorable and 45% positive, about the opposite of a year ago.

In an unscientific measure, a straw survey of 1,000 attendees at the CPAC conference found that 97% of these devout conservative activists agreed with the work Trump had done as president, although only 68% said that, now for 74 years, he should have participate in four. years.

Still, Trump caused roaring applause and a standing ovation in Orlando when he told the public, “Who knows, I could even decide to beat them a third time,” referring to his false claim that he won the 2020 election .

Members of his own government, including Attorney General William Barr, say no evidence of widespread voter fraud has been uncovered. Courts in multiple battlefield states have thrown out a barrage of lawsuits filed on behalf of the president.

In a January Pew Research poll after the deadly riot in the Capitol by Trump supporters, a 57% majority of Republicans said Trump should remain a major political figure for many years to come.

To maintain his influence, he will have to find his way back to the spotlight, a challenge without his signature Twitter account, said Republican pollster Ed Goeas, who has advised Republican Senate candidates, including Iowa Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

“At some point he will figure out how to get more attention than he is getting now, or he will disappear into the sunset,” Goeas said. “I think Donald Trump will look very different in two years from Donald Trump of a month ago.”

Hannah Fingerhut contributed from Washington.