DES MOINES — Campaigning Wednesday night in Iowa less than three weeks before the election, President Donald Trump touted his administration’s work in helping the ethanol industry and farmers.
Trump heralded his administration’s rule allowing gas stations nationally to sell a higher blend of ethanol year-round.
“I made it year-round, 15 percent, and it’s great stuff,” Trump said.
But when he said during the campaign rally at the Des Moines International Airport that “they were killing ethanol,” he could have been referring to his own administration. The ethanol industry in Iowa had been feeling pinched in large part because Trump’s environmental agency granted waivers that allowed large oil companies to skirt the federal mandate of blending corn-based ethanol into the fuel supply.
A review by the Reuters news service found the Trump administration had quadrupled the number of exemptions given to refiners. But last month, Trump sided with farmers and biofuel producers in rejecting scores of waivers that would have let refiners continue to ignore the renewable fuel law.
Trump’s rally was the first campaign event featuring either party’s presidential candidate in Iowa during the 2020 general election cycle.
Democrat and former U.S. vice president Joe Biden was in Iowa regularly during the run-up to the caucuses, but has not returned since earning his party’s nomination. Trump made an official visit in August to Cedar Rapids to hear of derecho damage, but did not make a campaign visit here.
Trump won Iowa by nearly 10 percentage points in 2016 — not quite the 11 points he said during Wednesday’s remarks — but polls on this year’s race in Iowa have shown him neck-and-neck with Biden.
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Nationally, Biden leads Trump in polling in many of the battleground states that will help determine the outcome.
“You’re a very powerful state, politically. … You have tremendous influence and tremendous power. You’ve never let me down,” said Trump, who addressed the crowd of thousands for roughly 90 minutes. “We have more enthusiasm now than we ever did four years ago, and we have great polling numbers, although you’ll see fake polling numbers.”
Trump also touted his administration’s financial relief packages worth billions for farmers who have been hurting because of falling crop prices — partially attributable to trade tensions created by Trump’s trade wars.
Trump recalled farmers telling him in a White House meeting that they do not want more government subsidies, only fair trade opportunities.
“I never heard that,” Trump said. “Most people, they don’t care. Call it subsidies, call it cash, they say ‘Give me the money.’ … The farmers are unbelievable. They’re the heart of this nation.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds and former Gov. Terry Branstad, who Reynolds succeeded after Branstad was tapped by Trump to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, spoke at the event, heaping praise on the president.
“If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that leadership matters,” Reynolds said. “It’s why it is critical that we re-elect Donald Trump for four more years.”
Trump’s rally was held as COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Iowa are surging. The rally was held outdoors at the airport. No social distancing measures were in place, and face mask usage was sparse.
Hospitalizations are at their highest point of the pandemic in Iowa, and deaths are increasing.
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Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 just shy of two weeks ago. His physician has since declared that Trump has tested negative for the virus and is no longer at risk of infecting others.
“Iowa has been ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, with cases surpassing 100,000 this week and COVID-19 hospitalizations hitting a new high,” Biden said in a statement issued by his campaign. “But President Trump isn’t coming to the Hawkeye State to offer words of comfort to those suffering, or a helping hand to the Iowans who are out of a job, or an actual plan to get the virus under control. Instead, he’s here to spread more lies about the pandemic and distract from his record of failure.”
Trump spent most of the first part of his remarks referring to a New York Post story, published earlier Wednesday, that made allegations about Biden’s son, Hunter. The story reported on files it said were discovered on a laptop that had been brought into a repair shop in Delaware that the article did not name. As of Wednesday evening, neither the Associated Press, Washington Post nor New York Times had confirmed the report.
Late in the rally, Trump told the crowd of his plan to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dan Gable, an Iowa wrestling legend as an athlete and coach. Trump recognized Gable, who was at the rally and who in turn praised the president.
“This guy’s already a one-time champion,” Gable said of Trump. “But because he’s open for learning, and he’s already very competent, he’s going to be a multi-champion president of the United States of America.”
Early voting in Iowa is already underway. Election Day is Nov. 3.
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