DES MOINES — A little more than two weeks before Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses, the race for the presidency largely is centered on the Democrats. Local television is inundated with nonstop campaign ads, yard signs are everywhere and near-daily candidate events draw voters by the hundreds.
Amid predictions of record caucus turnout and an influx of new voters, local Democrats say they think Iowa, which Donald Trump won by just under 10 points in 2016, could be flipped to blue in November.
But as Democratic candidates dash back and forth across the state, it’s hard to miss the reminders of how tough that could be. Towns small and large, especially in rural areas, are dotted with Trump flags that weren’t there four years ago, including ones that read “Trump 2020” and “Keep America Great.” Trump voters increasingly have shown up at Democratic events, including a recent town hall in Dubuque where a man waved a “Make America Great Again” sign as his friend pressed Elizabeth Warren on abortion policy.
And on a chilly Thursday evening, as local television warned of an incoming snowstorm, some 500 people — many wearing red “MAGA” hats — packed into a large ballroom at a Holiday Inn across the street from the Des Moines airport to hear a trio of Republican women, including the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, speak as part of a “Women for Trump” tour traveling across the state this past week.
“Whoa! Des Moines!” Lara Trump declared as she was welcomed by supporters who jumped to their feet, shouting and clapping. “They told us this was all Democrats, but I think y’all have something different to say.”
Trump team offers counter programming in Iowa
The event, which drew as many men as women, was part of the counter programming launched by the Trump campaign here in recent days, beginning with flying a pro-Trump banner over Tuesday’s debate site. And President Donald Trump is scheduled to return to Des Moines for a rally Jan. 30, four days before the caucuses.
Thursday’s event had the feel, at times, of a morning show. The women — Lara Trump, who is married to the president’s son Eric; Trump campaign senior adviser Mercedes Schlapp; and Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany — sat in cream-colored chairs on a small stage against the backdrop of a large pink-and-white “Women for Trump” sign.
After urging those in the audience to take their seats and “get cozy,” the women chatted casually, ticking through a litany of policy points and arguing that, under President Trump, America and, especially, American women are thriving. They warned of chaos if Democrats recapture the White House.
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“We have tangible results that we can point to because of this president, and the Democrats have literally nothing to offer,” Lara Trump said. “If we let any of these Democrats get a hold of the White House, this country will be unrecognizable as the United States of America. They want to turn this country the way of Venezuela. And Venezuela is a complete disaster. It was one of the greatest countries in the world, incredibly prosperous, very rich. Things were going great. And then socialism took over.”
In the back, a woman lifted her hands in the air in prayer, as other members of the audience shook their heads.
‘Women for Trump’ criticize Democratic hopefuls
While the event was mostly focused on President Trump, the women peppered their remarks with warnings about the Democrats in the race, including “Crazy Bernie” Sanders and Joe Biden, who they warned was just as liberal as his Democratic rivals in the race.
“Don’t let him escape that label,” McEnany said.
At one point, Lara Trump mocked Biden’s performance at the last debate. “I’m supposed to want him to fail at every turn, but every time he comes on stage and they turn to him, I’m like: ‘Joe, can you get it out? Let’s get the words out. Joe.’ You kind of feel bad for him,” she said of Biden, who regularly speaks about his history of stuttering. “The problem is, that’s their front-runner, guys. They know that the people that they’re offering up on the Democratic side have zero chance of beating Donald Trump, right? Zero.”
Die-hard supporters in Des Moines audience
The audience responded with laughs and cheers. Many in attendance described themselves as loyal Trump supporters from the earliest days of his campaign, even when their other Republican friends were against his candidacy. And in interviews, most said that nothing Trump had done as a candidate or as president had changed their minds about him — not his use of Twitter, his handling of foreign policy or the allegations that he solicited foreign help to investigate the Bidens.
Mary Godwin, a real estate agent from Des Moines, said she had backed Trump four years ago because he had appealed to her as a political outsider and a businessman, and that she felt he had delivered on his promises to the business community, including a strong stock market, tax-code changes and a booming economy.
She came out Thursday because she was curious about the strategy the Trump campaign would take in addressing impeachment, which she said was a “distraction” from real issues.
“To me, nothing he has done has been high crimes and misdemeanors or enough to be impeached,” she said, arguing the scandal would probably end up driving up his support among Republicans, including in Iowa. “I think this is actually very bad for the Democrats.”