Iowa Caucuses: What you need to know with less than a week left | ET REALITY


Iowa voters are about to cast their ballots and we are back, ready to guide them through what promises to be an election year like no other.

I’m Lisa Lerer, the founding writer of On Politics. As expected this time of year, I’m writing to you from cold Des Moines, where I just got over a lot of snow that covered the last week before the assemblies.

Typically, this is a period of the political calendar known for drama. Candidates run across the state, attack ads flood local TV, and Casey’s General Store does it fast business on breakfast pizza.

This year is… not exactly that. Donald Trump leads the polls by more than 30 points, despite visiting the state infrequently compared to his rivals. His large lead has transformed the Iowa caucuses into a contest for second place. If none of Trump’s five rivals reduce his lead, the caucuses could look more like an early coronation.

But Iowa loves to surprise. Just ask former President Barack Obama, who dealt a crucial blow to Hillary Clinton in 2008. Or Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, who emerged over the December holidays to win the race that same year. Obviously, it didn’t work out so well for Huckabee, who lost the nomination to Senator John McCain.

In fact, Iowa has a terrible record when it comes to electing the GOP candidate. In the seven Republican elections contested since 1980, the winner of Iowa has won the party’s nomination only twice: Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas in 1996 and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas in 2000. Even in competitive years, they typically run fewer than 200,000 Iowans in their party’s caucuses. That number could be even lower this year, given the below-freezing temperatures expected next Monday night.

As is often the case with Iowa, the stakes this year go beyond a simple victory. For former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a strong second-place finish would catapult her campaign into the New Hampshire primary with the most coveted political narrative: momentum.

For Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, whose position in the race has fallen, this is decisive. If he doesn’t reach out to either Haley or Trump, DeSantis will find it increasingly difficult to justify his continued bid for the Republican nomination.

Trump’s speeches have focused on how he hopes to soundly defeat President Biden in November. But in recent days he has taken aim at Haley, accusing her of being “in the pocket” of “establishment donors” and of being a “globalist,” my colleague Shane Goldmacher reported this weekend.

Haley threatens not only to eclipse DeSantis for second place in Iowa, but also to compete with Trump in New Hampshire, where independent voters are giving him a boost in an open primary state. Trump’s new line of attack suggests that his campaign sees Haley as a potential obstacle to his goal of quickly securing the nomination.

From Wilmington, Delaware, we watched the Biden campaign. Publicly, Biden’s advisers say they are preparing to compete against any of the Republicans in the field. But privately, they’re pretty sure Trump will once again be their opponent in the general election. His argument echoes his speech from four years ago, presenting the election as a referendum on American democracy and fundamental freedoms like the right to abortion.

Today in Charleston, Biden attempted to rally support among black voters with a fiery speech from the pulpit of the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South. My colleague Peter Baker reports that Biden linked Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election to the nation’s history of white supremacy, which he called “the old ghost in new clothes.”

A certainty of presidential politics: Past victories are no guarantee of future results. And this race promises to be spectacular. Biden, who will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee, would be the oldest presidential candidate in history. He is very unpopular, even among some key sectors of his own coalition. The presumptive Republican nominee faces 91 felony charges and is expected to ping-pong throughout much of the election year, from the campaign trail to the courthouse.

We’re here to help make sense of it all. You’ll hear from us three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to bring you your dose of political news from a rotating team of top New York Times political reporters. Over the next few months, I will share this newsletter with my colleagues in the politics department, including Reid Epstein, Adam Nagourney, and Katie Glueck.

Before I close this first newsletter of 2024, I would like to remember Blake Hounshell, our irrepressible and brilliant colleague who last ran this newsletter and died last year at the age of 44. We miss him dearly and know he would have been as fascinated as we were by this campaign.

That being said, dear readers, I invite you to join us on this journey. Get ready: it will be a difficult journey.

White evangelical Christian voters have lined up behind Republican candidates for decades. But evangelicals aren’t exactly who they used to be.

Today, being evangelical is often used to describe a cultural and political identity: one in which Christians are considered a persecuted minority, traditional institutions are viewed with skepticism, and Donald Trump looms large.

“Politics has become the primary identity,” said Ryan Burge, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist pastor. “Everything else falls in line behind partisanship.”

The Republican caucuses in Iowa will be a test of the extent to which Trump continues to own that identity. Among his rivals, Ron DeSantis has invested the most in courting Iowa evangelicals, enlisting the support of prominent leaders and emphasizing his hard-line abortion bona fides. In early December, Trump had a 25-point lead over DeSantis among evangelical voters, according to the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom. Iowa Poll.

Karen Johnson identifies as an evangelical Christian, but she doesn’t believe it’s necessary to go to church. “I have my little thing with the Lord,” she says.

Johnson’s includes podcasts and YouTube channels that discuss politics and “what’s going on in the world” from a right-wing, and sometimes Christian, worldview. No one plays a more central role in his outlook than Trump. She believes she can defeat the Democrats who, she is sure, are destroying the country.

“Trump is our David and our Goliath,” Johnson said recently while waiting outside a hotel in eastern Iowa to hear the former president speak. – Ruth Graham and Charles Homans

Read the full story here.

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Our team is answering your questions about this presidential election year. No question is too big, small or basic, so ask it by filling out this form. We may include your question in an upcoming newsletter.

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