Trump Returns to Iowa, Where Rivals See Their Best Chance

Even as former President Donald J. Trump faces a crowded field of Republican primary challengers, he has kept a relatively light campaign schedule, particularly in Iowa, the first state to hold a nominating contest in the 2024 election.

But with less than four months until Iowa’s caucuses, Mr. Trump and his team are beginning a more concerted effort to lock up his support there, starting with two events on Wednesday in eastern Iowa that represent the first of five planned visits to the state over the next six weeks.

The increased pace of Mr. Trump’s Iowa visits, along with a six-figure advertising purchase by a super PAC supporting him, suggest a more concerted effort by his campaign and supporters to halt his rivals before any can gain momentum and pose a threat.

With Mr. Trump holding a commanding lead among Republicans both in national surveys and in Iowa polls, some rivals have made barnstorming the state a cornerstone of their strategies, hoping a victory there could help them coalesce support in later primaries.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who frequently polls as Mr. Trump’s strongest rival, has made Iowa a particular focal point, planning to visit all 99 of its counties and building a robust state operation. Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur and political neophyte who has drawn increased support since last month’s Republican debate, has also been blitzing the state talking to voters.

Whether this strategy will prove effective remains unclear. Mr. Trump still exerts a firm hold on the Republican base, and he did not need to win the caucus in 2016 in order to receive his party’s nomination. And even as an Emerson College poll released last week showed Mr. Trump’s support among Iowa Republican voters slipping somewhat over the past four months, he still remained 35 percentage points ahead of Mr. DeSantis.

Mr. Trump’s campaign has said it has collected more than 27,000 cards in which voters pledge to back the former president in the caucuses. Its events on Wednesday — at a “commit to caucus” event in Maquoketa and at a convention center in Dubuque — will be aimed in part at helping organize supporters ahead of the voting on Jan. 15.

“President Trump’s aggressive upcoming schedule in Iowa reflects his continued commitment to earning support in the state one voter at a time,” Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said in a statement.

Mr. Trump has made seven trips to Iowa this year, well below other candidates. He has skipped some of Iowa’s large multicandidate events, including a major gathering of evangelical Christians that was held on Saturday and is typically a staple of Republican campaigning.

Mr. Trump has remained popular with evangelical voters, even as he has expressed views that might normally alienate them, including his reluctance to endorse a federal abortion ban. In an interview broadcast Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC, he criticized Mr. DeSantis for signing a six-week abortion ban in Florida that Mr. Trump called a “terrible thing.”

His last two appearances were at high-profile and much-covered events: the Iowa State Fair in August and the Iowa-Iowa State football game this month.

His speeches on Wednesday, likely of a slightly smaller scale, will coincide with increased spending on advertising by MAGA Inc., the super PAC backing his campaign. The group spent more than $700,000 on ads in Iowa last week and this week, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact.

Similar groups backing Mr. DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador, each spent more than a million in that same period.

Nicholas Nehamas contributed reporting.

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