Republican candidates push to topple Trump in Iowa in final weeks before caucus

The 2024 primary starts in January and the ex-president remains the favorite.

November 23, 2023, 5:02 AM

There's less than two months to go until the Iowa caucus, Republicans' first race in the 2024 primary, and most of the remaining presidential candidates have been increasingly focusing their attention, time, money and staff on the state.

The notable exception is Donald Trump, who remains the front-runner in polling, despite his many legal troubles -- all of which he denies -- leaving the rest of the field pushing to prove GOP voters want someone other than Trump as their nominee.

While Iowa Republican Chairman Jeff Kaufmann recently said that "Iowa is not supposed to pick the next president," the caucus, along with New Hampshire's primary, historically receive outsized attention from the public and from the news media because they offer the first look at who voters want to run in the next presidential election.

Here's how the Republican hopefuls, including lesser popular candidates like Ryan Binkley and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, have been campaigning in Iowa in the final weeks before the vote.

Ryan Binkley

Texas pastor Ryan Binkley, running on a message of "faith in God, freedom, and each other," became the first candidate to accomplish the "Full Grassley Tour" this cycle, a tradition of reaching all 99 counties in Iowa, named after the state's senior senator, his campaign said.

Though he established a presence in Iowa early on in the race, Binkley acknowledged to ABC News in October that a lack of name recognition remains a hurdle.

"Nobody really knows who I am just yet," Binkley said six months into his presidential campaign. "And so now it's time for us to start sharing the message all the more."

Doug Burgum

Though North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum did not qualify for the most recent primary debate as his donor and polling numbers stall, he says he is not dropping out anytime soon, telling ABC News last week that he's still encouraged.

Burgum, who has focused on the economy, energy and national security, maintained that "we're getting great reception and great encouragement, specifically from voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that are saying, 'Thank you for respecting us as the voters.'"

Chris Christie

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the only firmly anti-Trump candidate, has not come to Iowa at all this election cycle.

Instead, he's chosen to focus his attention on New Hampshire ahead of its primary on Jan. 23.

PHOTO: Florida Governor and U.S. Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a rally, Nov. 6, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Florida Governor and U.S. Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a rally, Nov. 6, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Rachel Mummey/Reuters

Ron DeSantis

Of all the candidates to pass through Iowa over the past several months, it was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who managed to secure Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds endorsement on Nov. 6. And on Tuesday, DeSantis earned yet another endorsement, this time from Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader.

The governor entered the primary earlier this year as perhaps Trump's biggest opponent, given DeSantis' popularity with the base, but his poll numbers have only declined since then -- though a strong result in Iowa could help reverse that.

DeSantis has now visited 98 of 99 counties in Iowa through events hosted by his campaign and the very involved DeSantis-aligned super PAC Never Back Down.

"We're excited about being able to go around and spread the message," he said to a group of voters in Plainfield, Iowa, teasing a big campaign event around his 99th county.

Nikki Haley

While her campaign has only held about 30 events in the state, Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and former ambassador to the U.N., has drawn some notable support. On Friday, she was endorsed by Marlys Popma, a longtime GOP operative and adviser on the 2008 McCain presidential campaign.

According to 538's polling average, Haley's numbers have been rising in the state and she is nearly tied for second with DeSantis. Trump is ahead of both by more than 25%.

Haley told Fox News last week that her "momentum is real."

"We're going to keep working hard to earn every Iowans vote. We're not going to give up on Iowa, we're going to fight hard for New Hampshire. We're gonna fight hard for South Carolina and then we're going to keep on going," she said.

Asa Hutchinson

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson held more than a dozen events in Iowa this past week as his campaign commits to keep moving forward after failing to make the second and third debate stages.

He had self-imposed a Thanksgiving deadline to up his polling numbers to 4% in an early state -- a marker he has not reached.

"Other major candidates have dropped out and the field has narrowed. This widens my lane and changes the dynamics of the race," he contended in a statement to ABC News on Wednesday.

In an interview with NBC News earlier this month, he talked about his strategy to try and win more support in Iowa.

"That is important to be able to combine your retail politics, the message that you have, with some positive media ads which will distinguish yourself because everybody else is just slinging mud at each other right now," he said.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Businessman and commentator Vivek Ramaswamy has held more than 150 events in the state already, according to his campaign, and says he plans to hold 200 more over the coming weeks as he, his family and his team relocate from Ohio to solidify his presence in the state.

His wife, Dr. Apoorva Ramaswamy, held her first solo event in the state on Saturday.

Iowa aides market Vivek Ramaswamy as "Trump without the distractions." It's a pitch that seems to resonate with voters like Denise Asberry, who told ABC News she was disenchanted with the political process and dissuaded from voting altogether after casting her ballot for Trump.

At a campaign event in Corning, however, a tearful Asberry told Ramaswamy that he "inspired [her] to vote."

After a poll of likely caucusgoers from The Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom in late-October placed him at 4%, tied with Christie who hasn't stepped foot in Iowa this cycle, Ramaswamy told reporters he was "going to put [his] money where his [mouth] is" teasing larger ad buys in the state to reach a larger audience.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during the Family Leader's Thanksgiving Family Forum, Nov. 17, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during the Family Leader's Thanksgiving Family Forum, Nov. 17, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

Donald Trump

The Trump campaign is confident that the former president will win Iowa, spending little time actively campaigning but coming through the state occasionally to hold "Commit to Caucus" events.

For Trump, who already has an overwhelming polling lead in the state, his campaign's main goals appears to not be garnering support but ensuring those supporters show up to caucus sites in January.

Trump marked his 14th visit to the state this cycle speaking in Fort Dodge on Saturday, urging voters to caucus for him to send a "great signal" to the rest of the Republican primary field to drop out.

ABC News' Libby Cathey, Abby Cruz, Hannah Demissie, Lalee Ibssa, Nicholas Kerr, Soo Rin Kim and Kelsey Walsh contributed to this report.