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GOP presidential candidates make their way to Iowa to try to woo voters

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Republican presidential hopefuls are in Iowa this week.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

They'll be hitting the state hard with speeches and events to make their case to voters as Iowa is still set to kick off the primary season with GOP caucuses early next year.

FADEL: Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters is covering all the campaigning there and is on the line with us. Hi, Clay.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So who's making appearances there in Iowa?

MASTERS: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will be here today and tomorrow, hitting several cities in the state. He's been in Iowa a couple of times, but this will be the first time he's been here since announcing he's running. Of course, DeSantis is still seen as the biggest threat to Donald Trump, although there's still a decent gap between them in recent polls. Trump will be here Thursday speaking to a conservative breakfast club at a restaurant, followed by a chat with local pastors, which is, you know, much different than his normal rallies we've become accustomed to. He actually canceled one last minute a couple of weeks ago here. His campaign said it was because of a severe weather potential.

All the action ends on Saturday with a bunch of the candidates at the bottom of the polls. That's when Iowa Senator Joni Ernst holds her roast and ride fundraiser. It features a motorcycle ride, a pork roast, and then speeches from people like Senator Tim Scott and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, amongst others who are running.

FADEL: What are voters telling you about these candidates?

MASTERS: Well, first off, you know, it's early. And keep in mind, those coming to these campaign events are among the most politically engaged in the state.

FADEL: Right.

MASTERS: But talking with these folks this early can give you kind of a read on how the race may take shape later on. You do have voters who are ready to move on from Trump. Here's a mother and daughter I talked to as they were leaving a campaign event for Tim Scott last week. Here's Judy Burgin and Krishna Phair from Sioux City.

JUDY BURGIN: I voted. I respected Donald Trump. He did what he needed to do, but I don't want him to be...

KRISHNA PHAIR: Our nomination.

BURGIN: ...Our next nomination for the Republican Party.

MASTERS: That being said, there are also a lot of voters this cycle who seem to already have their mind made up. They want Trump back in the White House. Last month, I talked to Jolene Rosebeck at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Dinner.

JOLENE ROSEBECK: It feels a little different to me, but, like, yeah, I'm going to listen to everybody, but I don't think my mind is going to change on who I want.

MASTERS: She said she kind of sees the other candidates running in a race for vice president.

FADEL: What makes these campaigns different from the ones that Iowans saw ahead of the 2016 and 2020 elections?

MASTERS: For starters, the Republican Party has just changed so much with Trump at the head of the party compared to eight years ago. And then obviously a former president running for the nomination again makes this very different. Trump was a known entity eight years ago when he was first running, but he had no political record. Now he does. He also has sparking an insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 on his record, the multiple criminal charges he could face. And certainly that's largely just noise to Trump's base. But it's on the mind of voters that I've talked to.

Then the other big difference for Iowa this time around is that the Democratic and Republican parties here are fighting over, like, the one thing they've agreed on for decades, and that is keeping the Iowa caucuses first in the nation. Now, the DNC voted to boot Iowa out of the early window, but their calendar is currently in chaos. Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, has until the end of the week to sign a bill that could deny Iowa Democrats their kind of, like, last Hail Mary to try and stay in the early window. So you have a fight among the parties over how to run a caucus happening at the same time all these Republican hopefuls are descending on the state this week.

FADEL: Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters. Thanks, Clay.

MASTERS: Yeah, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Clay Masters is a reporter for Iowa Public Radio and formerly for Harvest Public Media. His stories have appeared on NPR