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Iowa snowstorm sets a slippery stage for Republican Caucus showdown

Contributed by Hamid Sidi
A Tuesday snowstorm brought about 13 inches of snow to Grinnell.  As presidential candidates reassess their political strategies, temperatures are expected to drop to a low of 16 below zero in Grinnell on Monday, Iowa Caucus Day.


In the midst of a record-breaking snowfall, Iowa finds itself at the epicenter of a political and meteorological storm. As the state gears up for the crucial Republican caucuses next Monday, its cities and towns are now blanketed in snow and ice, casting a shadow over the campaign trails of several presidential hopefuls.

Get to Shoveling!

Iowa, no stranger to harsh winters, experienced a significant snowstorm this Tuesday. In Des Moines, snowfall reached 8.3 inches, breaking a previous Jan. 9 record of 7.3 inches from 1957. In all, the storm brought a total of 11.2 inches of snow to the Des Moines area. Meanwhile, Iowa City appears to have been hit the worst, with the snowstorm depositing about 15 inches. 

In Grinnell, the storm brought about 13 inches of snow.  Rain before the snow also created thick ice layers that are difficult to clear. Grinnell College deployed its arsenal of snow-plowing vehicles for the first time this year following the storm. Meanwhile, community members who joined forces to clear driveways and city vehicles were out before dawn to treat the roads. 

Political Campaigns in the Cold

The timing of the storm has been particularly challenging for presidential campaigns. Nikki Haley’s team canceled a Sioux City event due to weather conditions while Donald Trump’s campaign faced logistical issues flying in star surrogate speakers to campaign on his behalf, leading to event cancellations. In contrast, Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis seized this as an opportunity to showcase their resilience, continuing their scheduled events and taking jabs at Haley’s cancellation.

We’re not canceling. Four events in northwest Iowa, keeping them intact. If you can’t handle the snow, you can’t handle Xi Jinping.

— Vivek Ramaswamy

“Haley’s team just canceled her Sioux City event because she can’t stop making gaffes and insulting Iowans,” DeSantis’ campaign texted subscribers.

“I’m headed to Sioux City for our event right now. We’re not canceling. Four events in northwest Iowa, keeping them intact. If you can’t handle the snow, you can’t handle Xi Jinping,” Ramaswamy posted on X.

Caucus Day Forecast

The weather forecast for the upcoming days is grim, with more snow and a plunge in temperatures forecasted. Des Moines faces a 40-50% chance of additional snowfall, and temperatures are expected to drop to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday night, potentially marking the coldest Caucus Night since the start of caucuses in 1972. In Grinnell, temperatures are expected to be as low as 16 below zero on Monday, Caucus Day. Accompanying the cold are predicted high winds which may cause dangerous wind chills and make travel on roads challenging. 

The inclement weather could be a decisive factor. The elderly and rural areas with fewer road-clearing services could be disproportionately affected, and overall turnout could be lower in a state where caucus-goers are accustomed to braving cold temperatures but might be deterred by the severity of the current conditions. 

If you have to drive miles and miles to get to your caucus, that might be a tough thing to do. Whereas not so much if you could conceivably walk or just take a short drive.

— Barbara Trish

“If you have to drive miles and miles to get to your caucus, that might be a tough thing to do. Whereas not so much if you could conceivably walk or just take a short drive,” said Barbara Trish, professor of political science at Grinnell College and a political opinion contributor to several news outlets.

Areas like Grinnell, which hold polling locations within short drives or even walking distance, might experience fewer disruptions compared to larger cities like Des Moines and Iowa City, where travel challenges will be more pronounced.


The Candidates’ Crucial Moment

For presidential candidates like Haley and DeSantis, the Iowa caucuses are a critical juncture. Both candidates have been crisscrossing the state this month to make their last-ditch attempts to sway voters and catch up to Trump, who holds a commanding lead of over 30 points in the polls.

“Both candidacies need to do a credible second [place] and maybe pick up some momentum,” said Trish.

Haley, despite her recent surge in polls, has had to navigate the fallout from some controversial comments. She drew criticism for her remarks about the Civil War, which she made during a town hall event in New Hampshire, where she failed to acknowledge slavery as the central cause of the conflict. Additionally, her statement suggesting that New Hampshire ‘corrects’ the Iowa vote was seen as dismissive of Iowa’s role in the electoral process, potentially alienating voters in a key state.

However, Haley’s prospects may see a boost following Chris Christie’s Wednesday withdrawal from the race. Christie, the former Governor of New Jersey, shared a similar voter base with Haley, appealing to more moderate Republicans and independents. 

Meanwhile, DeSantis has placed all his eggs in the Iowa basket. Despite his extensive campaign efforts, including visiting all 99 counties in Iowa, moving a third of his campaign staff to the state, having supporting groups knock on over 770,000 doors and securing endorsements from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, DeSantis is currently trailing behind Haley in the polls. His campaign now hinges on a significant win in Iowa, with a second-place position ahead of Haley and behind Trump being a crucial milestone for his electoral prospects.

However, he also faces the challenge of managing his responsibilities as the governor of Florida. This includes addressing the aftermath of severe storms and tornadoes currently tearing through his home state and delivering the State of the State address.

Ramaswamy’s grassroots approach, marked by his double Grassley — visiting each of Iowa’s 99 counties twice — faces a unique challenge due to his reliance on in-person events, which are now hindered by the storm, rather than television ads.

Traditionally, success in the caucuses is measured against expectations for success and we have pretty high expectations for Trump at this point.

— Barbara Trish

Meanwhile for Trump, Trish explains that canceling events will not be as damaging for he can afford to “lose supporters and still come out on top in the caucuses.” However despite his commanding lead in the polls, Trump still faces his own set of challenges. Trish explains a less-than-robust showing in Iowa could impact the perception of his campaign’s momentum. 

“Traditionally, success in the caucuses is measured against expectations for success,” said Trish. “And we have pretty high expectations for Trump at this point.”

He will be spending much of this week in the courtroom. On Tuesday, he flew to Washington for an appearance in a federal appeals court, and on Thursday, he is set to be in New York for a civil fraud trial. 

The Debate Amidst the Storm

Amidst this turbulent backdrop, DeSantis and Haley are set to go head-to-head in CNN’s presidential debate in Des Moines on Jan. 10, having each secured at least 10% in key polls. 

Desantis’ debate showing, often criticized, will be crucial to maintaining his momentum and path to the White House.

As Iowa battles the elements, the state remains a key battleground for presidential hopefuls. The combination of extreme weather and high-stakes politics is bound to set the stage for a caucus day like no other, with resilience, strategy and adaptability being key for both candidates and voters. 


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About the Contributor
Nick El Hajj
Nick El Hajj, Editor in Chief
Nick El Hajj, hailing from Beirut, Lebanon, is a fourth-year political science and economics major. In his free time, Nick enjoys delving into a good book, embarking on scenic drives and indulging in random documentaries. You’ll frequently find Nick waking up way too early to enjoy a peaceful morning of fishing at Arbor Lake.
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