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Caucus Recap: In rural Iowa, Republicans may not be as divided as they seem

Nick El Hajj
The campaign trail in Iowa was littered with insults and accusations among candidates, driving divisions between the campaigns. But on caucus night, the S&B spoke to a number of voters who indicated that Republican voters are much more united than they appear.

Iowa Republicans delivered a decisive victory to former President Donald Trump on Monday night, braving the frigid weather to participate in the caucuses.

Trump won with an outright majority, winning 51.1% of the vote statewide. Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, took second with 21.2%, proving predictions that placed him behind Nikki Haley in the polls wrong. Haley, former governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador, had a disappointing showing compared to polling predictions that placed her in second, with only 19.1%. All vote percentages were calculated as of 11:59 p.m.

The campaign trail has been a flurry of insults, name-calling and accusations thrown between candidates, but Iowa Republicans as observed by S&B reporters on caucus night may not be as divided as candidates. Many of the caucus goers interviewed indicated they would support whichever candidate ultimately wins the nomination.

“I think any of the Republicans would make a good president,” Wayne Ross, 71, said, indicating his desire for a president with strong conservative values. He said despite voting for DeSantis in the caucus, he would vote for Trump if he ends up as the nominee. 

“I see our country going away from conservative values,” he said. “I don’t know where our country’s headed, but [it’s] not where I’d like to see it go. That’s why we vote for conservative people as a Republican,” he added. 

A Trump caucus captain and another volunteer check voter registration sheets at the Brooklyn Precinct. In Brooklyn, Donald Trump received 60 votes, followed by Ron DeSantis with 17, Nikki Haley with 16, Vivek Ramaswamy with 6, Ryan Binkley with 1 and Chris Christie with 1. (Nick El Hajj)

At the Montezuma caucus, despite voting for Trump, Craig McKee spoke in support of both Nikki Haley and DeSantis in lieu of an official campaign representative, saying that any of the three candidates would be an improvement to the current administration.

“Of the old ‘Reaganesque’ school, we do not speak ill of other Republicans,” McKee said, explaining why he decided to speak on behalf of the two other candidates.

McKee said that although he thinks Haley does not yet have the experience for the presidency, she has earned his respect.

“[Her] heart is in the right, organizationally,” he said. “I would vote for her if she made the nominee.”

In support of DeSantis, McKee said that he enjoyed attending a campaign event in Des Moines in July.

“It was a real pleasure listening to him speak. He could do it very well. I would like to see DeSantis in the administration,” McKee said.

“I think the field of Republican candidates is outstanding this year,” Sally May of Brooklyn said, who also cast her ballot for Trump. “I don’t think we can go wrong with any of our Republican candidates,” she added.

Sheri Sharer, who acted as Trump’s caucus captain in Montezuma, united Republicans behind Trump by appealing to their shared disapproval of Biden. Trump ultimately won 61% of the vote in Montezuma.

“The economy is awful,” she said of the Biden administration. Sharer caucused for the first time on Monday, saying, “The country needs it.”

In Grinnell, Eugene Heywood, 68, said that he supports Trump because of alleged corruption among the Democrats.

“Joe Biden is a disgrace. It’s that simple,” he said.

Jacki Bolen, former mayor of Montezuma and candidate for Poweshiek County supervisor, spoke on behalf of Vivek Ramaswamy but said that she also likes Trump. 

Bolen said that the main difference between candidates is not in their policies, but simply in how they conduct themselves. Ultimately though, Bolen said that the differences are not substantial enough to push Republican voters away from the Republican Party’s nominee even if it is not their preferred choice.

While Trump’s large win and Haley’s unanticipated third-place finish will not seal their fates, precedent has shown the results can dramatically shift the campaigns’ momentum. This was the case in 2008 when Barack Obama was catapulted to the Democratic nomination by winning Iowa, as well as in 2000 when George W. Bush’s win solidified his path to beating out John McCain as the Republican nominee.

So while Iowa controls only 1.6% of the total delegates that will be allocated at the Republican National Conventional, tonight’s results are likely to be a launching pad for donations, media coverage and endorsements heading into the New Hampshire primaries on Jan. 23.

Contributed reporting from Sam Bates, Eliza Cline, Eleanor Corbin, Sarah Evans and Nick El Hajj.

A volunteer checks the list of registered voters at the Montezuma Precinct. Trump received 33 votes, followed by DeSantis with 8, Haley with 5, Ramaswamy with 8 and none for the other candidates. (Zach Spindler-Krage)
Ken Phillips distributes ballots at the Grinnell High School Precinct. Donald Trump won every precinct in Grinnell, with the exception of Grinnell Precinct Ward 2, where Ron DeSantis edged him out by three votes. (Sarah Evans)
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About the Contributors
Zach Spindler-Krage
Zach Spindler-Krage, News Editor
Zach Spindler-Krage is a third-year political science major and policy studies concentrator. He is from Rochester, Minnesota and has an unbelievable amount of state pride. Zach spends his time hiking, playing and listening to music, trying to submit op-eds for every class writing assignment, and wishing he was in Minnesota.
Taylor Nunley
Taylor Nunley, Community Editor
Taylor is a second-year Classics and English double major from Huntington, West Virginia. Her life-long goal is to ride as many forms of transportation as possible.
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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