Weather effects, Ramasamy support and more

DES MOINES, Iowa — The first ballots of the 2024 presidential campaign will descend on Iowa's frozen tundra Monday night, where Republicans — along with independents and Democrats choosing to switch parties — will participate in the state's caucuses.

A final NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll, released Saturday, found former President Donald Trump is likely to return to the office he lost in 2020. His main rivals, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are locked in a second-place race.

Follow live results from the 2024 Iowa caucuses

Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who is running in Iowa and has toiled hard in the state but has trailed in the top three in polls, did not qualify for last week's GOP debate here; former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson; and Ryan Binkley, a little-known pastor from Texas. The results will clear up the GOP race before it shifts to the New Hampshire primary next week.

Here are five storylines to watch:

Weather

This year's Iowa caucuses may be the coldest on record.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Subzero temperatures are forecast across the state on Monday, capping a week of arctic conditions and what could be the coldest Caucus day on record.

DeSantis and Haley postponed Friday's events, instead asking people to risk their lives on the treacherous roads. Cooler weekend temperatures will often keep crowds down for Saturday and Sunday's events. Now they're threatening to cut turnout on caucus night. Meteorologists are warning Iowans to stay indoors Monday unless it's absolutely necessary to go outside. The question arises as to whose proponents believe the risk is worth it.

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Trump hoped his supporters would be “glass walkers” for him and not deterred by the minus-20 wind chill. DeSantis has expressed confidence in the ground game his super PAC, Never Back Down, has put together to oust his supporters. Although Haley is rising in the polls, she hasn't invested as much time or money in Iowa as DeSantis and his allies have. Can you leave her out in the cold?

Trump's edge

Trump's team predicted a landslide victory.Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Unless the polls are wildly wrong, Trump appears to have an Iowa victory in hand — eight years ago when Texas Sen. He avoided Ted Cruz when he lost the caucuses. The real suspense for him is how much he raises the score on DeSantis and Haley.

“We're looking to set records, and frankly, we don't think other teams are going to be as diligent about going out as our team is because we have a great MAGA team,” Trump said Friday night. Phone call with potential caucuses.

If Trump reaches 50%, the idea that Republicans are hungry for an alternative is far less believable. He could go to New Hampshire with a serious wind of inevitability. Even if New Hampshire voters want to uphold their independence — or, as Haley recently put it in comments that scanned as a snub, the results of “correct” Iowa — the donors who helped keep DeSantis and Haley in the race will certainly be looking for one. exit route.

But if Trump falls short of a majority, there could be a renewed effort by the non-Trump faction of the party to rally around whoever emerges as his strongest challenger from Iowa.

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Second War

DeSantis and Haley are battling for second place ahead of the Iowa caucuses.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The real suspense Monday night is often who comes in second, and by how much. For months now, Haley and DeSantis have been battling over who can finish second in Iowa and head into the upcoming primaries with slightly more momentum than the other.

For DeSantis, it has a make-or-break feel. Finish third behind Haley, who will go into two states where she already polls behind him. What's more, DeSantis, who previously said he would win the Iowa caucuses, could face an embarrassing setback if he comes in third behind Haley, who for months has focused more on New Hampshire than Iowa.

Heading into the race, the latest NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll found Haley with a 4-point edge over DeSantis, which comes within the margin of error. Both candidates trail Trump by more than 25 points.

First-time caucuses

Caucus-themed items at Racoon in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday. Iowa voters are gearing up for Iowa's Republican presidential primary on Monday.Kevin Deitch/Getty Images

Both Trump and Ramaswamy sought to heavily target caucuses who had previously not voted in the Iowa caucuses. For Trump, that makes sense — the last time there was a competitive Iowa GOP caucus was in 2016, before he became president and long before he remade the GOP in his image.

If Trump can make it to the caucuses for the first time, he has a chance to surpass his poll numbers and score an even more impressive victory — slowing any momentum for the candidate behind him.

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Ramasamy is the focus here for a different reason, a distant fourth place, hoping his early, out-of-town campaign will appeal to voters who haven't engaged in the process before and who haven't registered to vote.

The discretion factor

Can Ramaswamy pull off a surprise showing in the top three?AP via Julia Nickinson / Abaca/Sipa USA

No one campaigned more in Iowa than Ramaswamy, the young right-wing provocateur. He toured the state and consistently drew energetic crowds.

In retrospect, many pro-Trump voters have said they now support Ramasamy after hearing his stamp. Although Ramasamy had presented himself as a Trump fan earlier in his campaign, simply believing it was time for a younger generation to take charge, he has launched more attacks against him in recent weeks.

Ramasamy recently told NBC News that Trump was “wounded” and that she — Ramasamy — would be a very capable steward of the MAGA brand. Ramaswamy on Saturday He posed for a picture Supporters wore “Save Trump, Vote Vivek” T-shirts.

All of this could reduce Trump's edge in Iowa — and he and his team made it clear in the final days that they weren't happy about it.

“Vivek started his campaign as a great supporter,” Trump posted on Truth Social late Saturday. “Unfortunately, all he does now is hide his support in the form of deceptive campaign tactics. Very tricky, but a vote for Vivek is a vote for the 'other side' – don't be fooled by this.

Perhaps Ramasamy is not a spoiler. With polls showing her trailing Trump, Haley and DeSantis, her top three finish would be a big surprise.

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