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Polling strong, Trump urges his Iowa supporters to brave the cold and attend caucuses

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Later this evening, Iowa voters will make their way to more than 1,600 caucus sites across their state to cast the first votes in the Republican presidential primary. Former President Donald Trump is the frontrunner there and will be looking for a strong finish ahead of fellow Republicans Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben will be with Trump this evening in Des Moines. Hey, Danielle.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey there.

SUMMERS: So Danielle, I know you have been keeping an eye on the former president there in Iowa. Tell us. What have you been hearing and seeing over the last few days?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, first of all, not as much as expected. That's because Trump had only one in-person rally over the weekend. There were three that the campaign canceled due to the extreme weather. You may have heard it's a little chilly out here.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

KURTZLEBEN: But at that one rally in Indianola that Trump had, it was what has - what we could count as a pretty typical Trump speech, although he did go on for a bit longer than usual. People started trailing out before the end of it. But there was just lots of bluster, lots of taunting of his rivals, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. And in short, Trump is confident. The well-regarded Iowa poll came out over the weekend and had him way ahead. And I've talked to a lot of Trump voters over the last few days. They're enthusiastic. But above all, so many of them are loyal. They've just said that they - so many of them said they just never considered other candidates.

SUMMERS: Interesting. And you mentioned that polling has former President Trump way ahead out in front of his rivals in the state. So is he expecting a big win there in Iowa?

KURTZLEBEN: I mean, possibly. You might even say probably. But he's also telling his supporters not to get complacent given his strong polling and also not to mention the weather. This is what he said in his speech in Indianola.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We got to do it. We got to do it big. You got to get out. You can't sit home. If you're sick as a dog, you say, darling, I got to make it. Even if you vote and then pass away, it's worth it. Remember.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, the worst of the weather is over. It got all the way above zero today, but many of the roads are still slippery. And you got to remember a lot of Iowans live on gravel roads out in really rural areas, so it might be tougher for them to get to the caucuses. So Trump is really encouraging people to get out there, and it's unclear how weather will affect things. So even if he's confident, even if he's polling well, he doesn't just want to win. He wants as big a win as possible.

SUMMERS: So Danielle, as voters across the state of Iowa do indeed head out to those caucus sites with all of that weather you've been talking about, tell us. What are you watching for this evening?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, first of all, if polls are to be believed, again, Trump does have that strong lead. So should he win, the first question is, how big is his margin? But also, what are the margins like between second and third place? However that comes out will affect how the candidates campaign in New Hampshire and beyond. A strong finish in Iowa for U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis means more momentum for them, or for any candidate, for that matter, coming out of Iowa. But beyond that, just turnout - how enthused are people this year? And once again, how much will the weather keep them home? How well can they get out there? How much might they just decide to hang back? How much do they believe that the polls say that Trump just has an insurmountable lead?

SUMMERS: Danielle, thank you.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

SUMMERS: That's Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR political correspondent, reporting from Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.