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GOP presidential candidates have 1 week left to change voters' minds in Iowa

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next week, Iowa Republicans vote on presidential candidates. Clay Masters has been listening to their closing arguments, as he has for years, and he's on the line. Clay, good morning.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

MASTERS: Well, let's start with Ron DeSantis, who is betting it all on Iowa. The Florida governor says Donald Trump thinks he's entitled to Iowans' vote. DeSantis argues he's actually campaigning in all of Iowa's 99 counties instead of popping in for some larger events and then leaving. DeSantis talks a lot about what he sees as his accomplishments in Florida. Then you have Nikki Haley, who has not spent as much time in Iowa as DeSantis, but she's been appearing here more as of late. The former South Carolina governor and one-time U.N. ambassador has been talking about Trump, too, as well, the front-runner in all this 2023 into 2024 cycle.

INSKEEP: Sure.

MASTERS: I had the chance to press her recently in an interview on Iowa Public Radio about Trump's positive comments about authoritarian leaders and if they are a threat to American democracy. Haley wouldn't say that explicitly, but she did say the U.S. won't survive a second term for Trump. And as for Trump, he was in Iowa just this weekend relitigating the 2020 election, falsely saying it was rigged, of course. He's only been ramping up that rhetoric in the last few days.

INSKEEP: Why?

MASTERS: Well, he thinks it'll help drive turnout, Steve. I mean, at these rallies, when I speak to people, you know, there was this Washington Post poll that showed three years after the January 6 attack that Republicans are more sympathetic to those who stormed the U.S. Capitol and they absolve Trump of responsibility. Whenever he's indicted or there's a gag order put in place throughout the cycle, people that I've talked to in these crowds coming to see Trump only feel more passionate about supporting him.

INSKEEP: So what does the final week look like before the voting begins?

MASTERS: Well, so there's a lot at stake for Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. They'll both be barnstorming the state. They'll appear at a CNN debate in Des Moines on Wednesday. Donald Trump will also be in Iowa that day but for a separate Fox News town hall. Trump will also be tied up in courtrooms this week, so that'll keep him out of Iowa, you know, every day. On Tuesday, he'll be in Washington, D.C., for a hearing on whether he was - whether he has presidential immunity in the federal election subversion case. And then on Thursday, the judge in Trump's New York civil fraud trial will hear closing arguments. And I should note that there are other candidates still in the running for the Iowa caucuses. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and then businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. He's been spending a lot of time in Iowa recently.

INSKEEP: I want to note - and many of our listeners will know this - that Clay has covered the last three Iowa caucuses going back to 2016. You've interviewed many of the candidates because public radio is huge in Iowa, and now you're moving on to Minnesota Public Radio. But you've covered these three cycles the whole time of Donald Trump. What changes have you seen in the Republican Party?

MASTERS: Well, in a lot of ways, the 2024 cycle had - kind of started out to look a lot like caucus cycles of the past, where you had a crowded field taking shape and, you know, you were kind of watching who was going to rise in the polls. But there really hasn't been the kind of rise that you've seen in the past. And Trump hasn't been playing the traditional Iowa game but he didn't eight years ago. And the Republican turnout record for the caucuses was in 2016 when 186,000 voters showed up. That was only about 25% of registered Republicans. And, you know, it's really drawing a lot of questions as to, you know, how much strength the Iowa caucuses will have in - moving on into the future.

INSKEEP: Of course, Trump hasn't always won in Iowa. Clay, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

MASTERS: Yeah. Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Clay Masters, once of Iowa Public Radio, now in his first day at Minnesota Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter. He was part of a team of member station political reporters who covered the 2016 presidential race for NPR. He also covers environmental issues.