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Dangerously cold temperatures could dampen turnout for Iowa's caucuses

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Iowa is at the center of attention in U.S. politics.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. Tonight, Iowa Republicans hold the first nominating contest in the party's presidential race. The favorite in that race, Donald Trump, is also the clear favorite to win the Iowa caucuses. But some rivals to the former president have been campaigning hard, even as temperatures in Iowa have plunged below zero.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is in Iowa. We have defrosted him so he can join us today. Don, the forecast calls for - what? - below zero degrees all day in Des Moines. So what's that feel like and how is it affecting the race?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Oh, you are being so optimistic on the temperature. As we speak, it is -16.

MARTÍNEZ: Oof.

GONYEA: Wind chill -33. Here's the good news - we don't expect any snow today. At caucus time, it'll be 5 below plus wind chill. Candidates have been talking about it, knowing that the weather could play a role in the results. So let's listen to some sound from a recent day on the trail this week. Here's Nikki Haley, Donald Trump Jr., and then you'll hear Ron DeSantis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: It's going to be so cold.

(LAUGHTER)

HALEY: Like, I don't even know what -15 is.

(LAUGHTER)

DONALD TRUMP JR: I understand it's going to be -4, but if I can get my Florida butt back up here.

RON DESANTIS: Zero degrees, -10, -20. But you know what?

GONYEA: OK. So, you know, we don't know how many voters will actually show up. These are dangerous conditions. We don't know what the roads are going to look like everywhere. But I do have to say, some voters, when you talk to them, are really committed, like Brice Musgrove. I met him at that DeSantis event.

Might the weather affect whether or not you actually caucus?

BRICE MUSGROVE: No, probably not.

GONYEA: You'll get out?

MUSGROVE: Yeah, yeah. We're used to it in Iowa, so it's important enough, we'll get out.

GONYEA: You're used to 15 below?

MUSGROVE: I don't know whether you ever get used to it, but you can tolerate it for short periods of time.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow, all right. You know, Don, not that long ago, I spent a few days driving from Sioux County to Des Moines. And almost everyone I spoke to was, for the most part, all in on Donald Trump. Is that what you're hearing, too?

GONYEA: That's what the polls show us, certainly. And it's really easy to find people who are extremely enthusiastic about Trump running again. But you can find people who are not voting for Trump. You find them at rallies for DeSantis and Haley, and they'll tell you lots of reasons why they can't back Trump. But when you press them about what they'll do if Trump is the nominee come November, most say, yeah, they'd be with him over Joe Biden.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, if Trump wins, it would seem to be a close battle for runner-up between Haley and DeSantis. How have they positioned themselves in the contest's final days?

GONYEA: So Haley says Trump was the right president at the right time, but electing him again would just bring chaos. DeSantis says you can like Trump, but you can't deny that if he is the nominee, then the election is going to be all about January 6 and criminal charges and that that plays into Democrats' hands.

MARTÍNEZ: And, you know - and for Donald Trump, it seems like his main battle, Don, is not necessarily with the other candidates but against his own expectations. So then what's in it for everyone else?

GONYEA: Well, it does feel like a battle for second place. And more than anything, it's DeSantis who needs second place because he has poured so much into Iowa. And if he should finish third, you'd really hear calls for him to drop out. Haley has New Hampshire coming up next, where she has actually polled well - second place, but well. And she really wants to set up a showdown with former President Trump there.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks for braving the cold, Don.

GONYEA: A, will do. 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.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.