Republican primary stakes sharpen as candidates begin mad dash to Iowa | CNN Politics

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The Republican primary campaign will see its final act with seven weeks to go before Iowa caucuses. Former President Donald Trump The favorite to claim a third straight GOP presidential nomination — and a rematch with political underdogs President Joe Biden.

After months on the campaign trail, Trump’s rivals are focused on running the former president off the streets rather than arresting him, who — despite 91 criminal charges in four indictments — has fared as well as he could have expected. The final weeks and days before the grounds for a planned campaign blitz around Iowa.

Trump in 2016 Like he did in 2016, he could lose in Iowa and go for the nomination. For the team’s public confidence, many consultants — who have watched all the polls — believe Iowa could be a wild card, sources told CNN. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appears to have little margin for error and is pouring resources into the state. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley She’s playing there, but her real test may come in New Hampshire, where independents vote in the primary and the electorate is, disproportionately, conservative.

But for all the new names, the fundamentals of the 2024 GOP primary remain largely unchanged from the 2016 race, with efforts to shore up the anti-Trump vote never quite succeeding. This year, Haley and DeSantis are trying something broadly similar, casting Trump as a political giant — but beyond sellout date and general election accountability. Even Former New Jersey Governor Chris ChristieHe told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday that he is not going anywhere before next summer’s summit, backing his attack on the former president to sell his own brand.

Biden’s troubles — from poor polling and age-related issues in the White House to a nasty split in his party over the war between Israel and Hamas — have raised the odds for Republicans who see the president as vulnerable. After months on most voters’ radars, GOP candidates are increasingly being watched by voters, especially in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Dollars and workers help tell the story.

Haley is working hard on a strong finish in Iowa, where she recently secured a victory, or something close to it, in the Granite State, a popular conservative activist. Her campaign recently announced $10 million in purchases in the two states. Further to the polls, Christie’s last stand could come in New Hampshire, which was a major draw.

DeSantis, meanwhile, doubled down on Iowa, moving his staff en masse. The months-long campaign stuck in the mud, and the recent problems and flaws In his main super PAC, could still flip the script with a Hawkeye State splash. The Iowa-based evangelical leader’s recent endorsements from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Bob Vander Platts are cause for hope for the Florida governor.

Despite his electoral dominance, Trump is a rare presence on the campaign trail. A no-show at the debate, he made much less of his signature moves than his opponents.

Haley’s rise has been a major story of the past month. She’s climbing the ranks in early polling states, now finishing second to Trump in most polling stations — a fact her campaign has dismissed as trying to get others like DeSantis and Christie to consider dropping out of the race. (Or at least convince influential researchers and highly engaged voters to push them that way.)

While the field has narrowed since the first debate in August, further consolidation looks the other way.

“This idea that people are doing the math and adding up the numbers, that’s not how voters vote,” Christie said on CNN’s “United States” Sunday, arguing for himself, but also rejecting the theory that he and his non-Trump rivals. They had divided a homogeneous voting group.

Haley and DeSantis are less philosophical, especially when it comes to the other’s viability.

Earlier this month, Florida’s governor accused Haley of being “pro-Hillary Clinton, pro-illegal immigration, pro-China and cozy with the Chinese Communist Party,” among other things — in what he briefly called a staunch supporter of “every liberty cause under the sun.”

That would certainly be news to Haley and her fans, the latter of whom seem to be growing in numbers and influence. Following South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s decision to drop out of the race, several big-ticket donors are backing her way. Notably, Spencer Zwick, who led fundraising efforts for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, signed on with Haley’s team.

Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, earlier this month laid out her path to a decisive battle with Trump in the state that elected her governor twice.

“People drop off before Iowa, they drop down to New Hampshire in the middle of Iowa and people drop down from New Hampshire to South Carolina,” Haley said. “And so, we’re going to talk face-to-face with Trump (in South Carolina) … That’s the goal, and that’s my home state and I think we’re going to do it.

It is less clear whether the remaining candidates will be able to describe a happy ending to their election.

Vivek Ramaswamy, the sharp-tongued young entrepreneur, is still attracting audiences in Iowa. But he has so far failed to convince voters there that, while the first-time candidate may remind them of Trump in many ways, he offers something the former president doesn’t.

During a recent stop, a man told Ramaswamy that he liked him but was “torn” between him and Trump. Another 38-year-old said he would be better off waiting until 2028 to run, and should stand down and let Trump finish what he started in office.

“I think the current media narrative is that we’re well ahead of where the race is, which is great for us because it allows us to break expectations,” Ramaswamy told reporters last week. A pleasant surprise on January 15.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson remain suspended, despite being kicked out of a recent Republican National Committee-sanctioned debate for lack of fundraising or voting, or both.

Hutchinson’s biggest ticket appearance of late came at a college football game in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in a battle line-up between the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Missouri Tigers. Arkansas, whose team lost by 34 points, didn’t cast a first-place vote until March 5.

Burgum kept a low profile. Ahead of the holiday, he told reporters he was planning a “small, quiet” Thanksgiving with family to celebrate the blessings we have.

When asked about his favorite Thanksgiving dinner side, Burgum deviates from the conventional wisdom and talks about the “sauce” and the pile of butter on the sweet potatoes.

“I’m a big butter person,” he said.

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