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On the campaign trail in Iowa’s extreme cold

Republican presidential hopeful Nikky Haley speaks to a crowd in Ames, Iowa on Sunday. (Talia Zafari/YJI)

Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.A. – The Iowa Caucuses are today. The weather is brutal, with arctic blasts, temperatures plummeting well below freezing and hazardous wind chills.

Despite these harsh conditions, Iowans are persisting, displaying enthusiasm as they turn out to support their preferred candidates. 

Though both Republicans and Democrats are holding caucuses tonight, only Republicans are choosing a preferred candidate to be the nominee in November. Democrats are handing it differently and releasing their preferences in March.

On the Republican side, former president Donald Trump, who canceled all Iowa events, continues to bash Nikki Haley – a former U.S. ambassador and governor of South Carolina who, like Trump, is seeking the Republican nomination for president – on social media and local ads. 

With another evening of atrocious weather predicted, the candidates in the first Republican contest rush to Iowa’s finish line, urgently vying for voters’ support.

Republican Vivek Ramaswamy speaks to a crowd in Ames, Iowa on Sunday. (Talia Zafari/YJI)

At an event Sunday for businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, stickers with “Vivek like Cake” were plastered around tables, and a small but eager group awaited his arrival.

While interviewing attendees, a noticeable divide emerged  – some expressing unwavering commitment to caucus for Ramaswamy, while others weren’t sure yet.

Steve King, a former Iowa congressman and Ramaswamy backer, introduced the presidential hopeful, saying he embodied “all of the things I like about Trump, without any of that bad stuff.” 

During his speech, Ramaswamy spent time defending Trump, while also charismatically voicing his catchphrases, such as “America is first” and, “We need a revolution, not reform.” 

The crowd responded positively to his ideas, including for “massive federal layoffs” and “deporting all undocumented immigrants.”

Despite their excitement during his speech, many voters still appeared hesitant afterward. 

One, 18-year-old Jack Nolan, shared his reservations about Ramaswamy’s national security policies and revealed a shift toward supporting Haley in the caucuses due to her experience at the United Nations.

Later in the day, at a barbecue restaurant in Ames, Haley addressed an energized crowd predominantly composed of the “Women for Nikki” fan club who donned vibrant pink feather boas.

Supporters of Republican Nikky Haley in Ames, Iowa. (Talia Zafari/YJI)

In her final pitch to Iowa voters, Haley cautioned against the “chaos” that follows Trump, telling them, “We don’t want to replace Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.”

Haley’s central argument hinged on a Wall Street Journal poll, which showed her defeating incumbent President Joe Biden by 17 points.

“You win by double digits, you’re going into DC with a mandate,” Haley said, “a mandate to stop the wasteful spending and get our economy back on track.”

Her message resonated with at least voters, including Nolan, who said, “Haley has my full support, and I am even going to get my friends to support her tomorrow.” 

While the Ramaswamy and Haley events shared some similarities, one for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis felt like an entirely different realm.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd in Ankeny, Iowa on Sunday. (Talia Zafari/YJI)

Four political figures – including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds – introduced him. DeSantis, in his brief address, launched into an attack on various issues, spanning from Black Lives Matter to gender confirmation surgery, assuring voters that if he wins the White House, they won’t have to “throw their shoes at the TV screen anymore.” 

When a young reporter from California raised a question about gun violence and Iowa’s recent school shooting at Perry High School, DeSantis responded by asking what she was doing there, accusing her of “learning how to spew propaganda,” and promptly asked for a question from an Iowan instead.

As she was escorted out of the event, the reporter – who did not want to give her name – appeared shaken and bewildered.

Most DeSantis supporters at the event refused to engage with any journalists, responding with only unfriendly stares.    

People at a Ron DeSantis event in Ankeny, Iowa on Sunday. (Talia Zafari/YJI)

Tonight’s caucuses conclude the candidates’ work in Iowa. The declaration of a winner here not only signifies the end of this pivotal phase for Republicans, but also sets the stage for the narrative going forward in the next contest, the New Hampshire primary, which is Jan. 23.

The national election is Nov. 5.

Talia Zafari is a student reporter from Los Angeles who traveled to Iowa for the Caucuses and wrote this for Youth Journalism International.

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