(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump’s Iowa ambitions rely on the state’s blue-collar industrial towns. Ron DeSantis is counting on conservative evangelical voters in the rural west. Nikki Haley’s plan for success runs through the Des Moines suburbs.
In the first contest in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the three leading candidates are each aiming at different slices of the electorate with targeted advertising buys, campaign stops and legislative endorsements.
The stakes are higher than usual: Monday’s Iowa caucuses could reinforce Trump’s domination of the race or reveal the first cracks in his invincibility.
With its large White and rural population, evangelical voters and mix of factories and farms, Iowa’s hardly representative of the national electorate. But it is a good bellwether of Republican sentiment — and the party’s ideological fault lines.
“Iowa is not uniformly agricultural,” said Republican strategist Nicole Schlinger. “But whether or not you live in a farming community, I think everyone in Iowa understands the importance of agriculture to our national economy.”
In fact, the state’s economy relies more on factories than farming. Almost 11% of jobs involve manufacturing, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data, nearly triple the share in agriculture.
Former Iowa House Speaker Brent Siegrist said Trump’s support is strongest in manufacturing centers — and the Mississippi River cities of Dubuque and Davenport — that used to vote Democratic.
“Those blue collar workers have gone Republican and are still more enamored of Trump,” said Siegrist, who supports DeSantis.
Collins Aerospace Inc., the avionics division of Raytheon Technologies Corp., is based in Cedar Rapids. Deere & Co. makes tractors in Waterloo. And Winnebago Industries Inc. makes recreational vehicles in the county of the same name.
Eric Branstad, a former Iowa state director for Trump, called eastern Iowa “the most important” region of the state for the former president. Of Trump’s 18 visits to the state in the last half of 2023, 10 were to cities in eastern Iowa.
Yet Trump — up by more than 30 points in the polls — is hoping for a blowout victory to crush his challengers, meaning he’ll need to find support in all parts of the state.
DeSantis, who has visited every one of Iowa’s 99 counties in the last few months, is strongest in largely rural western Iowa, where traditionally conservative issues like abortion and gun rights top voter concerns. The Florida governor has also racked up endorsements from across the state but especially in the west.
Iowa is the nation’s largest corn producer, and its influential caucuses have helped it to win support for federal policies like ethanol subsidies. DeSantis, who has opposed mandating the use of ethanol in renewable fuels in the past, now says he supports those fuels as a way to maintain energy independence.
DeSantis has also courted evangelical Christians. While evangelical voters don’t always share their pastors’ reservations about the twice-divorced Trump, the influence of Dutch Reform churches — and their more restrained sensibilities — may make northwestern Iowa an exception.
Des Moines Suburbs
Splitting east and west is Des Moines, a financial center that provides the headquarters to Wells Fargo’s mortgage unit, supermarket chain Hy-Vee and Principal Financial Group, an insurance company.
That state capital could provide fertile ground for Haley, the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador who has leveraged her accounting background to campaign as a fiscal conservative. As the only woman in the race, she’s also appealed to suburban women by balancing her anti-abortion record with softer rhetoric seeking a “national consensus” on the issue.
A strategist close to the Haley campaign said her emphasis on the Des Moines suburbs helps her reach those target demographics but also has another benefit — with nearly a quarter of the state’s population concentrated there, organizing is more cost-effective.