Winter Freeze Could Chill Iowa Caucus Turnout
Winter Freeze Could Chill Iowa Caucus Turnout

By John Haughey

WAVERLY, Iowa—The blizzard blasting across Iowa Friday is expected to taper off early Saturday and be old news by the time voters convene in caucuses at 7 p.m. Monday to cast the first ballots in the 2024 election cycle.

The deep freeze trailing in the storm’s wake, with subzero temperatures forecast all day and nighttime wind chills plummeting to -30—as in minus-30—on Monday, will, however, be very much in the news as Iowa Republicans bundle up and head to 730 caucus sites statewide to pick their 2024 GOP presidential candidate.

Whether Monday’s frigid temps will dissuade voters from getting to caucus sites, often within an easy drive of their homes, is a question many have been wondering since the National Weather Service forecast it 10 days ago.

Some say yes. Some say no. But nobody knows no matter how many hours of talking head speculation fills air time between now and Monday night.

Lee Stofer, of Camanche in east Iowa’s Clinton County, who will be hosting a caucus in the barn behind his Lee Stofer Music shop, said if it was snowing Monday night, that could trim turnout.

But cold? No. It’s Iowa in January, he told The Epoch Times.

“Bring a coat,” he suggested. The barn isn’t heated, which is why he expects it to be over with “within an hour.”

“The bitter cold on Monday may keep some people away,” Waterloo precinct captain Kevin Briden told The Epoch Times. “But people in Iowa are hearty souls who take this caucus vote seriously. So people may be surprised as to how many show up.”

They won’t be surprised in Bremer County. During a meeting in the Readlyn Library on Thursday, Bremer County GOP Committee Chair John Pentecost told 23 precinct and caucus captains to expect as many as 1,800 Republican voters to show up at the county’s five caucus sites.

That would be 350 more than the record 1,445 who participated in the county’s 2016 Republican presidential caucuses.

“With the temperatures they are forecasting for Monday night, I don’t think we’ll have that high of a turnout,” Mr. Pentecost said.

The precinct and caucus leaders mostly disagreed, noting Mr. Pentecost moved from balmy Minnesota to the east-central Iowa county a few years ago, so what does he know about locals’ commitment to caucus?

It’s the Democrats caucusing in nearby Denver, Iowa, who need to worry, they said. “I’d like to watch them getting there because most of them walk around barefoot,” one laughed.

In Mills County’s Silver City, Gary and Susan McNutt are hosting their precinct’s caucus in their family room—one of the few, if not the only one, that will be in a private home. In 2000, nearly a third were.

More than 50 showed up in her family room for 2016’s caucus, said Ms. McNutt, co-chair of the Mills County Republican Committee. She expects at least that many on Monday, regardless of how cold it gets.

“We’ll have everything all shoveled and put out cookies and coffee,’ Ms. McNutt. “We’ll squeeze everybody in with their big coats.”

A sign supporting Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is displayed on a house on Jan. 11, 2024, in Ogden, Iowa. Voters in Iowa are preparing for the Republican Party of Iowa’s presidential caucuses on Jan. 15. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Campaigns Disrupted

The storm, which had dropped about 6 inches of snow by mid-day Friday in the Des Moines area, is expected to make travel hazardous through Saturday when winds up to 35-45 miles per hour create ground blizzards, glazing roads in slip-streams of feathery ice and snow funnels.

While the Friday storm may not affect Monday’s turnout, it disrupted Republican presidential candidates’ stump schedules, prompting cancellations of planned appearances by former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

Republican front-runner former President Donald Trump did not have any scheduled campaign events Friday. Kari Lake, an Iowa native who is running for U.S. Senate in Arizona, canceled an appearance on his behalf.

Mr. Trump’s Saturday stump stops in Atlantic and Sioux City and Sunday in Indianola and Cherokee remain on his campaign site’s schedule.

The storm and subsequent deep freeze are no surprise. It’s been forecast for 10 days. Mr. Trump called on supporters during a Jan. 5 rally in Newton to brave the cold and get to their caucuses on Monday.

“You just have to put on that warm coat and get out there,” he said.

Ms. Haley’s campaign canceled three campaign events in Fort Dodge, Le Mars, and Council Bluffs and is instead staging “telephone town halls.”

“Stormy weather won’t stop us from ensuring Iowans hear Nikki’s vision for a strong and proud America,” Haley campaign spokesman Pat Garrett said in a statement. “With only three days until the caucuses, we’re going to keep telling voters why they should Pick Nikki.”

A Republican presidential candidate, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s supporter, holds a signed banner at a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Jan. 11, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Ramaswamy was sallying forth in his campaign, conducting a “Live from an Iowa Blizzard Tele-Townhall“ in his SUV between campaign stops.

“Ran into Steven walking into our 2nd event today, but he couldn’t join us because he is working today as a postal service worker delivering the mail,” he said in a mid-afternoon X post about meeting a mailman making his rounds. “If he’s working in the middle of the snowstorm, so am I.”

During a Free Soil rally on Wednesday protesting the proposed Summit CO2 pipeline, Mr. Ramaswamy said his supporters won’t be dissuaded by the cold.

“Human beings come out a little bit less when they’re cold,” he said. “I think this is going work to our advantage. Many of my supporters are not tepid supporters.”

Enthusiasm Tested

Mr. DeSantis attended his first event Friday, but his Never Back Down PAC canceled the rest of his slate for the day. He did, however, make an unscheduled stop at his campaign’s Iowa headquarters in Urbandale to thank volunteers.

“What it does for the overall turnout, I mean, nobody can forecast what the turnout is gonna be,” he said. “Anyone that tells you they can do that is not it’s not being honest. It’s a major wildcard.”

It’s a “wildcard” he, like Mr. Ramaswamy, believes could benefit his campaign.

“I know it’s going to be cold. I know it is not going to be pleasant,” Mr. DeSantis told campaign workers. “We don’t know what the turnout is going to be like. It could be much smaller than the 2016 cycle. That’s possible.”

So, he told his volunteers, “Bring four, five friends. That could make a big difference” if the turnout is lower than expected.

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attend a campaign event in Ames, Iowa, on Jan. 11, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

FAMiLY Leader founder, influential conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats, who has endorsed Mr. DeSantis, told CNN in an early afternoon interview that the Florida governor’s ground game is “the best I’ve ever seen” and will be “the difference-maker” on Monday.

Conservative WHO (AM) Des Moines radio host Jeff Angelo, in a later CNN interview, said he doesn’t “think we are going to have a record turnout. People have heard all the news reporting and the hype and maybe they were going to come out but, nothing like minus-30 degrees to encourage you to stay in your kitchen and have a little chili that night.”

It will be the “diehards” who show up, he said, and no one in the race has more “diehards” than Mr. Trump.

“Trump supporters will absolutely walk through snow” to cast their ballot, Mr. Angelo said, noting the “less enthusiastic” voters the other campaigns, especially Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis, are relying on could be no-shows for Monday.

The deep freeze is going to give others “more trouble” than it will for Mr. Trump, with the lower turnout favoring the former president. “The more the temperatures drop,” he said, “the higher the probability that Trump wins.”

That’s pretty much what a campaign staffer told Mr. Trump last week, he told supporters during his Newton rally.

“My people will walk on glass—they don’t care … right?” He said. “We love bad weather because the weather’s not going to keep our people away. The worse, the better. We won’t lose one vote.”

Janice Hisle contributed to this report

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