It might take more than a winter storm to knock Trump off course as Republicans choose their candidate for president

US

The main street in Des Moines, leading to the State Capitol building, is covered by a thick layer of snow, as icicles dangle from signs welcoming visitors to the home of the famous Iowa caucuses.

One woman is waiting for the bus and a man is shovelling snow from the pavement in front of his shop but it is, otherwise, a ghost town.

Months of campaigning lead to the Iowa caucuses, the state’s version of a primary election, which kicks off the race to the White House, where Republicans vote for their preferred candidate to be president.

But nobody could have prepared for this once-in-a-decade storm. On Monday evening, when caucusgoers cast their vote, it is forecast to feel like -40C with wind chill – cold so extreme it can cause frostbite in a matter of minutes.

Travelling on Iowa’s roads for a couple of hours, I saw at least a dozen lorries and cars that had crashed or skidded off the tarmac entirely.

The treacherous conditions will undoubtedly affect voter turnout, but it’s difficult to say for certain which of the candidates will be most impacted.

Many Donald Trump voters are elderly and live rurally so may have to travel further to the closest voting station, but his fan base also tends to be more fervent, which the former president hopes will be telling.

More on Donald Trump

“You have the worst weather, I guess, in recorded history,” he said, “But maybe that’s good because our people are more committed than anybody else.”

Read more:
What are caucuses and why is the first one in Iowa so important?
Who is Nikki Haley? The woman vying for the Republican nomination
Five things to know about Ron DeSantis

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What happens at the Iowa caucus?

The Iowa State Capitol building
Image:
The Iowa State Capitol building

Regardless of the weather, if recent polls come to bear, it’s unlikely any of the other candidates will come close to beating Mr Trump.

A final poll from NBC puts Mr Trump’s voter share at 48%.

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina who served as ambassador to the UN in Mr Trump’s administration, is his closest competition with 20% of the vote.

Donald Trump in Iowa for the caucuses
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Donald Trump in Iowa for the caucuses

Nikki Haley, centre, is seen in Iowa ahead of the voting
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Nikki Haley, centre, is seen in Iowa ahead of the voting

The current Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, characterised by some as a Mr Trump tribute act, has 16% of the vote, according to the poll.

In Urbandale, a suburb of Des Moines, Jill Cameron, an evangelical Christian, is helping her husband clear snow from their neighbour’s driveway.

More than half of Iowa’s evangelical population support Mr Trump, and Mrs Cameron is proud to be among them.

“I’m really into pro-life and pro-country,” she says, “I think we need to shut our borders because we’re being invaded, and we’re losing lots of rights. Our country is a mess.”

Ron DeSantis, right, is trailing Donald Trump and Nikki Haley
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Ron DeSantis is trailing Donald Trump and Nikki Haley

I ask how being such a committed Christian tallies with what Mr Trump has said in the past, about grabbing women by the genitals and, more recently, about immigrants “poisoning the blood” of America.

“Course, nobody likes to hear people speak so disrespectfully,” Mrs Cameron says. “But I also liked what he did and where our country was when he was in office.”

The momentum in the chasing pack is with Ms Haley, thanks to a strong performance in recent debates and a laser focus on foreign policy, including unwavering support for Ukraine and Israel.

A billboard by the Democratic National Committee criticises Trump's record ahead of the Iowa vote
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A billboard by the Democratic National Committee criticises Trump’s record ahead of the Iowa vote

But many of the would-be Haley voters I speak to like her because they believe she presents a more moderate alternative to Mr Trump.

Polls show that if she was selected as the Republican nominee, she would likely prevail over President Biden in a general election, as things stand.

“I think she’s probably got the best chance of winning against Biden from what the polls say,” Tyler Sparks, who I also meet on a residential street in Urbandale, says. “Maybe we can kind of close the gap between both sides of the parties and actually make the country better, rather than just spinning our wheels, ploughing snow.”

Ms Haley has made some notable missteps on the campaign trail in the last few weeks, including mistaking the name of one of Iowa’s most celebrated basketball stars, not a sin easily forgiven here.

Even with the polls showing a commanding lead, Team Trump is managing expectations.

“Don’t go raising the bar,” Mr Trump’s long-standing advisor Jason Miller, tells me,

“I’m happy with the win. A win is a win and we’ll be comfortable with that.” Mr Miller knows a thumbs up in Iowa is disproportionately important.

If a candidate does well here, momentum can carry them to victory in other states.

The question is – whose supporters and how many of them – will brave the deep freeze to reach the ballot box.

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