Republican candidates hit the campaign trail in final weeks before Iowa: Highlights

DeSantis shrugs off question about whether Iowa will decide GOP race

DeSantis shrugged off the idea that victory in Iowa is the only pathway for his campaign’s long-term success in an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham this evening.

“This is a race to get the majority of the delegates,” he told Ingraham in response to a question about whether Iowa will be a “deciding factor” for his campaign.

“We’ve done Iowa the way people who have done well in Iowa have done, which is be on the ground, create the organization,” DeSantis added before touting his tour of all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

While DeSantis asserted that his presidential aspirations do not hinge on the state, his campaign has devoted outsize resources and time to it, betting big on the prospect of momentum from key local endorsers like Gov. Kim Reynolds and evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats. Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting DeSantis’ bid with a big Iowa ground game, has ceased its door-knocking operations in Nevada and Super Tuesday states, including California, North Carolina and Texas.

Ramaswamy endorsed by former congressman known for racist remarks

Former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, endorsed Ramaswamy in a video message this evening.

King once told The New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” He also drew condemnation from members of his own party over comments he once made about whether humans would exist if not for babies born as a result of rape and incest. King lost his House seat in 2020.

King has found common cause with Ramaswamy over their opposition to the potential use of eminent domain to build carbon capture pipelines on private land in Iowa.

“The strongest person we have to defend the Constitution and America’s destiny is Vivek Ramaswamy,” King said tonight in announcing his endorsement.

Groups plan to protest Democrats from the left at Chicago convention

A collection of Chicago-based abortion rights and LGBTQ rights advocates say they intend to stage demonstrations outside the Democratic National Convention this summer to air their disappointment at not seeing national legislation protecting abortion rights and LGBTQ rights.

“We are tired of politicians using our slogans as talking points and then failing to deliver,” said Linda Loew, a co-founder of the group Chicago for Abortion Rights. “Enough is enough. No delegate will arrive in or leave Chicago without hearing our voice.”

“It is not enough to be pro-choice in your heart. You need to take action,” said Lisa Battisfore, who heads a Chicago-based volunteer organization raising awareness about the “deceptive” practices of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.

Biden called on Congress to pass abortion rights legislation in 2022, but the measure stalled in the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to move most legislation and which was then divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats then gained a Senate seat in the 2022 midterms but lost control of the House.

Longtime Chicago activist Andy Thayer, who also organized protests at NATO in Chicago in 2012, filed the paperwork for permission to stage a protest during the DNC, as well as a march starting in downtown Chicago, a few miles from the convention site, the day before the convention officially begins.

“The fact of the matter is the Democrats have used our issues to gain electoral advantage and then given us the bare minimum,” Thayer said. “They need to have a very public commitment, not just something they roll out for a press conference, but something that they actually fight for in terms of national legislation along these lines.”

Many of the same groups say they will also protest outside the Republican National Convention, which takes place in Milwaukee just a month before Chicago’s convention.

Ramaswamy calls on presidents to divest their holdings

Vivek Ramaswamy said he believes presidents shouldn’t be able to manage their own investments while in power.

“I’m different than Trump, and I’m different than pretty much every other president in either party, too,” Ramaswamy told a crowd of about 60 Iowans crammed into a bar this afternoon.

“I believe the right thing for the U.S. president to do is actually to divest from their own holdings and have their own investments managed separately with complete blindness to what they do or don’t own,” he said.

While he was in office, Trump used his position as president to benefit his family’s business interests, from his hotel in Washington, D.C., to his golf courses and his daughter’s clothing line.

Trump appeals Maine ruling that he’s ineligible for 2024 primary ballot

Trump today filed an appeal of the decision by Maine’s top election official that he is ineligible to appear on the state’s primary ballot.

“[T]he Secretary’s Ruling was the product of a process infected by bias and pervasive lack of due process; is arbitrary, capricious, and characterized by abuse of discretion,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in their appeal to the Maine Superior Court.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, ruled last week that the former president is constitutionally barred from appearing on the state’s primary ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, citing his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump’s lawyers, however, said in their filing that Section 3 does not apply to the former president and that Bellows, a Democratic former state senator, has no authority to enforce it anyway. They also say she should have recused herself, arguing she is too partisan to weigh the case fairly.

Read the full story here.

Supreme Court urged to take up Trump eligibility issue in Colorado

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and plaintiffs challenging Trump’s eligibility for the state primary ballot both filed court papers today urging the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The court filings came in response to the Colorado Republican Party’s appeal of a state Supreme Court ruling that said Trump was not eligible to appear on the ballot, although that decision remains on hold.

Typically, if both sides ask the Supreme Court to take up a case it increases the chances of the court’s stepping in.

Trump is expected to file his own appeal but has yet to do so.

Ramaswamy expects ‘to be in the top three’ in Iowa

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Ramaswamy told NBC News’ Maura Barrett on the sidelines of a campaign event that he expects “to be in the top three” in the first presidential contest, adding he thinks he has “a good shot” at winning the Iowa caucuses.

“We don’t need to win the Iowa caucus for me to have a full and clear path going all the way in the long distance, but I think it is to significantly exceed the expectations that have been set for us as I expect we will,” he added.

The Republican presidential candidate has been running in fourth place in Iowa in most polls, including last month’s NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll. That survey had Ramaswamy at 5%, behind Trump’s 51%, DeSantis’ 19% and Haley’s 16%.

RFK Jr. hires anti-vaccine activist as campaign communications director

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s long-shot presidential campaign has a new communications director — prominent anti-vaccine activist Del Bigtree. In a letter to supporters, Bigtree called the appointment “my greatest opportunity to date.”

In speeches and interviews, Kennedy has credited the anti-vaccine movement with powering his candidacy and vowed as president to halt research into infectious diseases and use the power of the attorney general to threaten editors of medical journals over publishing research on Covid treatments and vaccines.

Bigtree is the executive director of the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), the country’s second best-funded anti-vaccine organization, after Children’s Health Defense, the group from which Kennedy stepped down as chairman in April so he could run for president. The pandemic was a boon for both organizations. In addition, Bigtree hosts The HighWire, an anti-vaccine and conspiracism internet show.

Bigtree did not respond to an emailed request for comment. In a note announcing his new role, Bigtree released a letter rife with misinformation alleging that the Covid vaccine was responsible for widespread injury and death. Bigtree called for his supporters to “stop the globalist’s New World Order” and unite across the political spectrum under the banner of “medical freedom.” Bigtree also solicited $1,000 donations from supporters to join a “health think tank,” funds which he said would go toward creating television ads.

Read the full story here.

Trump-Haley ad war in New Hampshire cost millions over the holidays

Iowa’s Jan. 15 caucuses are up first, but the most expensive ad outlay over the holidays came in New Hampshire.

That’s where the pro-Trump super PAC, MAGA Inc., went up with an attack ad accusing Haley of flip-flopping on the gas tax as South Carolina governor. The Haley super PAC, SFA Inc., quickly went up with its own response saying Trump is afraid of her.

Both super PACs have spent about $1 million keeping those ads in heavy rotation in the expensive Boston media market, which covers most of New Hampshire, since Saturday, Dec. 23, according to AdImpact. For more on the ad battle in Iowa, read here.

DeSantis spokesman mocks Trump’s decision not to appear at upcoming Iowa debate

The communications director for DeSantis, Andrew Romeo, roasted Trump on X over the former president’s decision not to attend the upcoming Iowa presidential debate on CNN.

“We understand Donald Trump is scared to get on the stage because he’d have to finally explain why he didn’t build the wall, added nearly $8 trillion to the debt, and turned the country over to Fauci,” Romeo wrote. “But even Gavin Newsom had the courage to stand on the stage to debate his own failed record against Ron Desantis. If it would make the debate more inviting, we would gladly agree to make it a seated format where the former president would be more comfortable.”

Instead of the Jan. 10 debate, Trump will attend a solo town hall hosted by Fox News on the same night. The former president has not participated in any of the GOP primary debates.

Ramaswamy explains break with Trump on border wall

WAUKON, Iowa — Ramaswamy was dismissive of a border wall while speaking today to a dozen voters at a roundtable, outlining a rare rebuke from the GOP candidate to one of Trump’s policies.

“Build the wall, this and that,” said Ramaswamy flippantly. “OK, that’s — doesn’t get done. Even if it does get done, they build the cartel-financed tunnels,” he added, explaining his skepticism of a border wall as the best path forward on immigration policy.

“Send the troops to the border. As commander in chief, you have ICE give local law enforcement the ability to serve those warrants,” Ramaswamy continued, outlining the policies he would implement instead.

The 38-year-old businessman also reiterated his frequent claim that undocumented immigration is a Democratic policy to tilt elections in their favor, including with “illegal votes that are cast.” There is no evidence of any widespread or organized voter fraud that has affected recent elections.

Maine courts await Trump appeal on ballot removal

CAMDEN, Maine — An attorney for Donald Trump said they plan to file an appeal today to a ruling from the state’s top election official deeming him ineligible to serve as president under the 14th Amendment.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, last week deemed the former president ineligible to appear on the ballot in the state’s Republican presidential primary over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. She withheld the implementation of her decision in anticipation of a legal fight in the courts.

The deadline to file an appeal is Friday. Trump’s campaign blasted the ruling and the attorney representing the former president in the case, Scott Gessler, said the legal team plans to appeal the case later today.

The appeal will be heard by the Maine Superior Court, which is expected to make a ruling affirming or overturning Bellows’ decision by Jan. 17. That court’s decision could then be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has already been asked to expedite consideration of a similar case about Trump’s eligibility in Colorado.

New GOP ads hit Iowa’s airwaves

Two new TV ads have hit the Iowa airwaves, with less than two weeks to go until the GOP caucuses.

DeSantis’ campaign released a 30-second ad with a narrator referring to vague forces that have “corrupted our institutions, indoctrinated our kids, opened our border, weaponized government against us and destroyed the American dream.” The narrator goes on to say, “Ron DeSantis is the only candidate who’s defeated them.”

SFA Fund Inc., the super PAC supporting Haley, also released a new ad in Iowa on Tuesday. The group’s new spot is focused on DeSantis, knocking him on China.

“Phony Ron DeSantis is too lame to lead, too weak to win,” a narrator says in the ad.

Trump to counterprogram on debate night with Fox News town hall

Trump is set to take part in a town hall with Fox News in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 10, opting once again to skip the GOP presidential debate, which will be hosted by CNN in the same city that night.

In a press release announcing the town hall, Fox News said the event will be moderated by anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum and will focus on key issues ahead of the Iowa caucus. Trump’s campaign confirmed that he will participate in the town hall.

Meanwhile, fellow Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy announced in a post to X that he will participate in a live-audience show in Des Moines with conservative pundit Tim Pool on the night of the debate.

Trump heads to Iowa, including rallies on Jan. 6 anniversary

Trump and his gang of campaign surrogates are launching into Iowa starting this Wednesday. The campaign says they are taking no county for granted and treating the race like a tie.

But while the campaign said that Trump would be “blitzing” the Hawkeye state, we are seeing the campaign rely heavily on his surrogates. His campaign schedule for the next two weeks shows South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Eric Trump, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., actress Roseanne Barr and Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting U.S. attorney general under Trump, hosting Iowa events for the former president.

Though the campaign could still add events where we see more of Trump himself, the former president is currently scheduled to be in the state for four days before the caucuses, with two rallies each this Friday and Saturday as well as on Jan. 13 and 14.

That means we’ll see Trump hosting two of his “Commit to Caucus” rallies, in Newton and Clinton, on the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Democrats launch TV ad in New York special election

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching its first TV ad in New York’s 3rd District, which will host a special election next month to replace former GOP Rep. George Santos.

The 30-second spot ties GOP nominee Mazi Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, to “MAGA Republicans,” suggesting that Pilip would support cuts to Social Security, law enforcement and veterans benefits.

So far, the DCCC has reserved nearly $1.1 million on the airwaves through the Feb. 13 special election, per the ad tracking firm AdImpact. No GOP group has reserved airtime yet.

Pilip faces former Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi in the special election, which is expected to be competitive. President Joe Biden carried the district by 8 percentage points in 2020, according to calculations from Daily Kos Elections.

Scalise endorses Trump for president

Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., endorsed Trump for president Tuesday in a post on X.

“I am proud to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2024, and I look forward to working with President Trump and a Republican House and Senate to fight for those families who are struggling under the weight of Biden’s failed policies,” he said.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., previously endorsed Trump for president in November.

Scalise’s endorsement comes less than two weeks before the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses, the first contest of the 2024 Republican primary.

Trump called Scalise’s endorsement “a great honor” in a post on his social media site, adding, “I will not let you, or our Country, down!”

Ramaswamy and Haley return to the campaign trail after holiday break

Campaign activity from the 2024 Republican presidential field is set to pick back up again Tuesday after a brief holiday respite.

Ramaswamy is returning to his torrid pace, with six events scheduled throughout eastern Iowa on Tuesday. His campaign says he will hit the “Double Grassley” mark today, meaning he will have visited all 99 of Iowa’s counties twice. (Longtime U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley famously travels to each Iowa county every year.)

Meanwhile, Haley will hold a rally in Rye, New Hampshire, this evening. The former U.N. ambassador has been gaining on Trump in polls in the state, which votes after Iowa, on Jan. 23.

Republicans spent $100 million on ads in Iowa in 2023

Republican presidential candidates and outside groups have blanketed the Iowa airwaves ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses, spending nearly $105 million on ads there in 2023. 

And that figure is set to grow by at least another $7.5 million before the Jan. 15 caucuses, according to upcoming ad reservations tracked by the firm AdImpact. It’s being driven by Haley’s late push for a strong finish in Iowa, after Trump and Ron DeSantis spent most of 2023 polling first and second there.

SFA Fund Inc, a super PAC supporting Haley, has emerged as the top advertiser in Iowa, spending $25 million in 2023, per AdImpact. The super PAC also has the most ad money laid down for the last two weeks: nearly $3.3 million. 

Read more on the Iowa ad wars here.

A quiet New Year’s Day on the trail

DeSantis made the only public appearance by a 2024 presidential candidate yesterday afternoon. He mingled and took selfies with patrons at a sports bar in Waukee, Iowa, during the Citrus Bowl game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Tennessee Volunteers.

Alec Hernandez contributed