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This Iowa Caucus Could Be the Coldest Ever. Some Campaigns May Be Better Prepared Than Others

5 minute read

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had forgotten his coat.

After 13 minutes speaking about Florida infrastructure and Washington dysfunction, it was this remark that finally got a stir out of the quiet audience at a contractors’ conference in Des Moines.

“The next people that are coming up from Tallahassee, they're gonna bring, bring my winter coat,” DeSantis said, his most personal comment of the morning. “But I think I looked at the forecast for Monday. I think I'm gonna need much more than that. I think I'm gonna need the earmuffs and all that other stuff.” 

This year’s caucus day is shaping up to be the coldest ever, according to the Des Moines Register. Temperatures are expected to fall as much as 15 degrees below zero in some areas. Much of Iowa is under a blizzard warning on Friday, and the storm could deposit up to ten inches of snow in some areas. 

The prospect of dangerously cold weather is adding another element of uncertainty into a caucus night in which just about everyone expects former President Donald Trump to come out on top. But as the forecast for Monday draws predictions of icy roads and dead car batteries,  such obstacles could discourage all but the most committed voters from making the trek to their caucus sites. 

“It's already a bigger ask to ask someone to caucus than it is for them to vote in a primary,” says Nicole Schlinger, a Republican consultant in Iowa who worked on Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “So enthusiasm is going to really matter. You have to care a lot to show up on a regular day, you're going to have to care even more to show up under adverse conditions.”

Interviews with caucus veterans and campaign officials suggests DeSantis, who has staked much of his bid on a strong ground game in Iowa, may be best positioned to beat expectations in a subzero caucus night.

The Florida governor has more than 1600 precinct captains across the Hawkeye State and has knocked on the doors of its target voters five times apiece, according to campaign officials. Dave Vasquez, national press secretary for DeSantis-allied super PAC Never Back Down, says the organization has kept up its pace of door knocking despite this week’s winter weather. Earlier this week, the candidate’s wife, Casey, took their son out in the snow to knock on the PAC’s three millionth early-state door, says Vasquez.

“Our precinct captains, the folks in our communities, they know exactly who to call if they need a ride,” Vasquez says, describing a “system of networks across the state” that DeSantis backers intend to use to ensure his voters make it out to caucus Monday night. 

“if they are broken down on the side of the road, if they need help, if they cannot get out because their driveway is covered in snow, they know exactly who to call for a ride,” Vasquez adds. 

Some groups of voters stand to be disproportionately affected, like voters in rural areas, who sometimes have to drive fifteen miles to their caucus locations. Older voters, worried about falling and slipping on the ice, may decide to stay home as well.

Nikki Haley speaks to members of the media during a campaign event at Mickey's Irish Pub in Waukee, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2024.
Nikki Haley speaks to members of the media during a campaign event at Mickey's Irish Pub in Waukee, Iowa, on Jan. 9, 2024.Rachel Mummey—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump may be able to rely on enthusiasm alone to emerge from the cold caucuses victorious. But with polls showing him outperforming DeSantis by as much as forty points, his supporters may also be more likely to take his win on caucus night for granted and stay home. 

“I do think a lot of Iowans want Trump back,” says Patty Alexander, a retired teacher who hasn’t yet made up her mind who to support. “A lot of his rallies are popular and well attended. … They see his record, and they see how he's performed. And they believe that he's the man.” 

Trump’s team did not comment on specific preparations for the winter weather, though the campaign is expected to use buses to help transport voters to caucus sites.

“We’re confident that local government is going to do their jobs effectively and will ensure that the roads and parking lots at precinct caucus locations—which are overwhelmingly government-owned—are cleared and fully accessible to voters for the caucuses,” a Trump campaign official said. 

While the state GOP chair has anticipated Republicans may see “great turnout” instead of “record-breaking turnout,” some suggest that the arctic temperatures and icy conditions will have little effect at all. Back in 2008, when temperatures fell below zero during the caucuses, almost 119,000 Republicans and 240,000 Democrats turned out, setting records for both parties. Unlike DeSantis, the locals aren’t exactly missing their winter gear. 

“I think Iowans are used to the weather,” says Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokesperson for former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. “For us, it's about communicating to our voters.” 

With reporting by Eric Cortelessa/Marion.

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Write to Mini Racker/Des Moines at mini.racker@time.com