Donald Trump will cross paths with several Republican rivals Saturday when he attends Iowa’s in-state college football grudge match, one of the former president’s few visits so far to the state that holds the first nominating caucus.
Trump will wade into one of the state’s largest sports crowds at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, where Iowa State University will host the University of Iowa. Also planning to be at the game are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and several lesser-known candidates.
As the race enters its traditional ramp-up after Labor Day, the former president has largely skipped holding town halls or participating in many of the state’s cherished campaign traditions, but has not paid a price so far. Trump remains far ahead of DeSantis and other rivals in Iowa and nationally.
Trump has made a habit of visiting Iowa on the same day as DeSantis, whom Trump treats as his main threat. Both men are expected to be in and around the stadium before kickoff, reminiscent of the scene last month when Trump drew huge crowds to Iowa State Fair in Des Moines while DeSantis addressed smaller audiences and hit the midway rides with his family.
DeSantis is increasingly focused on winning or placing high in Iowa and says he’s visited more than half of the state’s 99 counties already. Trump, meanwhile, has made only five visits to Iowa this year.
Trump is expected to attend the 2:30 p.m. game and not a local county GOP’s tailgate party in nearby Nevada, Iowa, where North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Ohio biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy are scheduled to appear.
Instead of large-scale rallies, Trump is relying on state party events that offer large, friendly audiences at no cost to his campaign, while his political organization pays millions of dollars in legal expenses as he faces four criminal indictments. He was in neighboring South Dakota on Friday night appearing at a state party fundraiser with Gov. Kristi Noem, who endorsed him.
Trump’s campaign has also used digital outreach. Last week, Trump held a conference call with tens of thousands of Iowans. He has done some in-person events with voters — in June, he handed out Dairy Queen “Blizzards” while also confessing aloud he didn’t know what the soft-serve treats were.
There is no comparable example in Iowa political history to a former president running to reclaim his old office while also under indictment for more than 90 felony counts. But other high-profile candidates and strong front-runners have done the town halls and retail campaigning for which Iowa and other early primary states are well-known.
In 2007, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton entered the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination as a national celebrity and the party’s heavy favorite in national polling. Drawing larger crowds, Clinton sought to meet the demand by holding smaller meetings with local activists before speaking to packed gyms and halls.
Clinton also attended party events with her lesser-known rivals to demonstrate her willingness to undergo the rigor that Iowans typically demand. Ultimately, she lost the 2008 caucus to then-Sen. Barack Obama, who eventually won the nomination and the White House.
Trump has foregone all but one such event in Iowa this year. The exception was the Iowa Republican Party Lincoln Dinner in July, a marquee event that helps to finance the caucus.