INDIANOLA, Iowa (AP) — Marc Smiarowski hunched over to fight off the minus 18−degree Fahrenheit (minus 28 degrees Celsius) chill on Sunday, waiting for the doors to open for Donald Trump’s midday rally at a small college outside Des Moines.
But as the weak winter sun hung low in the sky, a sense of bitterness burned in Smiarowski.
“I’m here in part out of spite,” said the 44−year−old public utility worker who drove 40 miles from Huneston to see the former president. “I can’t abandon him. After what they did to him in the last election, and the political persecution he faces, I feel like I owe him this. He’s our only option.”
His friend Kailie Johnson, a 26−year−old dental hygienist from the same small town, was wrapped in a Las Vegas Raiders blanket. “No one else could handle what he’s facing,” Johnson said.
More than 30 minutes before the doors opened at Simpson College, Smiarowski and Johnson stood in line with more than 100 others layered in Carhartt coveralls with hats and hoods pulled down tight. It was a test run for Iowa’s caucuses Monday night — and of the devotion Trump said last week would make his supporters “walk on glass” for him.
Trump is counting on people like Smiarowski, Johnson and tens of thousands of supporters across frigid Iowa to deliver him a decisive victory and cement his status as the undisputed front−runner when Iowa Republicans make the first official choices of the 2024 election.
The major candidates spent Sunday in the state trying to shore up support and find Iowans who remain persuadable before the caucuses. Still, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley canceled an appearance in eastern Iowa because of road conditions.
Both Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has bet big on Iowa, exuded confidence in national television interviews as they compete for a caucus showing that will boost their campaigns even if they don’t beat Trump.
“With our folks, they’re committed, they’re gonna be there” DeSantis said told CNN’s “State of the Union,” noting that the Republican calendar doesn’t end with Iowa. “We’re going to have a good night.”
While DeSantis rumbled across the state throughout the past week, Trump scrubbed three of four of his rallies planned for the final weekend of the campaign.
In Indianola, cars from Kentucky, Ohio, Kansas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Nebraska were evidence of the wide radius Trump from which Trump draws.
Each of the more than half−dozen Iowans who were interviewed in line were adamant about their plans to support Trump and had considered no other candidate.
“If you really believe in something, and you’re willing to fight, you’re not going to let anything stand in your way, not even a little cold,” said 71−year−old Kathy DeAngelo, a retired hospital administrative employee.
“Trump is a Christian. He’s trustworthy. He believes in America. And he believes in freedom,” DeAngelo said, with frost glazing her eyebrows. “He’s the only one.”
DeAngelo’ wasn’t alone in that assessment.
“He is the only answer to the problems in this country. There’s no way I’d caucus for anyone else,” said 73−year−old Wanda Spiker, also of Indianola, who had attended an event for entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, but said she was always for Trump. The retired homemaker said her husband is a disabled Vietnam War veteran who told her, “If we don’t elect Trump again, this country is in real trouble.”
Because of travel conditions from Des Moines, Haley canceled a Sunday morning stop in the eastern city of Dubuque about an hour before it was to start. She swapped in a virtual town hall.
Voters walking into the venue were given the news by campaign staffers, who offered some a T−shirt, hat or yard sign as consolation.
“I don’t blame her,” said .John Schmid, 69, a retiree from Asbury, a few miles outside Dubuque. He’ is a Haley supporter but wanted to see the “refreshing” candidate in person. He hopes Haley will do well in the caucuses, which he will attend despite the bitter cold.
“It’s just part of living in Iowa in January,” he said.
Fingerhut reported from Dubuque, Iowa, and Cooper reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Meg Kinnard in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
Thomas Beaumont, Hannah Fingerhut And Jonathan J. Cooper, The Associated Press