By Iowa Public Radio Staff
Former president Donald Trump won the Iowa Republican caucuses Monday night by a record-breaking margin, leaving Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley in a distant second and third place.
The Associated Press declared Trump the winner just half an hour after the Iowa caucuses began and before his supporters arrived at his caucus night watch party.
“This has been an incredible experience,” Trump told supporters in downtown Des Moines. “This is the third time we’ve won [Iowa]. But this is the biggest win.”
Trump won the first contest in the presidential nominating process with about 51% of the vote as he faces 91 felony charges across four separate indictments, some related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
His main message to voters has been that he can beat President Joe Biden in 2024 despite losing to him in 2020, that he will crack down on people crossing the southern border, and that he’ll investigate the people who are investigating his alleged crimes.
“I really think this is time now for everybody —our country to come together,” Trump said. “We want to come together, whether it’s Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative, it would be so nice if we could come together and straighten out the world.”
The winners of the past three competitive Republican caucuses in 2016, 2012 and 2008 did not end up being the party’s presidential nominee. But this is the first time a former president has won the Iowa caucuses after failing to win reelection.
High profile endorsements were not enough to push Ron DeSantis to the front of the pack, but the Florida governor is claiming momentum in the GOP presidential race after a second place finish.
DeSantis landed 30 points behind former president Donald Trump in the caucus results, but managed to edge out former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley by 2% in the race for second.
DeSantis told supporters in West Des Moines Monday night that his campaign has new energy going into the New Hampshire primary.
“In spite of all of that that they threw at us, all of them against us, we’ve got our ticket punched out of Iowa,” he said.
The DeSantis campaign was upset that multiple news outlets declared Trump winner of the caucuses so early in the night. They said some Republican voters saw the race was called for Trump while they were still in the process of voting.
According to the Iowa GOP, about 100,000 Iowa Republicans turned out on the coldest caucus night in Iowa history. Turnout was far lower than 2016’s record of about 186,000 participants.
Haley comes in third
Haley closed caucus night in third place with 19% of the vote. Speaking in West Des Moines, she opened by congratulating Trump.
But she says if Trump and President Joe Biden are the eventual nominees, their rematch in the November election will be a nightmare.
“Trump and Biden both lack a vision for our country’s future, because both are consumed by the past, by investigations, by vendettas, by grievances,” she said. “America deserves better.”
In her speech, Haley did not acknowledge DeSantis, who came in ahead of her.
Josh Wilson, who caucused for Haley in the Cedar Valley, where the former U.N. ambassador had a strong showing, said he’s tired of political division and thinks Haley might be the answer.
“I’m actually looking for a candidate who can attract other people, not just Republicans, because it’s just not very realistic to think that only Republicans, or Democrats for that matter, are the ones who are going to elect a president. You need those people that are from other parties.”
While the former president won the caucus, Haley came in second in Black Hawk County.
Ramaswamy drops out after poor showing
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy would ultimately take home about 8% of the state’s total caucus vote. Later in the night, he suspended his campaign and threw his support behind former President Trump.
Hemanshu Patel, who caucused for Ramaswamy in Cedar Falls, said that while Ramaswamy and the former president have similar ideas, there is one stark difference.
“If you’re a leader, you need to have a vision, and Donald Trump isn’t presenting it,” Patel said. “It’s all about, ‘They did this to me,’ and, ‘It’s all unfair.’ We understand that, but what are you presenting to the American public, and to the youth?”
Democrats see expected low caucus turnout
Turnout was low for Democrats in Iowa, as expected. Iowa City City High had seven Democratic Party caucuses happening under the same roof. About 25 people showed up to set it up. About another 25 showed up to caucus.
Andy Coghill-Behrends was working the caucus sign-in table. He’s been volunteering with the party for years and says he wasn’t really surprised by the turnout.
“Maybe a little bit lower than 2012 for Obama’s second term, but it’s actually a pretty decent turnout I would say, given the conditions outside,” Coghill-Behrends said.
Democrats gather at the Iowa City High School to discuss party business on caucus night 2024.
That 2012 turnout number is one Iowa Democratic Party Chair Rita Hart was hoping for. In a release Monday night, Hart thanked Democrats for coming out in the sub-zero temperatures.
Iowa Democrats are showing their presidential preference by mail this year. They can request a card online. The last day to request a preference card is Feb. 19. The results will be released March 5, on Super Tuesday.