Iowa Republicans ‘shop around’ for 2024 alternative to Trump

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. talks with Gerald Young, right, of Des Moines, Iowa, during a Faith in America Tour event, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Charlie Neibergall/AP

Iowa Republicans ‘shop around’ for 2024 alternative to Trump

Cami Mondeaux

February 23, 04:00 AM February 23, 04:00 AM

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Nearly 100 Iowans packed into the Reading Room on the third floor of the Cowles Library at Drake University on Wednesday, huddling together in the small study space to learn more about prospective 2024 candidate Tim Scott (R-SC).

Many who attended Scott’s speech said they weren’t entirely familiar with his background or experience, while others told the Washington Examiner they were simply taking advantage of the opportunity to hear a potential presidential candidate speak.

Several attendees described the event as a chance to scope out alternatives to former President Donald Trump as the GOP primary field for 2024 begins to take shape.


“I’m very open-minded. I used to be a registered Republican, now I’m an independent, and I just [want to] see who I align with the most,” said Jennifer Pittham, a graduate of Drake University who attended the event on Wednesday. “I’m just trying to shop around and see who I like the most.”

Although Scott has not yet declared a run for president, the South Carolina senator has fueled speculation by embarking on a national listening tour, a move that followed the launch of his Opportunity Matters Fund PAC late last year.

Scott, who is the only black Republican in the Senate, is trying to position himself as a “common ground” conservative in what could end up being a crowded GOP primary in 2024. However, he has made a habit of working in the background since he arrived in the upper chamber in 2013 — possibly losing out on the national name recognition some of his would-be rivals enjoy.

“I’m interested in Tim Scott as a candidate. I identify more as a libertarian, but I think that he could definitely be a good choice,” said John Grant, a student at Drake University. “I’m just kind of exploring candidates that you don’t [see] a whole lot of media attention about.”

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The comment came during Scott’s second stop on his national “Faith in America” listening tour as the South Carolina senator attends several campaign-style events throughout central Iowa. His trip coincides with that of several other prospective GOP candidates flocking to the Hawkeye State as the primary cycle begins to ramp up.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made her first trip to Iowa on Monday, holding a campaign event just one week after she announced her White House bid. Haley, like Scott, has called for a fresh brand of leadership, billing herself as the best candidate to help lead the country past “division and distractions.”

“We’re ready. Ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past. And we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future,” Haley said in her campaign announcement video.

The remarks echo Scott’s speech in Des Moines on Wednesday, where he denounced Democratic politicians who feed “the empty calories of anger to people who are starving for hope.”

Mike Pence has also made the rounds in Iowa, speaking at an event with Advancing American Freedom last week. Although he has not yet declared his intent to run, Pence is positioning himself as a principled conservative.

The former vice president split with Trump, who still today holds on to unfounded allegations of election fraud, after he decided not to stand in the way of the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The bombastic former president continues to command strong support from the grassroots of the Republican Party, and dislodging his grip over the GOP could prove difficult in 2024, especially if the primary field becomes crowded.

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Current polling shows Trump leading the field of prospective candidates, with roughly 50% of Republican voters saying they’d vote for him in 2024, according to Morning Consult. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) comes in second at 30% support, with Haley and Pence tied at 6%.

Trump, who announced his third presidential bid three months ago, has yet to make his way to the state, considered important to 2024 hopefuls given the first caucuses of the primary cycle are held there, at least for the GOP this year. Trump has a mixed record in Iowa. He narrowly lost the caucuses in 2016 to then-candidate Ted Cruz (R-TX), only to win the general election later that year. He won both the caucuses and general election there in 2020.

Although Trump is noticeably absent from the state, he nonetheless ramped up his operation there on Monday, with his campaign naming Marshall Moreau as the state campaign director. In 2022, Moreau managed the candidacy of Republican Attorney General Brenna Bird, who defeated Democratic incumbent Tom Miller.

Trump also has one of his national campaign team members, Alex Latcham, based in Iowa.

Only Trump, Haley, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have announced their White House bids, but several others are expected to follow in the coming months.

Some voters the Washington Examiner spoke to expressed an openness to a larger primary pool.

“I think a large group of candidates would be kind of interesting,” Grant said. “It wouldn’t … be good or bad because it would split the votes, probably among the two front-runners like DeSantis and Trump. So, it’d be kind of interesting — interesting to see if, like, a dark horse actually won because the votes were split.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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