Des Moines – In a massive counterprogramming effort, President Donald Trump and a host of Republican officials trekked to the heart of Iowa on Thursday to siphon attention from the Democratic hopefuls blitzing the early-voting state.
Speaking to a crowd of thousands at Drake University, the president promised to defeat Democrats “like they haven’t been beaten before” in November. And he poked fun at his top rivals, using derogatory names to single out each one.
“This November we’re going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats who are right down the street,” he said, adding: “We’re going to win the great state of Iowa, and it’s going to be a historic landslide. And if we don’t win, your farms are going to hell. It’s going to be, sell, sell, sell!”
It’s part of a broader Republican plan to grab some of the spotlight from the Monday caucus, the first vote of a busy election year. Dozens of surrogates will scatter across the state, including Faith and Freedom Coalition chair Ralph Reed, a Georgia activist.
And it’s the biggest in a series of attempts to upstage Democrats at major events. The Trump campaign has taken out newspaper ads and lofted giant banners in cities holding debates, including the showdown in Atlanta in November.
The president also plans a rally in New Hampshire next month as the media glare shifts to that state’s primary. And Vice President Mike Pence plans a series of events in early-voting states to capture a slice of the media attention.
Democrats tried to head off his attacks. Hours before Trump spoke, former Vice President Joe Biden tried to leverage the president’s visit to present a sharper contrast with the president and reframe his campaign message.
At stops along his Iowa bus tour, he cast himself as the most electable in a field torn between liberal candidates and more mainstream opponents. Saying that “character is on the ballot,” Biden said only he could derail Trump’s second term.
“They’re trying to smear me because they’re trying to stop me,” he said to a crowd of a few dozen voters in Newton, an industrial town about 40 miles outside of Des Moines. Because they know if I’m the nominee, I’ll beat Donald Trump.”
Taking aim at undecided voters, Biden also mocked Trump’s ramp-up in Iowa as a signal that the president was worried about his November chances.
“Have you guys ever seen a time in the Democratic caucus when a sitting president has sent out so many surrogates?” he asked. “I’ve never seen a president so interested in who the Democratic nominee is in my whole life.”
Biden is at the top of most polls ahead of Monday’s caucus, though many of those surveys show U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. within striking distance. Still, the polls show a high degree of volatility and a large chunk of voters who aren’t certain in their decision.
Trump’s visit attracted an exuberant crowd who lined up in bone-chilling weather outside the Knapp Arena to fete the president.
Hundreds who were turned away watched his speech from a towering projection screen from a snow-packed avenue outside the stadium lined with vendors selling ruby-red Trump beanies.
“I’ve worked so hard for this state. So hard,” Trump said, invoking the recently-signed trade deal with Canada and Mexico. “You’re going to have to get bigger tractors and a helluva lot more land.”
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