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Who Will Hit The End Of The Rope in The Iowa Caucuses?

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Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie and Ron DeSantis.
Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie and Ron DeSantis. (Screenshot)

Iowa has been a make-or-break battleground for presidential campaigns, and this time is no exception. Former President Donald Trump is widely seen as the frontrunner for the Jan. 15 caucuses in Iowa, a sentiment shared even by some of his rivals.

However, a victory for Trump doesn’t necessarily conclude the Republican primary. The caucuses may yield multiple paths to New Hampshire, with two or potentially three tickets gaining significant momentum, according to insights from over two dozen strategists, campaign officials, neutral Republicans, and potential caucusgoers.

The measure of success varies for each campaign. For example, a third-place finish could be disastrous for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley might fare well with a strong third-place showing.

Early-state presidential politics heavily rely on expectations, influenced not only by media narratives but also by each candidate’s investment in the state and subsequent early states. Even if Trump secures an expected win, his ability to fracture the field and hinder his competitors’ emergence as a clear No. 2 option will be crucial.

Each candidate’s success in Iowa is assessed differently. Here’s a breakdown for some of the top contenders:

Donald Trump:
Success: Needs to surpass 50%.
Iowa ad spending: $13 million since May.
Time in Iowa: 27 events since May.
A commanding win with 75% or 80% support could seriously undermine his competitors’ chances in New Hampshire.

Ron DeSantis:
Target: Shooting for a strong top-two finish.
Iowa Ad Budget: Threw down $21 million since May.
Hours in Iowa: Worked the crowd at 125 events since May.
Bottom line: Winning Iowa’s not a must, but he’s gotta make a solid case for himself in New Hampshire.

Nikki Haley:
Aims for a top-two or top-three showing.
Iowa ad spending: $18 million since May.
Time in Iowa: 33 events since May.
A strong top-three finish is necessary for maintaining momentum, and landing in the No. 2 spot could elevate her as a one-on-one contender with Trump.

Vivek Ramaswamy:
Needs a top-three showing.
Iowa ad spending: $3.8 million since May.
Time spent in Iowa: 162 events since May.
A top-three finish would provide momentum for New Hampshire.

Chris Christie:
Mission: Skipped the Iowa scene.
Ad Budget in Iowa: Zilch.
Iowa Face Time: Zero events since May.
Bottom line: Banking on New Hampshire, where he’s been hustling with 46 events since May.

The outcome in Iowa will set the stage for the next big showdowns, and it looks like everyone’s battling it out for that runner-up spot.

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