Trump’s lead in Iowa never looked clearer

Candidates will be back on the frigid trail on Sunday.

We’re closing down for the night in West Des Moines. It was a horrible day of weather, but by the end, the visibility into the caucuses was starker than the visibility on the roads.

Donald Trump’s opponents are currently spinning the latest Des Moines Register poll. But it’s hard to make this day anything other than about a commanding Trump lead.

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Nearly half of likely caucusgoers, 48 percent, said they would vote for Trump, according to the poll, which is widely considered to be the gold standard in the state and can be influential in shaping the final outcome.

The race for second place is still very real. According to the poll, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is drawing 20 percent of likely caucusgoers, ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 16 percent. Still, Haley is 28 percentage points behind the frontrunner.

The candidates will be back campaigning on Sunday. And we’ll be back here in the morning.

Donald Trump landed here Saturday night in a relaxed mood, just before a new Iowa poll showed him with a commanding lead heading into the caucuses.

Trump, who cancelled three campaign rallies in Iowa due to the extreme weather conditions here, was spotted by the press sans-signature red tie walking into his hotel.

“That’s a lot of cold weather. We have a lot of meetings tonight, a lot of tremendous support, but it’s nasty out there,” Trump said.

His team set up a livestream hosted by Iowa’s attorney general, Brenna Bird, at his hotel with a crowd of supporters. The event gave Trump the chance to respond to friendly questions in front of a controlled and friendly audience. Trump touched on his 2024 rivals, his dominance in the polls, his legal cases, electric vehicles and President Joe Biden’s record, particularly the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

After making the trek from his plane to his car, he said “wow, that wind is blowing” and acknowledged he does worry about turnout. But he said, “At the same time I’m watching even the newscasts today. They’re saying the Trump voter has so much more spirit, dedication. They say they walk over glass.”

The final Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll, released Saturday, found nearly half of likely caucusgoers said they would vote for Trump, far ahead of the rest of the field.

In a prepared statement, Trump said, “Our grassroots supporters have put us in position to win, and now we have to show up to Caucus for President Trump on Monday and get the job done. We have to show up.”

The breadth of Donald Trump’s lead in the final Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom poll out tonight — 28 points — will get all the headlines.

But the former president’s command of the race is even more apparent below the survey’s toplines.

Trump’s supporters are more committed, more confident and more enthusiastic. And despite all of Trump’s baggage, he has the lowest negative image rating among the candidates.

Here are five takeaways from the poll:

Trump voters have all the energy.

A night when the wind chill could be minus-30, the enthusiasm gap between Trump and Nikki Haley, the second-place candidate, is yawning.

Among likely caucusgoers who said they intend to support Trump, 82 percent said their mind was completely made up, and another 49 percent said they were “extremely enthusiastic” about him.

Compare that to Haley voters: 63 percent said their minds were made up, and only 9 percent were “extremely enthusiastic” about supporting her. In the Register, pollster Ann Selzer called those numbers “on the edge of jaw-dropping” and “at odds with a candidate moving up.”

Haley could be weaker than the numbers suggest.

Enthusiasm isn’t the only measure that suggests Haley might disappoint on Monday night.

Roughly equal percentages of likely GOP caucusgoers had favorable (48 percent) and unfavorable (46 percent) impressions of the former South Carolina governor. That’s a significant drop from last month, when 59 percent viewed Haley favorably, to just 31 percent unfavorable.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (58 percent) and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (52 percent) each had higher favorable ratings than Haley.

But the highest favorables — and lowest negatives — belong to Trump: 69 percent favorable, versus 29 percent unfavorable.

DeSantis may have a turnout advantage.

If the dangerous, bitter cold is going to affect turnout on Monday night, that could benefit DeSantis, the poll shows.

Slightly more DeSantis supporters (62 percent) said they will definitely attend the caucuses than Trump supporters (56 percent). Only about half of Haley voters, 51 percent, said they’d definitely attend.

The poll included interviews with registered voters who said they would definitely or probably attend the caucuses.

Where Trump’s hold over the GOP is strongest.

Trump is even more dominant with core demographic elements of his base, winning 59 percent of caucusgoers without a college degree, 60 percent of those making less than $50,000 a year and 52 percent of seniors 65 and older.

And even among his weaker subgroups, he still leads narrowly, capturing 34 percent of college graduates and 32 percent of suburbanites.

The evangelical vote favors Trump.

If DeSantis thought the support of prominent Iowa evangelical leaders could pry rank-and-file voters from Trump, it hasn’t worked.

The poll shows Trump with 51 percent support among self-identified evangelical Christians who plan to attend the GOP caucuses. DeSantis, at 22 percent is far behind.

Ron DeSantis’ campaign sent donors and supporters a memo in response to the Iowa poll, saying “winning campaigns don’t rely on public data.”

The memo said “any pollster who tells you they know what turnout will be on Monday night given the historic weather conditions isn’t telling the truth” and that the Florida governor’s operation is “perfectly designed for the forecasted conditions.”