Republican candidates' face first vote for US presidential race

This is the beginning of a process that may decide the next President of the United States, writes ITV News' Dan Rivers and Jonathan Wald in Indianola, Iowa.

Words by ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers and Washington News Editor Jonathan Wald

It was just after 7am and the temperature was -29C in Indianola, Iowa.

Yet five hours before Donald J. Trump was due to speak, people were already queuing up in the snow to get as close as they could to the 45th (and they hope 47th) President of the United States.

One young man had even arrived in shorts. It was so cold my eyebrows had developed a sheen of ice.

A Japanese journalist in front of me looked like he’d aged prematurely, through a terrible shock, but it was the filigree of frozen moisture which had turned his hair white.

Finally, as the teeth chattering became uncontrollable, the doors opened.

The build up to Trump arriving was lengthy. Speeches from his local Iowan supporters, a video message from his daughter-in-law Lara.

Then a new advert which starts: “On June 14th 1946 God looked down on his planned paradise and said ‘I need a caretaker’, so God gave us Trump”.

ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports from Indianola, Iowa

It certainly seemed to warm up the crowd, who were pumped by the time he finally emerged on stage wearing a white baseball cap emblazoned with “Trump Caucus Captain” in gold writing.

The same hats will be worn during the caucuses tonight by those advocating for him.

It was difficult to gauge the numbers at this rally, but one security officer told me the room capacity was 500. I suspect at least 100 of those were journalists.

The demographic was wide. There were plenty of pensioners, but some young families too.

If the polls are to be believed, Trump has captured a significant proportion of the Evangelical Christians of this State, who are critical in this caucus. Two thirds of registered Republicans here identify as Christians.

I met one man who was dressed in a vivid orange ‘wall’ suit, printed with the bold pattern of bricks to symbolise the border wall he claimed Trump had started and Biden had halted.

Nikki Haley says Trump was the ‘right President at the right time’, but the country needs someone new / Credit: AP

In stark contrast, a few hours later and 40 miles away, I was at one of Nikki Haley’s last events as she made her final pitch ahead of this first vote in the race for the White House.

Her crowd was similar in size, but with more young people and no crazy outfits. Haley spoke eloquently and without an autocue or notes, riffing on the problems she thinks she can fix.

Her line on Trump is now well rehearsed: chaos follows him, and that’s not what the country needs now.

She said he was the ‘right president at the right time’, but the country needs someone new.

She mentioned that her children were in the audience, but her husband Michael, who she described as her ‘right arm’ was on deployment with the army.

After speaking, she posed for selfies with almost everyone who wanted one, which took as long as the speech itself.

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Both candidates implored their followers to brave the frigid weather and ensure they know where to go for their caucus tonight, where they will discuss and argue with their neighbours to come to a consensus on who should win the Republican nomination.

Frank Luntz, the veteran pollster, was at the Haley event and thinks, while she is far behind Trump in the polls, she has momentum and the results may be surprising.

But few predict her catching Trump here, where he has a seemingly unassailable 28 point lead according to the respected Des Moins Register poll released late on Saturday. 

So why is Trump so popular in Iowa? Rob Sand is Iowa’s State Auditor, the only statewide-elected Democrat in Iowa.

“He’s the incumbent President in the eyes of a lot of people here who are caucusing,” Mr Sand told ITV News. 

“They believe what he said about the last election being stolen – but what he said is obviously false and it’s also unpatriotic.

“Your ordinary rank and file voters don’t know that Joe Biden is the legitimate President, unlike elected Republican officials who keep it quiet out of convenience,” he added.  

Caucuses will take place in 1657 precinct locations, mostly school gymnasiums or town halls. 

One caucus will take place in someone’s home, a practice which used to be more common in previous elections.

Sharon McNutt is busy preparing for some 50 registered Republican neighbours and friends in the tiny town of Silver City.

They’ll crowd into her cosy front room and in front of the blazing log fire, talk through each candidate and then vote on pieces of paper, until a consensus emerges.

She told me she doesn’t know if she’ll have the energy to keep this tradition alive next time, having already notched up 22 years of hosting the local caucus.

Former US president Donald Trump. / Credit: AP

The weather may affect the number of people who trudge through the snow and ice to her home, she says, but she reassures me Iowans are tough and well aware of the privilege they have.

“Fewer people are going to show up, there’s no doubt about that but it’s not clear which candidates that will impact and by how much it will impact them.” 

Tonight they will officially start the process to select the candidate who’ll take on Joe Biden in November.

From a few voting slips in Sharon’s front room, to perhaps the next occupant of the Oval Office, the effects of what happens in Iowa could be profound.

Even though only 0.0005% of the US population will vote tonight, this is the beginning of a process which may decide the next President of the United States.

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