Former President Donald Trump dominated the Iowa Republican presidential caucuses Monday, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holding off former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for second place.
DeSantis bet heavily on Iowa as he tried to become the alternative candidate to Trump. But as of midnight Eastern time, Trump had won about 51 percent of the vote — with a chance to win all 99 Iowa counties — while DeSantis was at about 21 percent.
During a brief appearance after most of the results had come in, DeSantis said opponents “threw everything but the kitchen sink at us” and indicated he will stay in the race.
“You helped us get our ticket punched out of the Hawkeye state,” he told Iowa supporters.
Haley finished third with about 19 percent of the vote, according to the results posted on the Iowa Republican Party website. But she cited strength in the upcoming primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina and tried to frame the race as between her and Trump.
“I can safely say tonight Iowa made this Republican primary a two-person race,” Haley told cheering supporters.
Haley said she was headed to New Hampshire, while DeSantis is scheduled to campaign Tuesday in South Carolina and New Hampshire. The next contest will be the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy won nearly 8 percent of the Iowa vote and quickly announced he was halting his campaign and endorsing Trump.
In a speech to supporters, Trump said little about his opponents, describing DeSantis, Haley and Ramaswamy as “very smart people, very capable people.” Trump focused on broader issues such as illegal immigration, inflation and the war in Ukraine — while criticizing President Joe Biden.
“He is the worst president that we have had in the history of our country,” Trump said. “He’s destroying our country.”
Trump’s victory was apparent early. For example, the Associated Press and CNN declared him the victor about 8:30 p.m. Eastern time, 30 minutes after the caucuses started, based on entrance polls and early results.
Earlier Tuesday, backers of DeSantis and Haley sniped at each other. Never Back Down, a super PAC backing DeSantis, sent out a news release that said anything “less than a ‘strong second’ for Haley in Iowa will be an embarrassing loss.”
Meanwhile, SFA, Inc., a super PAC supporting Haley, sent out a news release titled, “DeSantis Promised To Win Iowa; Likely Finish Distant 2nd or 3rd Place.”
The anti-DeSantis Florida group DeSantis Watch sent a statement as caucus results came in that said DeSantis’ “national political ambitions were pronounced dead tonight in Iowa.”
“Over the last seven months, Ron DeSantis set out to prove that the more you got to know Florida’s governor, the less you would like him,” Anders Croy, communications director for DeSantis Watch, said in the statement.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida