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Trump Travels To Iowa To Engage In Political Counterprogramming

NOEL KING, HOST:

Four Democrats who are running for president are stuck in Washington, D.C., serving as jurors in President Trump's impeachment trial, despite the fact that the Iowa caucuses are on Monday. But the trial didn't prevent President Trump from going to Iowa himself. NPR's Scott Detrow brought us this from Des Moines.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: For Trump fans in Iowa like Kathy Melton, the past few months have been a little tough - so many ads for so many Democrats crowding her TV.

KATHY MELTON: Basically, when a Democratic commercial comes on, I've got the mute button on my remote. And that is the most fantastic thing I've ever seen.

DETROW: At his political rallies, President Trump often boasts that overflow crowds are filling the streets outside. The scene is rarely as he describes it. But Thursday, Melton and many other Trump supporters really were standing outside shivering in their Make America Great Again hats. Melton watched the rally on a big screen in the 29-degree weather knowing she wouldn't make it inside.

MELTON: No expectation. The fellow at the hat place said that they were - the doors were closed. They weren't able to get in. So - but it's a nice night. We'll stay for a while and see what's going on.

KING: Trump arrived in Iowa at a pivotal moment in his presidency. The Republican-controlled Senate appears to be on the verge of acquitting him of two impeachment charges without calling witnesses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, we're having probably the best years that we've ever had in the history of our country. And I just got impeached. Can you believe these people?

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: I got impeached.

DETROW: Trump mostly focused on the Democratic contest to take him on this fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: This November, we're going to defeat the radical, socialist Democrats that are right down the street.

DETROW: One by one, Trump criticized the candidates - former Vice President Joe Biden...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: He's so lost. That - honestly, that poor guy is so lost.

DETROW: ...Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: How about Boot-edge-edge (ph)? Boot-edge-edge. They call him Mayor Pete. You know why? Because nobody can pronounce his name. Nobody has any idea. Boot-edge-edge.

DETROW: The Democrat most on Trump's mind, though, seemed to be the candidate he faced last time - former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I feel badly because it's too late for her to get in. I kept hoping.

DETROW: Trump acknowledged his reelection won't come easily.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: But I think - honestly, I think that sleepy Joe, crazy Bernie - I don't even want to put But-ed-edge (ph) in.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: But I think they'd actually be tougher than her.

DETROW: Trump may have been dismissive of Clinton Thursday night, but she beat him in the national popular vote. Trump won the three states that put him in the White House - Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin - by the narrowest of margins. And Trump regularly trails the main Democratic candidates in hypothetical national polls.

And with the president flying into Iowa to counterprogram Democrats, Biden, also in Iowa, took the opportunity Thursday to counterprogram the counterprogramming. He focused much of a speech earlier in the day on attacking the president and the way he governs the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: The character of the nation is on the ballot...

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: ...America's character. I do not believe we're the dark, angry nation that Donald Trump sees in his tweets in the middle of the night.

DETROW: As Democrats weigh the pros and cons of the candidates who could face Trump in November, Republicans outside the rally like Mary Clark didn't seem too concerned about who that will be.

MARY CLARK: Any one of them - yeah. Any one of them - yeah. They don't have anything to offer. They will ruin America.

DETROW: And whether it's Biden, Sanders, Warren or anyone else, Trump made it clear again Thursday that he'll run the same attack. He'll label the Democratic nominee as a socialist no matter his or her actual policy platform.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "A HUNDRED MOONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.