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Winter storm interrupts campaigning efforts in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Just two days to go before Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses. The state is getting pummeled with a powerful winter storm, and it'll be bitterly cold on Monday. NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now - not from Iowa, which is apparently not easy to get to. Sarah, thanks for being with us.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Yeah. You know, Scott, I was supposed to be in Iowa yesterday. I've almost lost count of how many times we had to change travel plans because of the weather. And that's affecting everybody who is trying to campaign or cover this caucus or listen to candidates. You know, cold weather is nothing new in Iowa this time of year. I lived there for several years. But this is cold even for Iowa. And the snow and heavy winds have not been helping. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had to cancel three in-person events yesterday. She turned those into tele-town halls instead, and she said she really hopes her Iowa supporters will come out on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NIKKI HALEY: Please wear layers of clothes just in case there are lines so that you are staying safe. And please go in there and know that you are setting the tone for the country.

MCCAMMON: And it's not just Nikki Haley. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also postponed some events yesterday because of the weather. Former President Trump is doing a mix of tele-rallies and in-person events. Vivek Ramaswamy's campaign said he was continuing as planned, but earlier this week, he also had to cancel some events. And that, Scott, was after he criticized Haley for doing so and implied that canceling events because of severe weather was weak. This winter storm, though, is not weak, and it's something candidates and everybody else has to think about.

SIMON: Sarah, Midwesterners are up to it, OK? What could this storm mean for caucus night on Monday?

MCCAMMON: Well, we like to think so. I still think of myself as one. Remember, caucuses are held in person at a specific time. There's usually no way to absentee vote. And so because caucus night is likely to be subzero weather across much of the state, it's very likely that some voters who would otherwise come just will not want to brave the cold or won't be able to. You know, this system has gotten its share of criticism for being tailored to people who have jobs and family situations that allow them to caucus at night and, in many cases, who are physically able to do so even in winter weather.

So which candidate all of this helps is anybody's guess, Scott. I've heard a few different theories about that. Evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats, who's endorsed DeSantis, says he thinks it will help DeSantis. His theory is that Trump supporters might look at the polls and just stay home.

BOB VANDER PLAATS: If they believe he's winning by 30 points, you know, maybe I may just watch the victory speech on TV versus spending two hours in the bitter cold and trying to have a debate with my neighbors.

MCCAMMON: That said, Trump's base is known for its enthusiasm and loyalty. And Trump is just so far ahead in the polls, it's hard to envision an outcome where he's not the winner because of this. The bigger question, I think, is which candidate not named Trump can persuade enough of their supporters to turn out on Monday and give them second place?

SIMON: What are the candidates saying as they make their final appeals?

MCCAMMON: You know, this really appears to be a fight for second place between DeSantis and Haley. Trump's legal battles have kept him mostly out of Iowa in recent days, but it really doesn't seem to matter for him. His supporters think he's being unfairly targeted, and they've rallied around him. But Haley has been gaining ground in some recent polls, and she's trying to build on that. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's decision to drop out this week might help her. He has not endorsed anyone, but both Haley and Christie are seen as appealing to more moderate Republicans. And Haley may be poised to pick up some of his supporters in New Hampshire, where she's been polling within single digits of Trump. Because even though we're heading to Iowa, or at least I hope I'm getting there soon, for the caucuses, everyone knows that the first primary in New Hampshire is not far behind.

SIMON: NPR's Sarah McCammon from an undisclosed location. And I hope there's a Cinnabon stand at whatever airport you wind up in, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: There's at least coffee.

SIMON: Thanks so much for being with us.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.