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Trump returns to Iowa as he ramps up campaigning in early nominating states

By Kate Sullivan and Kristen Holmes, CNN

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump’s closing argument to Republican voters began to take shape in an Iowa speech on Wednesday ahead of next month’s Iowa caucuses.

The front-runner for the Republican nomination sought to galvanize Iowa Republicans by keeping the focus on defeating President Joe Biden, while also swiping at his two leading primary opponents, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who trail far behind him in polls both in Iowa and nationally.

The Iowa event – ahead of visits later in the week to New Hampshire and Nevada, which hold Republicans’ second and third nominating contests – came as Trump holds a commanding lead in primary polls and is looking to blunt any of their momentum less than five weeks before voting begins. His campaign speech followed a positive legal development for him, with a federal judge pausing an election interference case that could delay the start of a trial, which is currently scheduled to begin in early March – during the height of the campaign season.

Addressing the crowd in a hotel ballroom in Coralville, the former president sought to argue Biden’s economic policies have left American families worse off than when he was president, and that the effects were being felt particularly deeply this holiday season. Invoking former President Ronald Reagan, Trump asked, “Were you better off four years ago or are you better off today?”

He attacked DeSantis – who has pinned his campaign on a strong showing in Iowa – on his previous opposition to ethanol subsidies, a top concern of corn farmers in the state. “He was totally against anything having to do with ethanol. Then now, all of a sudden, he’s a big ethanol proponent. But one thing about politicians, when they start that way, that’s the way they end. They change for elections, but then they immediately go back,” Trump said.

The former president dismissed Haley’s recent rise in polls, pointing to his considerable lead over the former governor and the rest of the GOP field. He attacked New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu after he endorsed Haley this week, arguing that that support wouldn’t make a difference in the Granite State.

“There’s no surge. They don’t have any surge,” Trump said.

Trump leads the primary field by around 40 percentage points in nationwide polling, according to the latest update to the CNN Poll of Polls. In the latest average, Trump holds 61% support to 17% for DeSantis and 11% for Haley.

The Trump campaign is showing an increased urgency to turn out voters at the January 15 Iowa caucuses and has been showing videos at events educating supporters on how to caucus for the former president. Many of his rivals, though, have far outpaced him in terms of the number of events held in the state.

Several of Trump’s allies, including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, are also scheduled to act as surrogates for him at events in Iowa over the next few days.

DeSantis at a CNN town hall Tuesday night took every opportunity to attack Trump as he tries to close the wide polling gap between them. The Florida governor sought to contrast his record as governor with Trump’s White House tenure and criticized the former president’s economic policies, his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and his abortion stance, among other issues.

Though Trump’s team has grown increasingly confident about his standing in Iowa, the campaign sees potential hurdles in New Hampshire as Haley’s popularity has grown in the state. Trump, on his Truth Social platform earlier Wednesday, ripped into Sununu over his endorsement, arguing that Haley had “no chance of winning.”

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