2024 GOP battleground takes shape in Iowa

A slew of potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates are descending on Iowa, testing the political waters three years out from the state’s next presidential caucuses. 

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called 'TRUTH Social' Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE, who garnered the attention of campaign watchers last month when he hired two Republican operatives in Iowa, is slated to hold a rally in the Hawkeye State in the near future.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE (R-Ark.) traveled to Iowa last month to campaign with Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) at a fundraiser in Fayette. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Colin Powell's death highlights risks for immunocompromised The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it Australian politician on Cruz, vaccines: 'We don't need your lectures, thanks mate' MORE (R-Texas) also stumped with Hinson at her reelection campaign launch event last week, while Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHouse passes bills to secure telecommunications infrastructure Senators call for answers from US firm over reported use of forced Uyghur labor in China Republicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' MORE (R-Fla.) visited the state on Monday and Tuesday. 

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Others who have been floated as potential candidates have also made the trip, including former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBiden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll Nearly 80 percent of Republicans want to see Trump run in 2024: poll Why is Trump undermining his administration's historic China policies? MORE, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyUS rejoins UN Human Rights Council, reversing Trump exit Smarkets betting site makes Trump favorite in 2024 Nikki Haley gets lifetime post on Clemson Board of Trustees MORE, former Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoThe CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Biden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll Why is Trump undermining his administration's historic China policies? MORE and South Dakota Gov. Kristi NoemKristi Lynn NoemSouth Dakota GOP lawmakers summon two employees for Noem inquiry Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Biden presses companies to get ahead of vaccine mandate MORE (R ). 

“This has got to be one of the busiest years in the first year of a caucus cycle that we’ve seen,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who met with Rubio Monday night at a state party event in Clear Lake, Iowa. 

The visits highlight the state’s traditional status as the first-in-the-nation presidential contest  and its importance to House Republicans. 

In addition to building their profile in Iowa ahead of a potential run, having a presence in the state allows prospective candidates to get a lay of the land in the state, which is known for its heavy retail politicking culture. Visiting the state also allows candidates to build up a network of support from operatives, activists, party chairs, and state and local lawmakers.  

Connecting with state and local activists there is of particular importance due to the caucus process, which involves having to turn people out to participate in the event at a specific time.  

“That takes a better organization than usually a primary-type situation,” said Timothy Hagel, an American politics professor at the University of Iowa. “Getting people to show up at some place on a winter night in February or January is a little different than just voting at some place at your leisure.”  

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The recent attention on Iowa from the potential GOP presidential hopefuls comes during a midterm cycle when districts in the state could be crucial to deciding who controls the House.

Hinson is a first-term congresswoman from the state’s 1st District and could be facing an uphill reelection battle, as could first-term Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R ) in the 2nd District. Both flipped their districts from blue to red in 2020. Meanwhile, in the 3rd District, Republicans are going on the offense against Democratic Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneDemocratic retirements could make a tough midterm year even worse Club for Growth squeezes front-line Democrats on reconciliation plan Biden meets with vulnerable House Democrats with agenda in limbo  MORE

Cruz touted the importance of Iowa in the GOP’s fight to win back control of the House next year while he campaigned with Hinson last week. 

"The road to revival comes through Iowa, and the road to bring America back to greatness comes through the great state of Iowa," Cruz said.  

The visits come less than a year after the Iowa Democratic caucus garnered widespread criticism after it took three days to report a winner. The fiasco has led some to question the reliability of the contests, but Republicans have not had as many issues in recent years. 

“It couldn’t come at a better time when the Democrats are seriously questioning whether Iowa should start their process,” Kaufmann, the Iowa GOP chairman, said. “Here, we’ve got people all over the country making the case for us by the destination of their plane tickets.  

“If I put on my Republican Party of Iowa hat, this shows me that the candidates in many ways have already made up their mind that Iowa should be first in the nation,” he said.  

But others say not all appearances from national political figures mean they are seriously considering a presidential bid. 

“Iowa is important, but it’s not always about winning Iowa,” said Republican strategist Andrew Clark. “The bigger picture here for a lot of these potential candidates and big name players is it’s all about visibility. Even people who don’t necessarily intend to run for president still have a huge upside to going into Iowa.”  

Many of the potential 2024 hopefuls have already made national headlines for their visits to Iowa, exposing them to voters across the country. 

High-profile visitors to Iowa can also put themselves in the running for other future positions, like vice president, senator or a kingmaker in politics. 

Trump, who is seen as the GOP’s top kingmaker, attracted attention last month when he hired operatives in the state, though he has not confirmed whether he will seek another term. 

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“Even if he doesn’t run in 2024, that guarantees that he has a strong Iowa footprint that really makes his endorsement and his involvement like the kingmaker,” Clark said. 

In addition to testing out their own political brands, visits to states like Iowa give Republicans and Democrats the chance to try out campaign messages ahead of a campaign cycle. 

At an event for the Iowa-based conservative Christian organization Family Leader, Pence, Noem and Pompeo homed in on conservative opposition to critical race theory, which has quickly become a top issue for Republicans on the campaign trail. 

“People go there to test out different messages and see what works and what audiences are feeling,” Clark said. 

“If you want to be an actor, you have to go to L.A., if you want to be an investor you have to go to Wall Street,” he said. “I think if you play in national politics, presidential or not, you need to go to Iowa.”