Photo: BBC

Donald Trump has won the Iowa caucuses, the first Republican contest in the 2024 Presidential campaign.

With 95% of the votes counted, Trump has taken 55,838 — 51.1% of those who braved frigid conditions to attend Monday night’s local meetings.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has 23,175 (21.2%), edging Nikki Haley — former South Carolina Governor and US Ambassador to the UN — for second.

Haley had hoped to establish a clear lead over DeSantis. That would give her momentum for the New Hampshire primary on January 23, where she has surged in polls to a strong second behind Trump.

But she has only claimed 20,809 (19%) votes. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy was fourth with 8,358 (7.7%) and ended his candidacy.

Of Iowa’s 40 delegates, Trump has 20 so far. DeSantis has 8, Haley 7, and Ramaswamy 3.

Any result less than a commanding victory would have been a setback for Trump, who had an overwhelming margin in all polls before the contest. However, his camp will be buoyed by clearing the 50% threshold. Trump also has provisionally 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties — Haley leads the other, Johnson County, by 1 vote.

The outcome reinforces the importance of the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday. Another large Trump victory could confirm the US media’s anointment of him since last summer as the Republican nominee, even before the next contest in Haley’s home state of South Carolina on February 24.

Once lagging in single digts in polls in the small northeastern state, Haley has risen to more than 30% in some surveys. In the St. Anselm poll last Friday, she was supported by 31% of respondents, compared to Trump’s 45%.

DeSantis received a psychological boost with a second place which may have been essential to his remaining in the race. In early 2023, he was the favorite of much of the media, and he spent heavily in Iowa in the hope of victory. He faded since last summer amid a series of campaign stumbles and trailed Haley in the last polls before the caucuses.

Even with the lifejacket of the runner-up spot, DeSantis may struggle to make it into “Super Tuesday” on March 5, where 14 primaries will determine 36% of the Republican delegates.

In New Hampshire’s St. Anselm poll, the Florida governor was fourth with 6%, even trailing former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has dropped out of the race. He has little apparent hope of being more than a distant third in South Carolina.

At his campaign gathering late Monday, DeSantis portrayed his second place as a triumph over all the unnamed forces trying to defeat him: “They threw everything but the kitchen sink at us.”

Trump used his standard rhetoric of despondency and self-proclaimed role of saviour as he spoke to supporters: “We were a great nation three years ago and now we’re a nation in decline”. He then made a series of declarations, including unrestricted drilling of fossil fuels and giving police officers full immunity from any crimes.

Haley tried to position herself as the candidate standing against a Trump-DeSantis combination:

I can safely say, tonight Iowa safely made this Republican primary a two-person race.

The question before Americans now is very clear – do you want more of the same, or do you want a new generation of conservative leadership?