The Buzz

As Iowans contemplate choices, Trump promises ‘major endorsement’ Tuesday

Sen. Marco Rubio brought his Republican presidential campaign to Ottumwa, Iowa Monday afternoon.
Sen. Marco Rubio brought his Republican presidential campaign to Ottumwa, Iowa Monday afternoon. The Kansas City Star

This thing is still up for grabs, but the opportunities are narrowing.

Thirteen days before they cast the first votes in the 2016 presidential race, many Iowans apparently haven’t made up their minds. That’s true in the Democratic race, where Sen. Bernie Sanders appears to be closing in on Hillary Clinton, but it appears to be especially true on the Republican side.

Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz are still considered the favorites. Trump plans a major endorsement announcement in Iowa Tuesday, with speculation centered on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

But the other candidates are working feverishly across the state to pick off their votes, hoping to finish third on Feb. 1 — or better.

Ralph Hunt of Fairfield, Ia., was a solid vote for Donald Trump, until Monday. He heard Sen. Marco Rubio make his pitch here, and switched sides.

“Trump speaks for my generation,” Hunt said, but “Rubio has just convinced me that he supports me, and he had actual answers to to all of the questions he was asked.”

Several other Republicans here said they were still undecided.

Late decision-making is typical for the Iowa caucuses. Former Sen. Rick Santorum closed quickly in the last week in 2012, nipping Mitt Romney in the closing hours. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee performed a similar trick in 2008.

There are signs the GOP candidates understand the shifting mood of the electorate. Trump plans two days of campaign events in Iowa, starting with a “special announcement” speech Tuesday.

Other candidates, including Huckabee, Santorum and Carly Fiorina will be in Iowa Tuesday as well. Rand Paul spoke in Des Moines Monday.

Rubio crossed the state Monday. He touched on familiar themes — he’s against Obamacare, the Iranian nuclear agreement, cuts to military spending — but he took several swipes at Trump’s electability, a sign he too believes the outcome is still in doubt.

“Anger alone will not be enough,” he told an estimated 200 people at a town hall meeting here.

Like many of the GOP candidates, Rubio may not expect to win the caucuses outright. But a strong third-place showing, behind Trump and Cruz, would give his effort a significant boost.

So he also took pains to avoid upsetting Trump supporters who might be persuaded to change their views. The first question he was asked involved Trump’s chances against Clinton, compared with Rubio’s own electability.

“What he’s tapped into is a real frustration in this country that needs to be addressed,” Rubio said. “But I just don’t think that being frustrated alone is enough. You’ve got to know what you’re going to do.”

Dennis Ellenberger of Ottumwa said he liked Rubio’s pitch. “Everything he said was great,” Ellenberger told The Star.

On the Democratic side, Sanders and Clinton plan extensive campaigning in Iowa this week.