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US election heats up as frigid Iowa tests Trump

Voters venture into sub-zero temperatures to kick off the US republican presidential nomination race with the Iowa caucuses, the first major test of whether front-runner Donald Trump can beat out rivals Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

With a commanding lead in polls, the ex-president is expected to win the Midwestern state’s first-in-the-nation vote handily as he bids to be the republican nominee against President Joe Biden in November.

However Iowans may have to contend with the coldest conditions in the modern era of presidential election campaigns, with blizzards and a potential wind chill in some areas of -42 degrees Celsius potentially throttling turnout.

Mr Trump, Ms Haley and Mr DeSantis were all forced to cancel appearances in the home stretch of campaigning.

“Dress warmly tomorrow” Mr Trump said at a campaign event in Indianola, just south of capital Des Moines, coming on the heels of him having to scrap three weekend rallies.

“Brave the weather, go out, and save America”.

Despite his apparent strength, the former president has been indicted four times since he was last a candidate and is preparing for the potential collapse of his business empire in his native New York as a result of a civil fraud trial.

Poor predictor

For all the talk of miracle bounces, the Iowa race is hardly competitive: A new NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll has Trump at 48 percent among likely caucus-goers, with Ms Haley surging into second place but still only at 20 percent.

Conservative hard-liner Ron DeSantis will be under heavy pressure to drop out if he finishes third

The poll was more bad news for Florida Governor DeSantis, who scored just 16 percent and has seen his claim to be heir apparent to the post-Trump republican Party eclipsed by Ms Haley.

However Mr DeSantis insisted that his “very motivated” backers would turn out in sufficient numbers in the vote, open only to registered republicans.

In 2016 only 186,000 Iowans took part in the caucus, he told ABC, and “now, with this weather, it could be significantly less,” making turnout paramount.

“It’s good to be an underdog when folks want to count you out.” he added.

Ms Haley, a former South Carolina governor, is looking to outperform expectations to cement her claim to be Mr Trump’s top challenger going into her preferred state of New Hampshire the following week.

“Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows” Mr Trump, she told a last-minute campaign stop in the town of Adel, adding: “You don’t fix democrat chaos with republican chaos.”

The NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll puts Ms Haley on 20%

Iowa is a notoriously poor predictor of the eventual nominee but it is considered crucial for winnowing the field and as a springboard to the next few battlegrounds, which include Ms Haley’s home state.

The republican primary also features a number of low-polling candidates, including biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

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