Record-breaking cold threatens to complicate Iowa's leadoff caucuses as snowy weather cancels events

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WAUKEE, Iowa — Snow was still piling on top of the 8 inches that had already accumulated when Kadee Miller trekked out to see Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley in Waukee.

“There were moments on the drive up here, I was like, ‘What are we doing?’” Miller said about her 7-mile (11-kilometer) drive from Adel on Tuesday. “The reason we drove up here is to really see who she is.”

Miller isn’t sure who she’ll vote for in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses on Jan. 15, but she’s sure she’ll be there — despite a frigid, slap-you-in-the-face cold night in the forecast.

“It’s important. It’s kind of our civil duty, right?” said Miller, a 49-year-old human resources worker. “So that’s what we have to do.”

Iowa Republicans will likely confront temperatures dipping below zero degrees Fahrenheit when they kick off the 2024 election cycle, a record-breaking forecast that might complicate candidates’ hopes of making their own history if the cold depresses voter turnout.

The candidates are publicly expressing optimism that their supporters will show up no matter how bad the weather is. But the snow and cold have already wreaked havoc on the candidates’ schedules, thwarting their plans to crisscross Iowa and make their final pitches to voters.

Donald Trump ‘s campaign had to cancel events featuring surrogates advocating for the former president, including Mike Huckabee and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Mike Huckabee, who won the caucuses in 2008, posted on social media that the expected snowstorm grounded their plane.

Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said his car got stuck in a ditch while driving in snowy weather Monday night to Des Moines from northwest Iowa. Ramaswamy canceled his event Tuesday morning, saying it was “effectively impossible to safely get from Des Moines to Coralville,” hours after criticizing Haley for calling off her Monday event in Sioux City.

National Weather Service data shows there has never been a colder Iowa caucus night than what’s forecast for Jan. 15. The previous coldest was in 2004, when the high temperature for that year’s Jan. 19 caucuses was 16 degrees.

“We may not warm above zero degrees on Monday,” said Des Moines-based meteorologist Chad Hahn. “I would not be surprised if we don’t get above minus-20 degrees for wind chills beginning on Sunday.”

Temperatures will continue to drop through the rest of this week, Hahn said. Highs will be in the upper 20s Wednesday, low 20s on Thursday and Friday, 10 on Saturday and single digits on Sunday. Worse, of course, with wind chills.

The frigid feels-like may make it harder for GOP candidates to turn out their supporters, already a tall order with the demands of a caucus. Unlike a primary election, where voters can cast their ballot throughout the day, caucusgoers have to show up at a specific time and location that’s likely not their typical polling place.

No snow, rain or sleet is expected Monday, and snow tends to be less likely with temperatures that low, said Hahn. Barring a major ice storm, Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said, Iowans won’t be dissuaded by low temperatures.

“It’s going to go on, no matter what,” Kauffman predicted.

Brad Remsburg, 51, ventured from West Des Moines to see Haley on Tuesday morning despite a snowstorm and temperatures hovering around freezing. He said he wouldn’t let the weather stop him or his son from participating in next week’s caucuses.

“Well, yeah, it’s cold,” his 23-year-old son, Jake, a recent Iowa State graduate, acknowledged. He said he would put on a coat to combat any frigid caucus temperatures.

“You can see he didn’t even wear one today,” his father pointed out.

It could be dangerous for people to be outside for extended periods of time in temperatures as low as what’s being forecast, Hahn said. Exposed skin would quickly be at risk of frostbite.

The Iowa GOP says caucus sites were chosen with convenience and comfort in mind, including taking into account where people would have to wait to register or to sign in. They do not anticipate many voters having to wait in line outside.

But voters may very well be in lines outside before Monday. Trump will be headlining four rallies across Iowa on Saturday and Sunday. Supporters in recent weeks have spent several hours waiting outside in line before the doors have opened at his rallies and ahead of security screening.

Trump’s campaign promised to ensure “people are well taken care of” this weekend and that people are able to get inside venues in a quick and orderly fashion.

When the high was 34 degrees in Sioux Center last week, Trump joked about his chilly walk from the car while complimenting his “hardy” supporters for waiting in line, some for four hours.

“That’s cold out there. That’s a long wait, right?” Trump said. “I said, uh, ‘Where’s my coat?’”

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Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard, Jill Colvin, Steve Peoples and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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