Donald Trump returned to Iowa Saturday where the race between him and Hillary Clinton remains very close. Trump was there for Iowa freshman Sen. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride fundraiser, which features a motorcycle ride and barbeque.
Sen. Joni Ernst led the group of more than 400 riders on a 42-mile trip that started at a Harley Davidson dealer in Des Moines and ended on the Iowa State fairgrounds. Trump did not participate in the ride.
Beth Smith did. She’s a small business owner in the central Iowa town of Melbourne. She and her husband Dan caucused for Trump in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. While many Republican leaders in other states are distancing themselves from Trump, Smith says she’s glad Iowa leaders like Sen. Ernst are supporting him.
“I’m sorry, but the majority of the people are the people that voted him into that position who got him there to begin with,” Beth Smith says. “You can’t just ignore what we’ve asked for.”
“[Trump] speaks in a way that resonates with millions of Americans and Iowans aren’t immune to that,” Sen. Ernst told reporters the day before the event.
Ernst and many Iowa Republicans support the trade deal known as the Trans Pacific Partnership because they say it would bring good things to Iowa’s agriculture industry. Trump does not support it, but didn’t mention it on Saturday.
One by one, Iowa’s top Republicans took the stage at the fairground’s livestock pavilion to praise Trump, where officials with Sen. Ernst say more than 1,800 people were in attendance.
Iowa’s other U.S. Sen., Chuck Grassley, was there. He’s chairman of the senate judiciary committee and refuses to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland. The state’s former Democratic lieutenant governor and secretary of agriculture, Patty Judge, is challenging Grassley for re-election.
Gov. Terry Branstad introduced Trump, as “a man who supports agriculture and the working people in the heartland of this great country. He’s going to make America great again,” he shouted to the crowd.
This appearance offered a different side of Trump that Iowa hasn’t seen much. He stuck to the teleprompter as he talked about issues specific to Iowa.
“We are going to end the EPA intrusion into your family homes and family farms for no reason,” Trump told the crowd. “What they’re doing to you is a disgrace.”
Trump also made a play for minority voters in this crowd of predominantly white people. He referenced Nykea Aldridge, the cousin of NBA player Dwyane Wade, who was shot and killed in Chicago as she pushed her child in a stroller. This came after initial criticism that Trump had politicized the killing in a tweet.
“It breaks all of our hearts to see it. It’s horrible. It’s horrible,” Trump said. “And it’s only getting worse. This shouldn’t happen in our country. This shouldn’t happen in America.”
The Republican presidential nominee also talked about immigration policy in terms that showed him returning to his hard-line stance on a key nexus in his platform, after his startling softened rhetoric on the topic just days ago.
He said on day one as president, he’ll use immigration law to prevent crimes, “including removing the hundreds and thousands of criminal illegal immigrants that have been released into the United States and United States communities under the incompetent Obama/Clinton administration.”
Trump brought out the family of Sarah Root, an Iowa woman who was killed in a car crash by an immigrant in the country illegally.
Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann says Trump needs the support of the state’s GOP leaders.
“I see this as a dog fight all the way down. I don’t really see huge up-and-downs and every vote’s gonna count,” Kaufmann said.
Trump might really need those high-profile Iowa Republicans to pull it off in November. After all, he came in second in the Iowa caucuses back in February, and President Obama won the state in the last two elections.