By HANNAH FINGERHUT, STEVE PEOPLES and JILL COLVIN
SIOUX CENTER, Iowa (AP) — Former President Donald Trump urged his supporters Friday evening not to be complacent in the face of a commanding polling lead as he kicked off the sprint to the Iowa caucuses with his first events of the election year.
“Ten days from now, the people of this state are going to cast the most important vote of your entire lives,” Trump told several hundred supporters gathered in Sioux Center. He implored them to turn out on caucus night, warning, “Bad things happen when you sit back.”
Trump held a pair of commit-to-caucus events, one in the far northwest corner of the state on the border with South Dakota and one in north-central Mason City. He’ll spend Saturday in Newton in central Iowa before heading to Clinton in the state’s far east.
The visit came the day before the third anniversary of Jan. 6, 2021, when a violent mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as part of a desperate bid to keep him in power after his 2020 election loss. Trump did not acknowledge the date Friday, but railed against the treatment of those who have been jailed for participating in the riot, labeling them “hostages” and saying it will “go down as one of the saddest things in the history of our country.”
Trump also asked at one point in Sioux Center whether there was anyone in the friendly room who wasn’t planning to vote for him, but then quickly warned them not to raise their hands.
“They’re going to say he incited an insurrection,” he said to laughs.
And over and over, he repeated his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen — the same lies that motivated the rioters.
Trump also spent much of the night lashing out at President Joe Biden, who earlier Friday delivered a speech warning that Trump’s efforts to retake the White House pose a grave threat to the country and democracy.
“We all know who Donald Trump is,” Biden said near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where George Washington and the Continental Army spent a bleak winter nearly 250 years ago. “The question we have to answer is: Who are we?”
Biden said Jan. 6 marked a moment where “we nearly lost America — lost it all.”
“He is a danger to democracy,” Trump charged in Mason City.
The former president and his campaign have spent months accusing Biden and other Democrats of using the justice system to damage their chief political rival. There is no evidence that Biden has influenced the investigations led by state officials or the Justice Department — which has also indicted his son, Hunter Biden, twice.
“Joe Biden’s record is an unbroken streak of weakness, incompetence, corruption, and failure,” Trump told the crowd in Sioux Center. “That’s why Crooked Joe is staging his pathetic fearmongering campaign event in Pennsylvania today.”
Trump’s team is hoping for a knockout win in Iowa on Jan. 15 that will deny his rivals an opportunity to seize momentum and set the table for him to lock up the nomination by the spring. They also hope to turn out a wave of new voters who have never caucused before in a show of strength ahead of an increasingly likely general election rematch against Biden.
“You have to get out and vote because it sets the tone. It even sets the tone, frankly, for November,” Trump said in Mason City.
While he remains far ahead in Iowa and other early state and national polls, Trump also continued to lash out at his top Republican rivals, unleashing some of his most pointed attacks to date against former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has seen growing support in recent months following a series of well-reviewed debate performances.
Trump tried to cast both her and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was once the only rival he criticized, as “establishment pawns,” alleging they would “sell” voters “out.” DeSantis, who has staked his campaign on Iowa, entered the race with sky-high expectations but has struggled to gain traction against Trump.
“Sadly, the establishment losers and sellouts lagging far behind us in the Republican primary cannot be trusted on taxes, on trade, or anything else,” Trump charged. “They’ll betray you just like they betrayed me.”
Haley’s campaign has been celebrating Trump’s recent attention — including a new attack ad — arguing it reflects his growing concern that she is gaining on him.
DeSantis and Haley needled each other at their own events in Iowa Friday, with DeSantis leaning into his opponent’s flippant comment about the role of Iowa among the early-voting states. DeSantis, appearing with Texas Rep. Chip Roy and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, hounded Haley for “insulting” Iowans by suggesting New Hampshire voters could “correct” the caucus results.
Haley, who held morning and evening events in Des Moines, described the comment as good-natured ribbing among early-voting states. She is the former governor of South Carolina, which will vote third.
DeSantis, campaigning across central and northeastern parts of the state, also repeatedly told his crowds of about 100 people that Trump failed to follow through with his previous campaign promises and accused the former president of running a campaign all about himself.
While Trump last visited Iowa before Christmas, his allies have been fanning out across the state, holding their own events on his behalf. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who are both considered potential vice presidential picks, have been working to get out the vote in recent days, as has his son Eric Trump.
Trump’s team has repeatedly argued that any margin of victory larger than 12 percentage points would be a historic win in an open caucus. Trump lost the state in 2016 to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz but ultimately won the nomination and the presidency.
This time, Trump is facing criminal charges across four separate jurisdictions. But those charges have only solidified his support.
Michael Grevengoed, 34, from Doon, Iowa, is planning to caucus for Trump on Jan. 15 and said he isn’t concerned about Trump’s legal woes.
“They’re brought against him, yes, and he may be indicted for them, but I don’t think they’re legitimate reasons for him not to be president,” he said.
In addition to his criminal charges, Trump is also facing efforts to remove him from the ballot over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss. The Supreme Court said Friday it would take up the question of whether states can bar him from the ballot.
Marj Wichers, who lives in Sioux Center and said her backseat was full of Trump gear she bought for her grandchildren outside the venue, criticized efforts to disqualify him.
“He’s got to get back in there,” said Wichers, after standing in line for four hours to attend the first event. “If they don’t want to put him on the ballot, I’ll write his name down.”
Wichers, 58, said she works the night shift so she might not be able to caucus on Jan. 15.
“I think he’s going to get in anyway, so I’m not too worried about it,” she said.
Peoples reported from Mason City, Iowa. Colvin reported from New York. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont and Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.