The two major Republican frontrunners, former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, faced primary voters at a Sept. 9 college football matchup between Iowa University and Iowa State.
The games also saw a matchup between the top two contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, as both candidates seek to market themselves to voters in the highly important state, whose primary caucus represents the first presidential contest in the nation.
President Trump watched the highly anticipated clash between the state rivals in a private suite. Mr. DeSantis watched from the stands, sitting alongside popular Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
President Trump and Mr. DeSantis weren't the only presidential candidates to attend the rivalry game between Iowa University and Iowa State. Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who made a name for himself among voters during the first primary debate, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson were also present.
President Trump was greeted by a mixed reaction when he entered the stands.
Some members of the audience applauded, some cheered, and others booed—an indication of the complicated political makeup of the one-time swing state. Some made vulgar hand gestures toward the former president. A plane flew overhead with the banner "Where's Melania?" a reference to the former first lady's relative absence during the campaign.
Outside the stadium, protestors dressed in inflatable costumes portraying masked versions of President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the controversial architect of the federal government's COVID-19 response under President Trump. That COVID policy comprises a key element of Mr. DeSantis's criticisms of the Trump presidency.
President Trump also made a surprise appearance with fraternity tailgaters, who cheered for the former president and chanted, "Trump, Trump, Trump."
"I guess the youth loves Trump," he said to a reporter at the event, where he also discussed hearing from Iowans about the difficulties posed by the rising prices of gasoline and other necessities because of inflation, reiterating his promise to increase U.S. drilling if he's reelected.
President Trump has largely eschewed attending dedicated political events during this campaign. Recently, he skipped the first Republican primary debate, but the move seems to have had little impact on his place at the top of the polls, including in Iowa.
For Mr. DeSantis, who's running a more conventional presidential campaign, the Sept. 9 football game was merely the latest stop in his push to visit all 99 counties in the crucial primary state.
He visited the annual Iowa Firefighters Association Convention in Iowa Falls, which saw fire stations from all across the state compete in different firefighting-related drills.
The governor thanked all of the first responders and their spouses for their service.
"In Florida, we put first responders on a pedestal. As President, I will do the same thing. We are going to have coast-to-coast appreciation of all first responders in the United States of America once again. God bless you all," he said.
He then bused south to Iowa State University for the Iowa–Iowa State Football game. There, he visited tailgates held by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, The Bastion Institute and Veterans on Duty, and the Iowa State Wrestling Club.
Speaking with members of the media at the tailgate, he said he remains confident in his efforts on the ground despite the polls—and confident in knowing what the caucusgoers want in a candidate.
“Iowans don't want the campaign to be about the past or to be about the candidates' issues,” he said, a reference to President Trump's continuing legal battles.
“They want it to be about their future and the future of this country. And that's what I represent: a candidate that will obviously send Biden back to his basement, but will be able to deliver on the needs and the issues affecting Iowans and Americans, their families, their aspirations, and changing the direction of the country."
Moving across the grounds of Jack Trice Stadium with an entourage of banner-waving and chanting supporters, the governor met with prospective voters and politicians such as Sen. Joni Ernst and Iowa U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson, Randy Feenstra, Zach Nunn, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
Mr. DeSantis's PAC, Never Back Down, released an online ad targeted to spectators in the area of the stadium. In the ad, the PAC attacked President Trump's past comments in favor of transgender participants in the Miss America beauty pageant, berating the comments as "insanity."
At the same time, Mr. Hutchinson reportedly received little attention at the event, while Mr. Ramaswamy was spotted working the crowds and taking photos with spectators.
Iowa voters will hold a caucus to select their pick for president, the first presidential contest in the nation, on Jan. 15, 2024.