Trump’s team in Iowa has eyes on 2022, but their presence gives him an early 2024 leg up

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DES MOINES, IOWA – On the eve of former President Trump’s return to Iowa for the first time since last year’s election, Eric Branstad and his team were busy putting the finishing touches on the venue site at the Iowa State Fairgrounds where Trump will hold a rally on Saturday.

“The president loves Iowa. I think he loves Iowa more than any other state,” Branstad, who steered Trump’s campaign efforts in the Hawkeye State in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, said.

The former president made headlines in the political world in August when his Save America political action committee hired Branstad, a veteran campaign operative who also worked in the Trump administration and who’s the son of former longtime Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad (who served as ambassador to China during the Trump administration), as a senior adviser. Also coming on board the PAC in the same capacity was fellow Iowa native Alex Latcham, Trump’s Iowa political director during the 2016 general election campaign and a deputy political director in the Trump White House.

The hires in the state whose caucuses for half a century have kicked off the presidential nominating calendar obviously sparked more speculation that Trump is gearing up for another White House run.

But the younger Branstad told Fox News that the 2022 midterms rather than the 2024 presidential election are at the top of his agenda. He said he and the rest of the former president’s team in Iowa “are focused on electing Republicans up and down the ticket. That’s where our focus is.”

And while their focus is not just on Iowa – they’re advising on races across the country – there’s no denying that the Hawkeye State will get plenty of campaign attention next year, when the GOP aims to win back majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. Republicans need a net gain of one seat to retake control in the 100-member Senate and a net gain of five seats in the 435-member House.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and longtime GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, who are up for reelection next year, will speak at Saturday’s rally ahead of Trump. So will the state’s three GOP House members. Two of them – Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks – won their seats by razor thin margins last November and will likely face challenging reelections. And the GOP is targeting the state’s only Democrat in the House, Rep. Cindy Axne, who narrowly won reelection last year.

“Gov. Reynolds is going to be here. Sen. Grassley is going to be here. We’ve got an all-star cast. All of our Republican congressional delegation,” Branstad highlighted. “We are excited to welcome thousands and thousands of people to see President Trump.”

While Trump may make some 2022 endorsements during his rally at the fairgrounds, it will be hard to escape the 2024 story line.

Trump repeatedly teases making another presidential run to try and return to the White House, telling Fox News in an interview last month that “I don’t think we’re going to have a choice.” 

The former president said in an email to supporters earlier this week that  “IOWA is absolutely critical to our efforts to take back the House and Senate in 2022, and then the White House in 2024.”

Workers at the site of former President Trump’s Iowa rally put the finishing touches on the venue at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on the eve of the event, on Oct. 8, 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa
(Fox News)

And Trump’s hires of Branstad and Latcham sparked more speculation.

“If he has the intention to run, there’s no two better people to hire than those two,” longtime Iowa based GOP consultant David Kochel said. “If you’re going to do it, or even if you’re going to send the signal that you may run, that’s the move that you make.”

Kochel, a veteran of numerous Republican presidential campaigns, noted that “they’re both very effective operatives and a pretty formidable team and they’d be tough to beat.”

Trump remains very popular and influential with Republican voters as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in GOP primary politics, and he would be the clear frontrunner for his party’s presidential nomination if he decides to run. But his repeated flirtations have prevented other potential 2024 contenders from making visits to Iowa as well as New Hampshire, which for a century has held the first presidential primary, and South Carolina and Nevada, the other two early voting states.

Trump’s team in Iowa may be a warning sign to other potential rivals.

 Bob Vander Plaats, who for a dozen years has served as president and CEO of The Family Leader, a top social conservative organization in Iowa, tells Fox News the hiring of Branstad and Latcham is “definitely a message” that if Trump wants to get organized in Iowa, he can do it quickly.

And he noted that while many of the other possible GOP White House hopefuls have PACs, they “aren’t employing staff in the early states, especially Iowa.”

Asked if having staff on the ground in Iowa gives the former president a leg up, Branstad said “I would like to certainly think so.”

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