Des Moines, Iowa, CNN — The storied history of the Iowa caucuses has never seen anything like this.
A fateful election year likely to put the country’s institutions to an extreme test opens Monday as the first-in-the-nation state shivers under a blast of perishing polar weather.
But it’s not stopping Donald Trump from telling his voters to go out and caucus even if they’re “sick as a dog,” while urging them to punish enemies he branded “cheaters” and “liars.”
The former president is seeking a bumper win to set him on the road to a third straight GOP nomination — and a possible return to the White House.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley wants a jolt of momentum ahead of next week’s New Hampshire primary – her best bet for a shock win over Trump. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is battling to keep his campaign alive.
“You can’t sit home. … Even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it,” Trump said, suggesting people who were critically ill should get out to caucus.
But after months of polls, multimillion-dollar ad blitzes and a collision between an election and Trump’s legal morass, Iowans’ voices are the only ones that matter, although the weather may influence which of them is able to show up.
Blizzards and bone-chilling winds forced candidates to cancel multiple events in the final Iowa stretch. Many churches in the state were closed on Sunday, but candidates pleaded with supporters to brave the temperatures on Monday.
Boasting the powerful network he lacked when he finished second here in 2016, Trump – who refused to debate his rivals – spurned one-on-one voter contact in the frigid final days.
He substituted outbursts outside New York and Washington courts for intimate meets-and-greets in places like Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Sioux City that candidates typically use to butter up Iowa’s famously exacting voters.
Trump’s rivals grappled for traction, and not just on the ice-bound roads they traveled to reach small crowds in isolated towns …