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Presidential hopefuls make final stops in Ames

Cleo Westin
Ames hosts two visits from presidential candidates one day away from the Iowa Caucuses on Jan. 14, 2024. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy speaks at an event at Sweet Caroline’s and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks at Jethro’s.

Former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy held their final events in Ames with standing room only just one day before the Republican Caucus.

With Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holding an event in Ames Thursday and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also visiting Sunday, former President Donald Trump is the only major Republican candidate not to visit Ames in the past several days.

Trump has not visited Ames since he attended the Cy-Hawk football game in September.

Haley at Jethro’s

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst introduced Haley to the large crowd that went out of the door of the cardinal room within the Jethro’s in Ames. Ernst said that as the first female combat veteran in the Senate, she appreciates when someone has foreign policy or military experience.

Sen. Joni Ernst introduces presidential candidate Nikki Haley on Jan. 14, 2024. (Cleo Westin)

“[Haley has] got intestinal fortitude because that woman is strong, right? She went into the governor’s office [and] was fabulous. Yes, as many of our women do, we’ve got our women in pink here,” Ernst said, gesturing to a group of women with “Women for Nikki” signs. “But she really showed her strength as a governor, and it was because of that strength that President Donald Trump decided to appoint Nikki Haley as our ambassador to the United Nations.”

Despite the introduction, Ernst is not planning to endorse a candidate before Monday’s caucus and told NBC News on Meet the Press hours before Haley’s event that she is “assuming that President Trump wins” the Iowa Caucus.

“So we want you to turn out in droves tomorrow night, go out and support your favorite candidate, who would that be?” Ernst asked the crowd but did not answer her own question.

Haley gave nearly an identical speech that she gave in neighboring Nevada in December and stuck to key talking points including restricting trans girls from participating in girls’ sports.

“For all you girl dads out there and all you strong moms, we have to raise strong girls. Strong girls become strong women, strong women become strong leaders,” Haley said. “None of that happens if we have biological boys playing in girls sports.”

Haley also said while she agrees with a lot of Trump’s policies, “rightly or wrongly chaos follows him.”

“The only way we’re gonna win the majority of Americans is if we have a new generational leader that leaves the negativity and baggage behind and focuses on the solutions of the future,” Haley said. “Don’t fix Democrat chaos with Republican chaos.”

Ramaswamy at Sweet Caroline’s

Former Iowa Congressman Steve King introduced Ramaswamy Sunday to a standing-room-only crowd at Sweet Caroline’s in downtown Ames.

Former U.S. House Rep. Steve King introduces presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy at Sweet Caroline’s in downtown Ames on Jan. 14, 2024 (Cleo Westin)

King, who endorsed Ramaswamy earlier in January, served in the U.S. House from 2003 to 2021 and was stripped of his committee assignments by House GOP leaders in 2019 after he defended the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” in an interview with the New York Times.

The former Congressman also appeared to briefly confuse Ramaswamy with former President Barack Obama when discussing pipelines impacting family farms.

“It is appalling to me that we don’t have another presidential candidate that will stand up here and fight it. Barack Ob– [laughs] Barack Obama how’d that even come up? He’s the guy who pushed that other stuff at us,” King said.

Ramaswamy opened his speech by recognizing King, who he said “everybody expected” to endorse Trump.

“It was an honor when Steve King, a patriot who has actually spoken the truth and tarred by the media for speaking hard truths, arguing to build a wall before it was cool, America first before America first was the thing, to actually come out and endorse me like so many other constitutionalist conservatives in the state,” Ramaswamy said. “It’s been an honor.”

Ramaswamy took questions from the audience for over two-thirds of his speaking time at Sweet Caroline’s and explained his policy positions like requiring eligible voters aged 18-24 to pass a civics test to gain the right to vote.

“[A girl at a campaign stop] gave me a handwritten note saying that she wanted me to know that she is a 10-year-old girl, took the whole thing and got 100 out of 100 on that civics test and that if she could do it she knows that every high school senior in this country can too,” Ramaswamy said.

Hutchinson at Jethro’s

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks with an attendee of his meet-and-greet event at the Ames Jethro’s on Jan. 14, 2024. (Cleo Westin)

The former Arkansas governor also held an event in the Ames Jethro’s just hours before Haley’s event was set to begin. Hutchinson had a visibly smaller crowd than Haley or Ramaswamy on Sunday but his campaign manager Alison Williams said Hutchinson expects to place fourth or better in the caucus and the campaign expects to “exceed expectations in that regard.”

“We’re getting great support everywhere he stops and he’s been to over 30 cities in the last two weeks alone and have been here campaigning for multiple months before that,” Williams said.

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