In Iowa’s biggest game, football and politics collide

Two fierce rivals faced off on Saturday. Thousands of fans cheered and jeered from somewhere. All around is tension and hope and celebration and outrage.

There was also a college football tournament.

As is typical for an Iowa-Iowa State game, the event was highly anticipated. But this year’s tournament featured a bitter head-to-head confrontation of a political kind that began before kickoff.

Former President Donald J. Both Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the front-runners in the Republican primary race, appeared at the game: Mr. Trump, in a private suite, and Mr. DeSantis, the state’s most popular arena governor, is Kim Reynolds.

It was the first time the two were at the same event since the Iowa State Fair, Mr. Mr. Trump and his supporters. DeSantis was mocked and cursed as he strolled the fairgrounds with his family.

A month later, at Jack Trice Stadium, the roles seemed reversed, Mr.

Former President, “Where’s Melania?” He entered the game to a mixture of applause and cheers on a plane with a banner that read. Flew up – a nod to his wife’s absence on the campaign trail. Some attendees gave him the middle finger from the stands as he watched the game from the glass box.

Managing the Covid response during the Trump administration, Mr. DeSantis’ target was Mr. Trump and two people in inflatable costumes — like Anthony Fauci — posed for photos with game attendees.

However, Mr. Trump is dominating the polls in Iowa, eschewing the state’s traditional town-to-town retail politics.

Before kickoff, several hundred people gathered near the loading dock where Mr. Trump was expected to enter the stadium. Hoping for a glimpse of the former president, another large group gathered around the suite as he watched the game during halftime.

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Iowa 2020 Mr. The state’s two major college towns — Ames, home of the game, and Iowa City, home of the rival Iowa Hawkeyes — are blue, while voting for Trump by eight percentage points.

The attacks began before any candidate was even in the game. Mr. DeSantis’ super PAC, Never Back Down, released a new online ad before the game — designed to reach digital devices in the area around the stadium — criticizing the former president’s support for transgender contestants in the Miss America pageant. “Crazy.” Torn DeSantis posters were strewn across the grounds outside the stadium.

Before the game, Mr. DeSantis appeared for about 15 minutes at a tailgate for the Iowa State wrestling team, where Cyclones fans played cornhole and sipped beer from red and gold goblets.

Mr. leading him in double digits in the state. Asked by a reporter about Trump, Mr. DeSantis made a point of view about the former president’s four felony convictions, saying, “Iowans don’t like campaigning about the past. Or to talk about candidates’ issues. Instead, he continued, “they want it to be about their future and the future of this country. That is what I represent.

But Mr. Even voters who strongly support DeSantis question whether he can beat Mr Trump.

“How to deal with this shortage?” said Richard Abrams, 38, a middle school teacher from Iowa City. “How do you convince these Trump voters to come over to your side? You have to beat some of them. “

Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis isn’t the only candidate vying to focus on sports. Vivek Ramasamy, a political newcomer who has surged in the polls in recent weeks, strolled through the tailgate after several previous appearances in the state. He attracted some attention, quickly scooping water from a “shot ski” with shot glasses attached, and shaking hands as he went. But he didn’t stay at the game, instead trying to attend a town hall in New Hampshire that was canceled after his flight was grounded “due to bad weather.”

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Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor who is running on a fiercely anti-Trump platform, made a brief appearance at the tailgate. Speaking to reporters, he said Mr. Attacking Trump’s character and running for governor in 2018, Mr. Trump, who was close to the former president. Attacked DeSantis.

“Donald Trump is not going to tell the truth in this election,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “But America needs to go in a different direction, and we don’t need ‘Trump-lite’.”

Few of the walkers seemed to notice his presence.

The day was almost a game within a game. Heckling, fly-overs and anti-Trump ads reminiscent of the Iowa State Fair in August, Mr. DeSantis drew jeers from the Trump campaign and its supporters, including a plane flying a banner that read: “Be catchy, Ron!” At a sprint car race that day, a crowd of 25,000 cheered Mr. DeSantis’ appearance.

But many who attended the Iowa caucuses — despite the crowd of candidates and the hubbub surrounding their arrival — were more interested than the competition on the field.

“I don’t think the focus should be on them because it’s an intercollegiate competition,” said Melanie Frueh of St. Charles. “Sure, there are a lot of people out there, but I don’t see why it’s so important for people to come here and try to make a name for themselves when they’re having fun in this environment.”

However, the game may not retain its level of appeal. At halftime the score was 14-3 in favor of the Hawkeyes, winning 20-13. A large number of crowd members left with half the game remaining.

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