Why Donald Trump's rally Saturday in Iowa is different Former President Donald Trump, who is teasing another run, is holding a large rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds Saturday night.

Potential candidates always test political waters in Iowa. Trump's trip is different

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump holds a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines tonight. It is common for aspiring candidates to come to the early nominating state this far ahead of an election.

But as Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters reports, Trump's visit is new territory.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: There always seems to be someone testing the presidential waters here in Iowa. Over the summer, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and former Vice President Mike Pence headlined an event for a prominent evangelical Christian group. Senator Tom Cotton went viral doing pushups at a fundraiser with his Iowa colleague Chuck Grassley.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONI ERNST: Sixteen, 17, 18, 19.

(SHEERING)

MASTERS: Coming here this early is about meeting voters and laying the groundwork for a potential campaign. But what's happening tonight is unprecedented. A former president who just lost his reelection is holding a large rally and teasing another run. The latest Iowa poll, published in the Des Moines Register, says Trump is more popular in the state after leaving office. Pollster J. Ann Selzer says Trump remains very popular with Republicans and has made gains with independents.

J ANN SELZER: From March, it was 45-53 - so a majority of independents saying they had an unfavorable opinion of former President Trump. In this poll, it was 48-49. So he's evened out the edge that was there as a problem with independent voters in Iowa.

MASTERS: The former president boasted about those numbers in an email to supporters this week. His political action committee also hired a couple of Iowa advisers recently. Kedron Bardwell is a political science professor at Simpson College. He says Trump has mostly frozen the field for Republicans.

KEDRON BARDWELL: It doesn't mean that they're not testing the waters. But I don't think people want to go through the amount of work it would take to build the infrastructure and get, you know, the donations lined up, ready to go if they know that in a few months, he's just going to drop his hat in the ring anyway.

MASTERS: Trump's trip to Iowa brings up another thing that's unprecedented - the false claims he's pushing about the 2020 election being stolen. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. But Iowans are asking about it at town halls, like at this one last month for Senator Grassley in rural western Iowa.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK GRASSLEY: I see four hands up. And I'm going to forget who...

(LAUGHTER)

GRASSLEY: ...Those are. But you keep raising them.

MASTERS: A man in the back of this crowded room tells Grassley he doesn't trust the outcome of the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But I feel in my heart that there was a lot of cheating going on - I mean, a lot. And if Biden won, I'm OK with it. If Trump won and Biden's in there, I am not OK with it.

MASTERS: Grassley didn't directly correct the claim. Instead, he defended Iowa's elections and criticized Democratic voting legislation. Kedron Bardwell at Simpson College says misinformation has taken hold in the GOP.

BARDWELL: You can't put the genie back in the bottle in terms of - once this accusation is unleashed, and once it's believed by a large percentage of the Republican base, there's kind of no going back at that point, mainly because kind of the psychological dynamics of misinformation are such that at that point, people will just find and then rationalize the position that they already have.

MASTERS: Trump's lies about 2020 have not dissuaded Iowa Republicans from wanting to appear with him. That includes Iowans who are up for reelection next year. Both Grassley and Governor Kim Reynolds are slated to speak ahead of him tonight at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters in Des Moines.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES BLACKSHAW'S "LOVE IS THE PLAN, THE PLAN IS DEATH")

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