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AMES, Iowa — A large group of excited Cyclone and Hawkeye fans crowded onto a terrace at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, briefly united in chanting the same name.
“Trump! Trump! Trump!” they cheered — waiting for the former president to emerge from a private suite where he watched the annual in-state rivalry game that pits the University of Iowa and Iowa State University against each other.
The political gamesmanship briefly overshadowed the football game playing out on the field below as a mob of supporters peered around the glass windows, shouting for Trump’s attention and erupting into applause when they caught sight of him.
Trump, who leads the Republican primary field four months ahead of the 2024 Iowa caucuses, hobnobbed with influential Republican donor and casino magnate Gary Kirke inside the suite before emerging to greet the fans who yelled his name and held their cell phone cameras aloft as he departed the stadium.
“It’s cool that he came to this game,” said Brad Lewis, a Dubuque resident and Hawkeye fan who watched the chaotic scene unfold from a slight distance. He said that he currently favors Trump in the caucuses.
“I'm a financial guy, and when he was president there was a lot of positives and a lot of good things going on,” he said. “And so, to me, that's important. People love him or hate him, but you know, he's done a lot of good things for the country.”
Some attendees did boo and shout obscenities as Trump passed, but he drew far more eager and excited onlookers who appeared unbothered that he faces criminal charges in four separate cases.
In a nearby section of open seats, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — a top Trump rival — watched the game with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and snapped photos with U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.
In contrast, a source familiar with the arrangements said that Reynolds did not interact with Trump “in any way” Saturday.
Though Reynolds has previously said she would not endorse any candidate ahead of the Jan. 15 caucuses, she has recently begun leaving open the possibility in interviews that she could do so. And her campaign trail appearances have been even more closely scrutinized as a result.
According to a mid-August Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll, Trump is the favorite of 42% of likely Republican caucusgoers. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis follows with 19%, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is at 9%.
Trump tosses footballs at gameday tailgate; Vivek Ramaswamy, Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson work the crowds
In addition to Trump and DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also attended gameday rallies and tailgates Saturday.
Ahead of the game, DeSantis joined a tailgate just outside the stadium as a pack of volunteers for his super PAC, Never Back Down, chanted "we want Ron" and "make America Florida." He moved swiftly through the crowd, shaking hands and chatting football.
Ramaswamy joined fans in taking a shot of water from a Cyclone “shot ski.” And Burgum and Hutchinson, who have struggled to make strides in polling after getting on the first debate stage, made several stops, including mingling with U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst at a tailgate around noon.
Trump made a pre-game stop at the Alpha Gamma Rho in Ames, a fraternity for students pursuing a career in agriculture.
At the fraternity house, a crowd of tailgating students paused their games of cornhole and beer pong to eagerly cheer Trump’s arrival as country hits blared over the sound system.
Trump pumped his fists as they chanted his name.
“This is some turnout. I guess the youth likes Trump,” he said.
Trump joined the grill team, taking control of a spatula and holding a burger aloft and displaying it to the crowd before turning it over on the heat. He moved through the crowd as staff lined up branded Trump footballs on the unused beer pong table, allowing Trump to sign a few and toss them into the cheering crowd.
After arriving at the stadium, Trump signed more autographs and posed for selfies before heading inside.
The annual matchup between ISU and the University of Iowa football teams is a lauded tradition for both programs, and it has previously attracted presidential candidates seeking to woo Iowans ahead of the state’s presidential caucuses.
Trump previously attended the game in 2015 as he campaigned for president, walking around the parking lots before kickoff and posting on social media that he was visiting "Jack Truce Stadium."
This was his first trip back to Iowa since breezing through the Iowa State Fair last month, where he was met with similarly boisterous crowds.
Since that visit, Trump was criminally indicted for a fourth time — this time on state-level charges that he was part of a sweeping conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. He also skipped the first GOP presidential primary debate, which was held in Milwaukee Aug. 23.
Still, he leads the field of Republican presidential contenders by a double-digit margin in Iowa, though he has campaigned here relatively infrequently. Trump has held just four public announced events this caucus cycle, though he’s done several more surprise drop-in events.
Trump volunteers hold gameday tailgates
Before Trump stopped by the game, his campaign established its presence throughout the parking lots around Jack Trice Stadium.
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Volunteers stood under tents decked out in Trump 2024 flags, handing out green koozies that declared the campaign "back-to-back Iowa champs" in exchange for their name, address and email. Trump came in second place during the 2016 Iowa caucuses, but carried the state in the 2016 and 2020 general elections.
At the Trump tent off Jack Trice Way east of the stadium, volunteers wearing gear for both schools waved pamphlets and koozies at passersby. "I know you want one!" one volunteer shouted.
One woman donned a custom Iowa jersey with "TRUMP WON" on the back, and the number 45.
Some of the Cyclone and Hawkeye faithful cheered as they walked by; one man leaned out of the passenger side of a truck as it rolled by to scribble down his name and grab a koozie.
Not everyone was as enthusiastic: One man in Iowa State gear shouted an expletive when he was asked to give his info. A woman in black and gold raised her middle finger as she passed by.
Despite that, volunteers were optimistic about the response as they solicited potential caucusgoers.
"Lots of people signing up, lots of people are very positive for Trump," said Patricia Lage, a Spring Hill resident who signed up to volunteer for the campaign at the State Fair. "Everybody's friendly."
The game kicked off at 2:40 p.m. Saturday, and the Hawkeyes claimed a 20-13 victory over the Cyclones.
Reporter Galen Bacharier contributed to this story.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Donald Trump cheered in Ames for 2023 Iowa vs. Iowa State football game