Listening Posts: Trump Takes Some Hits in Iowa

As the Donald Trump-related Republican debate fallout continues, there are signs that the presidential candidate’s strong words and feud with Fox News personality Megyn Kelly may be hurting him in some places in Iowa, where the first nominating votes will be cast.

A sample of opinions in four very different communities in the state suggests Mr. Trump’s behavior is wearing on some voters, particularly those in Iowa’s more densely-populated, better-educated places.

In July, the Wall Street Journal and NBC News reached out to four very different communities in Iowa with the American Communities Project to create “listening posts” in them to monitor news around the election: Des Moines, Iowa City, Vinton and Sac City.

Below the map, thoughts from opinion leaders in each place:

Iowa City, Johnson County, a College Town that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 caucuses. In mid-July people living in the home of the University of Iowa expressed surprise at Mr. Trump support in the city. That’s changed, according to people there.

“Support is falling away quickly,” writes Rebecca Neades, vice president of public policy for the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce. “Trump supporters were lukewarm on his debate performance concerned that he didn’t say anything of substance.  The general feeling is that they are tired of his antics and their true concern is that he’ll run as an Independent. I think people are getting tired of him.  One former supporter called him a bully.”

Janelle Smithson, president of the University of Iowa College Republicans, says members of her group were never big Trump supporters, but feelings have grown harder. “Many of the [College Republicans] have noted that they do not like him even more after the comments he has made. They do not think he seems like presidential material and do not want him to lead our country,” she said “I have honestly not heard any support from any College Republicans.”

Vinton, Benton County, a Rural Middle America county that voted for Rick Santorum in 2012 caucuses. The small-town to the northwest of Iowa City, should be better turf for Mr. Trump. Its population is older than the state at large and its had hard economic times. People there generally report mixed opinions on Mr. Trump’s debate and post-debate performance.

“It’s all over the board,” writes Rev. Mark Urlaub, pastor at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Vinton. “Republicans range from ‘we wish he hadn’t said that’ to a sort of admiration for his unwillingness to be pushed into conformity.”

Rev. Urlaub continues, “It is interesting that one very moderate Republican on the morning after the debate said that he thought the questions were as if from a panel of Democrats.  Several picked up on the report of the amount of time consumed by the questioners as evidence of how the media dominates and controls.”

Jim Morrison, news editor of the Vinton Newspapers, writes that the crowd he watched the debate with “admire his bluntness, but fear the impact of that bluntness. … They are just uncertain if his style will be effective in working with Congress, and other nations of the world.”

Vinton Mayor John Watson writes that, “Trump seems to be saying what a lot of people want to hear.”

Des Moines, Polk County, an Exurb that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 Caucuses. There was not strong interest in Mr. Trump in Des Moines when he entered the race in July, according to people there. Those feelings don’t seem to have changed.

After a meeting with businesswomen from the area on Friday, Kris Maggard, president of the Des Moines Downtown Chamber of Commerce writes that the comment she heard often was “How could any woman even consider Trump?” She said the from Mr. Trump’s back-and-forth with Fox News would end up hurting his quest for the nomination. “The fascination will play out on his political reality show. He will not be the nominee, in the end.”

But others believe that may not matter. Architect Joe Benesh writes that people don’t know if Mr. Trump is “brilliant or crazy” but they believe he “is leveraging himself with the chance he’ll run as an independent to help secure his chances as the nominee – the general feeling is that he will eventually run as an independent and split the vote in the Democrats favor.”

Sac City, Sac County, an Aging Farmlands county that voted for Rick Santorum in 2012 Caucuses. The small agricultural community in northwest Iowa showed support for Mr. Trump in mid-July where residents seemed to appreciate his willingness to say what he thought. The post-debate reaction in the town indicated a fairly low level of interest in the event, an important perspective to keep in mind with the first 2016 votes still more than five months away.

Many of the people in the listening post group are on vacation and were not home during the debate. Even among those who were at home, watching the debate didn’t rank high on the list of possible activities for them.

Gary Langbein, a farmer in Sac City may have summed up the feelings well. “Didn’t get a chance to watch,” he writes. “Everyone is talking about Trump.”

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