By THOMAS BEAUMONT (Associated Press)
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former President Donald Trump on Friday headlined his largest Iowa campaign event in nearly four months with a speech to thousands at an arena in the western part of the state.
Trump used his appearance in Council Bluffs to attack his top GOP rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for opposing the federal mandate for ethanol, a renewable fuel additive that Iowa leads the nation in producing.
“I’m proud to be the most pro-farmer president that you’ve ever had,” Trump said at the outset of the event aimed at promoting his administration’s agricultural record and touting his oversight of clawbacks of regulations on farmers. “I fought for Iowa ethanol like no president in history.”
He planned to stop by a local Dairy Queen afterward to mingle with workers and customers.
The large Republican presidential field has spent a lot of time over the last few months in Iowa, the leadoff GOP caucus state. In June, more than a half dozen candidates, including DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, attended Sen. Joni Ernst’s annual “Roast and Ride” fundraiser that kicked off a busy summer campaign season.
Trump campaigned in the Des Moines area last month, meeting with GOP state lawmakers, influential conservative pastors, campaign volunteers and a suburban Republican breakfast club. That visit came about a week before he was indicted on federal charges stemming from classified records he kept at his Palm Beach, Florida, home.
Before Friday, his last large event in Iowa was in March, when he spoke to more than 1,500 people at a theater in Davenport and also went after DeSantis on ethanol. He was due to hold an outdoor event in May in Des Moines with about 5,000 attendees expected, but his campaign called it off because of a tornado warning. It was raining on Friday as people lined up to see him.
Although caucus campaigns have become more focused on national party priorities over the past two decades, some candidates have continued to portray support for ethanol — specifically the federal mandate that the nation’s fuel supply contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels — as a litmus test in Iowa.
Ethanol is a fuel additive blended with gasoline and sold across the country that is usually produced by fermenting corn. The ethanol industry consumes about half of Iowa’s corn crop, and the state leads the nation in corn and ethanol production.
“Every Iowan also needs to know that Ron DeSanctus totally despises Iowa Ethanol and ethanol generally,” Trump said, using a nickname for the governor.
As a congressman from Florida, DeSantis co-sponsored a bill in 2017 that would have immediately ended the renewable fuel standard, a position consistent with fiscal conservatives who see such mandates as government overreach.
As he arrived in Iowa, Trump rolled out his Farmers for Trump Coalition, a group co-chaired by a number of officials including Reps. Mike Sexton and Derek Wulf, the top two Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee.
As a candidate, Trump has promoted the executive order he signed as president increasing the retail sale of fuel containing 15% ethanol.
Recent history, however, suggests a lack of support for ethanol may not be disqualifying. In 2016, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who opposes the mandate, won Iowa’s Republican caucuses, handing Trump an early defeat in his ultimately successful White House campaign.
Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard contributed to this report from Columbia, S.C.
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