IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Iowa Caucus 2020
Spectators wait for the results during the Sen. Bernie Sanders Caucus Night Celebration at the Holiday Inn in Des Moines, Iowa in February, 2020.Salwan Georges / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

Eyes on November: Five Iowa counties to watch on caucus night

The counties we'll be watching on caucus night are Buena Vista, Linn, Polk, Sioux and Scott counties.

By and

There are lots of counties to watch in Iowa as caucus results roll in — 99 to be exact. 

For a sense of whether former President Donald Trump is having a good night, keep an eye on rural counties and blue-collar areas that flipped from former President Barack Obama to Trump.  

Rural areas in northwest Iowa, and other areas where Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz performed well in 2016, will be key to watch for DeSantis as he’s courted the evangelical vote. And for former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, keep an eye on the suburbs, where she’s focused her campaign efforts.  

Here are five counties to watch: 

Buena Vista County: This sparsely populated county in northwest Iowa includes the city of Storm Lake, and it is nearly 30% Latino. Cruz carried this county in 2016 by 6 percentage points, winning 31% of the vote to Trump’s 25%. This county could test Trump’s standing in rural Iowa, and DeSantis’ strength as his allies have focused on grassroots outreach in rural areas. 

Linn County: This county in eastern Iowa includes the city of Cedar Rapids and its surrounding suburbs, so it could provide a key test of suburban GOP voters, who are key for Haley as she’s consolidated the anti-Trump vote. Cruz carried Linn County by 5 percentage points in 2016, while Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio came in second. 

Polk County: This county is the most populous in the state and includes Des Moines. Voters there tend to hew more towards the GOP establishment, and Rubio carried the county by 2 points back in 2016. This could be a key test for Trump’s rivals like Haley, who are looking to make inroads in the suburbs, and whether Gov. Kim Reynolds’ endorsement of DeSantis resonates among voters in and around the state’s capital city. 

Scott County: This eastern county, which includes Davenport, will be key to watch to see if Haley is having a good night in Iowa. If Haley does well in the higher-educated suburbs in eastern Iowa, where voters may be less inclined to support Trump, that could be a worrisome sign for DeSantis as they compete for second place. In 2016, Rubio won Scott County by 1 percentage point. 

Sioux County: This county in northwest Iowa will test where Iowa’s evangelical voters are moving in their caucuses. This was Trump’s worst county in 2016. He won just 11% of the vote while Cruz won the county by 1 point, narrowly defeating Rubio. If Trump is running up the score in rural areas like Sioux County, that could be a sign that he’s in for a decisive win. 

In other campaign news …  

More from the Iowa Poll: There’s a lot to dig into in the NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll, including the voters driving Haley’s rise, which is fueled by anti-Trump Iowans. The poll also finds Trump dominating among first-time caucusgoers, who his campaign has been targeting as it looks for a big win.  

Biden’s big number: Biden and Democratic Party groups raised a combined $97 million during the last three months of 2023, and they ended the year with $117 million in their campaign accounts, per NBC’s Mike Memoli. 

Haley’s balancing act: NBC’s Ali Vitali and Jon Allen explore how Haley is leaning into her femininity on the campaign trail, writing that her campaign “is freighted with the tension of communicating to voters who want to be part of making history and those who don’t want to be told that’s why they should pick her. 

Caucus eve endorsements: Former presidential contender North Dakota Gov. Burgum threw his support behind Trump at an Iowa rally on Sunday. Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio also endorsed Trump, snubbing DeSantis, his home-state governor, and Haley, who endorsed Rubio’s presidential campaign in 2016. Haley did pick up an endorsement Sunday from former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.  

All aboard the Trump train: The Washington Post delves into Trump’s legal battles have fueled support among evangelicals in Iowa. And the New York Times explores how college-educated Republicans “have quietly powered [Trump’s] remarkable political recovery inside the party.

Plowing ahead: DeSantis plans to head directly to South Carolina, the fourth contest on the GOP primary calendar, the night after the Iowa caucuses, though he’ll return to New Hampshire before the state’s first-in-the-nation primary next week, NBC’s Alec Hernández reports. 

Friends in far-right places: Trump’s allies worry about his embrace of far-right activist Laura Loomer, with one telling NBC’s Allan Smith, Katherine Doyle and Vaughn Hillyard that she’s a “liability.”  

Canceled: Biden allies are worried that voters aren’t giving the president credit for the $132 billion in student debt that he canceled during his first term, NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez and Ghael Fobes report.