6 weeks until Iowa caucuses: Where things stand in the presidential race

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a commit to caucus campaign event at the Whiskey River bar on December 02, 2023 in Ankeny, Iowa.PlayScott Olson/Getty Images
WATCH Republican presidential candidates descend on Iowa

Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses are six weeks away as of Monday, with former President Donald Trump maintaining a hefty lead in Republican primary polls while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley jockey for more distant second place as they argue they are better alternatives given Trump's extensive controversies and legal trouble.

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The state's nominating contest on Jan. 15 is a prominent opportunity for candidates to inject a surge of momentum into their campaigns, if they pull off a strong result -- or risk seeing interest around their candidacies fade if Iowa voters reject them.

The last three Iowa GOP caucus winners -- then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, then-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- ultimately did not win their party's presidential nominations in 2008, 2012 or 2016, though each win brought renewed public attention to their chances.

Nonetheless, the caucus results are the first definitive indication of where voters actually stand, after months and months of polling.

Here's where things stand.

Trump maintains a huge lead

According to 538's polling average, Trump remains the clear favorite. He hasn't dropped below 40% support in the polls since late August. No other candidate has topped 20% in that same period.

Still, DeSantis and Haley trying to chip away at his advantage.

Trump faces some political headwinds in the state, including knocking popular Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds for her endorsement of DeSantis.

Trump has not traveled as extensively in Iowa as DeSantis has, but his lead underscores the continued popularity he has among the GOP base.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a commit to caucus campaign event at the Whiskey River bar on December 02, 2023 in Ankeny, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a commit to caucus campaign event at the Whiskey River bar on December 02, 2023 in Ankeny, Iowa.

DeSantis still projecting confidence

DeSantis has put a premium on Iowa's caucuses, insisting he'll pull out a win next month as part of what he calls his plan to show another Republican can succeed even if they aren't named Trump.

"We're going to win Iowa," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "It's going to help propel us to the nomination. But I think we'll have a lot of work that we’ll have to do beyond that. I don't think you take anything for granted."

DeSantis has blitzed the state, visiting all 99 counties to reach the "full Grassley" -- a feat named after the state's senior Sen. Chuck Grassley. One of DeSantis' affiliated super PACs, Never Back Down, has also established an expansive ground presence throughout the state.

However, his polling hasn't budged in recent months, according to 538, and remains notably lower than in the weeks after he first entered the race in May.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to guests during a campaign rally at the Thunderdome on December 02, 2023 in Newton, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to guests during a campaign rally at the Thunderdome on December 02, 2023 in Newton, Iowa.

Haley gaining some ground with just weeks to go

As the weeks tick by for Haley to make her pitch to voters, her support has been ticking up in Iowa and across the country, 538's polling average shows.

Haley sat at a lowly 3.8% in 538's Iowa polling average on Aug. 23 and now sits at 15%, a little less than 3 points behind DeSantis.

The South Carolinians' swell of support comes after likely primary voters gave her high marks in three straight strong debate performances, on top of a heavier travel schedule that ramped up once her polling began to improve.

Haley also recently won the support of the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity Action, which is expected to add more on-the-ground infrastructure to help her.

Rest of the field either falling flat or not even bothering

Outside of Trump, DeSantis and Haley, Republican candidates are largely not breaking through..

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy captured attention with growing momentum in the polls in August, but that has since stalled and he is stuck at approximately 5% in 538's polling average, even after expanding his campaign infrastructure in the state.

And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is sitting at about 4%, though he's largely forgoing the caucuses to focus on New Hampshire, where he believes the more independent primary electorate could be a better fit for his anti-Trump message.

No action on the Democratic side

Democrats, who demoted Iowa in their primary calendar for other states that they feel are more representative of their base, are largely staying away from the state.

Iowa's Democratic caucuses in 2020 were infamously marred by technical glitches and saw now-President Joe Biden finish fifth, sparking questions over how representative electorate was of Democrats elsewhere.

The 2024 Democratic Iowa caucuses will also be held on Jan. 15 but the process that really matters, where voters select their presidential preference, will be done via mail ending on March 5.