By Gram Slattery and James Oliphant
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (Reuters) -With just one week to go before the first contest of the Republican presidential nominating process, the top three contenders are intensifying attacks on one another as they bid to be the one who takes on President Joe Biden in November’s election.
For much of the campaign, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley shied away from criticizing the clear frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, unless prompted by an audience question.
They also went after each other somewhat sparingly in conversations with voters, preferring to dedicate their stump speeches to their own personal and professional biographies.
But the tone has shifted as they blitz the snowy plains of Iowa in the final stretch before the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses on Jan. 15.
At a packed sports bar outside Des Moines on Sunday, DeSantis, who has staked a huge amount on a strong performance in the state, brought up Haley multiple times unprompted, while also taking jabs at Trump, suggesting the former president would resort to dirty tricks on the night of the caucuses.
DeSantis and Haley are essentially tied for second place in Iowa, while Trump holds a sizeable lead, according to most polls.
DeSantis said that, if elected, he would defund the United Nations, as he taps into a conservative voter base that is skeptical of multilateral institutions.
“That’s a contrast in this race because Trump funded it gladly all four years. And Haley was in the United Nations!” he said.
In an interview with KCSJ Radio in Sioux City on Monday, Haley bashed Trump for fomenting “chaos,” a line of attack she repeated at an evening town hall hosted by Fox News.
“Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him,” she said at the event in Des Moines. She later added that Trump “broke” many things in Washington during his time in office, but “he never fixed it.”
Trump has been taking fiercer swipes at Haley, who has risen in the polls in New Hampshire, the second state to hold a nominating contest, with its primary slated for Jan. 23.
In a swing through Iowa on Friday and Saturday, he attacked Haley both on policy grounds and for her popularity among some big-dollar donors.
The candidates’ allies have followed suit.
Haley’s supporters at SFA Fund – a super PAC that can raise and spend unlimited sums so long as it doesn’t coordinate with the campaign – have spent more than $4 million since Jan. 1 on ads opposing DeSantis, according to disclosures it has filed to the Federal Election Commission.
Trump allies at the Make America Great Again super PAC have spent more than $2 million during the same period attacking Haley through television ads and mailings. Two super PACs allied with DeSantis have spent more than $1 million so far this year on ads and mailing opposing both Haley and Trump.
In other news from the trail:
Disruptions from storms are a staple of the Iowa caucuses, but the winter blast hitting the state this week comes at a particularly bad time for the candidates trying to catch Trump.
Haley was forced to cancel an event on Monday in western Iowa, where snow was already beginning to fall. Campaign staff could be seen turning away potential caucus-goers, several of them visibly disappointed, at the door of a small restaurant in Sioux City.
DeSantis had already decamped to his home state of Florida, where he will address the legislature on Tuesday. A looming question is when he will be able to get back and whether anyone be able to come see him.
The storm is expected to dump a foot of snow in some parts of Iowa with high winds and heavy drifts. Iowans are used to dealing with snow – dressing in layers and driving trucks with four-wheel drives – but the inclement conditions may test their resolve to come out and see a candidate one more time.
Several high-profile attendees due to appear at Trump events have also had to cancel due to the bad weather.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee – who won the Iowa caucuses as a presidential candidate in 2008 – said he and his daughter, the current Arkansas governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, would not be able to make it to Iowa on Monday as scheduled.
Comedian Roseanne Barr, whose racist tweet led to the revival of the popular sitcom “Roseanne” being canceled in 2018, will not join the campaign in Iowa on Tuesday due to the bad weather, Trump’s campaign said.
The already chilly Iowa weather is expected to take a turn for the frigid in coming days, with night-time temperatures forecast to approach -10 Fahrenheit (-23 Celsius) later in the week.
(Reporting by James Oliphant, Gram Slattery, Jason Lange, Nathan Layne and Costas Pitas; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Deepa Babington and Michael Perry)