Private jet travel is the last thing a typical candidate would highlight in a presidential race.
But Donald Trump has never been a typical candidate.
The Republican presidential front-runner swooped back into Iowa on Saturday for a final burst of campaigning with a dramatic flyby, showing off his 757 to cheering supporters awaiting him in a chilly airplane hangar on the outskirts of Dubuque.
Moments later, the epic theme from the Hollywood thriller “Air Force One” blasted from loudspeakers as Trump’s jet rolled into place behind his makeshift stage. The Manhattan billionaire waved from the top of the staircase, walked down to the microphone and started cracking jokes about the government overpaying for the new Air Force One.
“Do you think I could have made a better deal than that?” he asked.
A Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released Saturday evening showed Trump leading Cruz by 5 points, 28% to 23%, and a rising Rubio in third place with 15%.
Cruz released a new television ad Saturday going hard after his fellow senator, calling Rubio “the Republican Obama” and painting him as a supporter of amnesty for people in the U.S. illegally and for cap-and-trade emissions rules. Both are anathema to a majority of GOP voters.
Rubio’s campaign was quick to cry foul, pointing out that the advertisement cherry-picked footage from an interview in which Rubio explicitly stated his opposition to cap-and-trade, a market-based attempt to stem global warming.
Once more, however, it was Trump who grabbed the most attention with his dramatically orchestrated arrival, two days before Iowans begin the 2016 balloting with their precinct caucuses Monday night.
Trump used the plane as the main prop for his remarks, inviting children — but not the adults — in the audience to come aboard after the rally and tying the aircraft to a discussion of the recent deal with Iran to limit that country’s nuclear program. He complained that Iran was buying airplanes made in Europe, using previously frozen assets that were released as part of the pact with the U.S. and other nations.
“They didn’t order beautiful Boeings like that,” Trump said, gesturing toward his jet. “They could have it for the right price, too, I tell you.”
Trump also wedged his plane into a critique of Cruz, mocking the senator for an undisclosed loan to his 2012 Senate campaign from the Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs.
Cruz, meantime, argued he was the only candidate in the GOP field who could fundamentally change the dysfunction in the nation’s capital.
“If you think things are going great in Washington, that we need to keep headed in the same basic direction, just kind of fiddle around the edges, then I ain’t your guy,” Cruz told hundreds of people overflowing out of a hotel event room in Ames.
Soon, he said, it would be time for voters to take control.
“You’ve seen millions in attack ads,” he added. “The time for all that media noise has passed. This is your time. This is the men and women of Iowa’s time to make a decision.”
Appearing elsewhere in Ames, Rubio fired back at his fellow senator, saying Cruz was distorting his words out of desperation — citing his new TV spot as an example — and calling into question Cruz’s ability to serve as president.
“It sounds like he’s under a lot of pressure and maybe not reacting very well to it, which is problematic because presidents are under pressure every day,” Rubio told reporters on a balcony overlooking the Iowa State University football stadium.
Finnegan reported from Dubuque and Mehta from Ames. Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak in Des Moines contributed to this report.