4 Reasons Anything Could Happen in Iowa
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The impeachment trial has slanted the playing field
Another complicating factor: Three candidates with chances for a strong showing are senators, meaning they will be spending most of the remaining days before the caucuses in Washington at President Trump’s impeachment trial, hitting campaign stops mostly on weekends.
“The race hasn’t really taken shape,” Doug Sosnik, a longtime Democratic strategist, said in an interview. “Impeachment contributes to the backdrop of uncertainty.”
Typically, about a week before the caucuses, candidates will shift from town hall events and more intimate voter forums to larger rallies. The idea is to boost momentum, and to expand the number of voters that the candidate can reach directly. But for Senators Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the opportunity to hold major events will be limited.
“I would like nothing more” than to be campaigning in Iowa constantly, Ms. Klobuchar told a crowd there on Monday before heading back to Washington for the trial. “I would love to do 10 counties a day, but I am going to be there,” she added, referring to the Senate.
Mr. Sosnik said the trial’s effects might go beyond simply keeping certain candidates off the campaign trail. “It’s been a blockage of focus on the race,” he said. “I think when the national press has largely been focused on Washington, not Iowa, it has already hurt the second-tier candidates and candidates at the bottom of the first tier trying to break through.”
The polling picture remains in flux
No nonpartisan polls of Iowa have come out in the past week, and the most recent ones tell conflicting stories. The CNN/Register poll showed Mr. Sanders at 20 percent support, giving him an edge over his rivals (though his lead over Ms. Warren, with 17 percent, and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., with 16 percent, fell within the survey’s margin of error). The Monmouth poll, by contrast, found former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at 24 percent and Mr. Sanders at 18 percent.
Both Ms. Warren and Ms. Klobuchar have picked up some high-profile newspaper endorsements in recent days that could add wind to their sails.
To the degree that the situation in Iowa reflects national trends, there have been some good signs of late for Mr. Sanders. His support has ticked up in nationwide polls recently, while that of Ms. Warren — his top rival among left-wing Democrats — has remained stuck in the midteens. A nationwide CNN poll released on Tuesday showed Mr. Sanders at 27 percent, three points above Mr. Biden (again, this spread falls within the poll’s margin of error).
Mr. Biden’s strength, meanwhile, has proved remarkably durable, despite a relatively low-key campaign. He has had a lower budget than his closest rivals, and he has appeared to lean more on his status as a Democratic power player than on attention-grabbing proposals or moments.
The Real Clear Politics polling average in Iowa still gives him a clear advantage, putting him nearly four points up on Mr. Sanders and slightly further ahead of Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg.
This year’s caucus may result in a split decision
The caucuses on Feb. 3 will help to set the tone for the first stage of the primary race, providing those who finish strongly with a jolt of momentum — what Vice President George H. W. Bush called “the big mo” after he won Iowa in 1988 — going into the New Hampshire primary a week later.
A stronger-than-expected finish can boost a candidate’s chances, even if that candidate doesn’t land in first place. And this year, changes to the caucuses’ reporting process could mean that more candidates stand to benefit.
For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party will report the raw, statewide vote count for all the candidates, as well as the total number of delegates awarded to them.
“You might have one candidate who gets more delegates and another who attracted more people to actually show up for them,” Ms. Selzer said. “So you might have more than one kind of victory.”
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