With voting just a day away, candidates are sprinting across Iowa
By SEAN SULLIVAN AND ABBY PHILLIP | The Washington Post | Published: February 1, 2016
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Donald Trump made his final pitch in the heart of evangelical Iowa. Hillary Clinton closed her second Iowa campaign with daughter Chelsea and husband Bill by her side. Bernie Sanders went big and small, drawing hundreds to rallies and dropping in on canvassers in a pair of towns. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio continued to snipe at each other on TV, while holding dueling events in Davenport.
And all across Iowa, a slew of second- and third-tier candidates tried to pick up whatever support they could muster on the final day before the first votes of the 2016 election were set to be cast.
"I feel like I'm being courted by several boyfriends to date me. And they are all nice!" said Sheila DeVries of Cedar Falls, who came to see Rubio campaign at a college campus here but is still deciding whom to support.
On the Republican side, Trump's anti-immigrant, anger-driven campaign has catapulted him to the top of the polls in Iowa and ahead of Cruz, a senator from Texas who has been badly wounded by attacks after he looked poised to win late last year. But uncertainty about who will turn out to vote has led some to believe that Cruz could still spring an upset. Rubio, meanwhile, appears to be solidly in third place, though it remains to be seen how strong a finish he will have.
The Democratic field is much smaller but no less competitive. Clinton, whose comfortable lead in Iowa evaporated earlier this year, has scrambled to try to fend off Sanders, who has attracted massive crowds and an intense grass-roots following that has put an Iowa upset within reach. Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley is far behind and could see his candidacy come to an effective end on Monday night.
Trump's day started with a service at a nondenominational church in Council Bluffs. Later, he rallied at a middle school with Jerry Falwell Jr. and spoke about his signature issue, immigration. He announced that Sarah Palin will again join him on Monday for a final get-out-the-vote effort.
In a telephone interview broadcast on ABC News' "This Week," Trump bragged about "how well I'm doing with evangelicals." In 2012, nearly 6 out of 10 Republican caucus-goers identified as evangelical or born-again Christians.
Clinton spent much of the day in western Iowa with her daughter, Chelsea, before heading back to Des Moines for a nighttime rally that included former president Bill Clinton.
"We are getting down to the last hours," Clinton told the crowd of over 500 as she stood underneath a statue of Abraham Lincoln at the eponymous high school in Council Bluffs. "I want you to hold me accountable for delivering for you."
She added a line aimed squarely at Sanders: "I don't want to overpromise and underdeliver."
Forecasts calling for some snow on Monday could affect turnout at the caucuses, but Clinton urged her supporters not to fret.
"Don't worry about the weather," she said. "I have on very good guidance that the storm won't start until after midnight!"
Sanders rallied in Waterloo and stopped to talk to smaller groups of canvassers in Marshalltown and Ames.
"I think the excitement and the energy is with our campaign," the senator from Vermont told a crowd of about 650 people in Waterloo.
Sanders also took aim at a Clinton ad airing in Iowa that doesn't mention him by name but that he said suggests he is attacking Planned Parenthood and protecting the interests of the National Rifle Association.
"Some protection," a raspy-voiced Sanders said. "I've got a D-minus record from the NRA."
Sanders also held a nighttime rally in Des Moines, where planned guests were to include "Hunger Games" star Josh Hutcherson and the band Foster the People.
Cruz, who is hoping to turn the tide after defending himself against barbs from Rubio and Trump, campaigned with conservative radio host Glenn Beck. Cruz backers hope his strong ground operation and deep network of Christian conservative activists will propel him to a surprise finish on Monday night. They hoped that the fact that his bus got stuck in the mud and had to be towed out on Sunday would not prove to be a bad omen.
Rubio, a youthful senator from Florida, rounded out a busy week in Iowa with a swing through the eastern part of the state, where he hopes for strong support to boost him to a clear third-place finish. He spoke with an urgent tone.
"This one we can't get wrong. It's not just about who we like the most but about who gives us the best chance to win," Rubio said here in Cedar Falls, underscoring the electability argument he has been making for the last week.
In dueling interviews broadcast Sunday morning, Cruz and Rubio, who are battling to be seen as the strongest alternative to Trump, struck hard at each other, as they have for several weeks.
"A vote for Marco is a vote for amnesty," Cruz said on CNN's "State of the Union." "And I will tell you this, if we nominate a candidate who supports amnesty, who has the same position on amnesty as Hillary Clinton, we will lose."
Rubio fired right back.
"The lie that his whole campaign is built on is that he's the only conservative and everyone else is a sellout and a RINO (Republican in name only), and it's absurd," Rubio said on the same program. "I think as people learn more about his record, they'll realize that he really is very calculated. He's always looking to take whatever position it takes to win votes or raise money."
Beyond the top three sit a crowded pack of candidates who have failed to pick up much momentum in Iowa. They include retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, and the last two Iowa caucus winners, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Nonetheless, how well they do could determine how well Cruz and Rubio do, since all will attract some support that could bolster the two senators.
Sensing that they stand virtually no chance of a strong showing, Kasich, Bush and Christie will spend caucus night in New Hampshire, the next state to vote and where their prospects are better.
Sunday was also the latest deadline for reporting fundraising totals to the Federal Election Commission, providing a fresh glimpse of which candidates will have the cash to compete as the race moves beyond Iowa.
Boosted by $2.5 million apiece from billionaire hedge-fund managers Paul Singer and Ken Griffin, a super PAC backing Rubio raised a respectable $14.4 million in the second half of 2015, the group said Sunday. It started the year with $13.9 on hand.
Sanders's campaign said it brought in more than $20 million in January, a huge sum that underscores the strength of its online fundraising operation. Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said that the campaign is on pace to beat Clinton's goal of raising $50 million in the first quarter of 2016.
Voters here in Iowa could be a powerful factor in determining which candidates pick up steam in the money chase during the coming weeks. The surest way to win over donors is to show them wins in the early states.
Judi Thallas and her son, 25-year-old Nathan, are indicative of just how fluid the election remains, even at this late date. Both are planning to caucus for the first time on Monday and are still deciding between Sanders and Clinton. Job losses, chronic illnesses in their family, and the need for health insurance have made the election all the more critical.
"We have a lot at stake," said Thallas, 56, who is leaning toward Clinton. "I want to be sure I have all the information, and then emotions come into play."
Phillip reported from Council Bluffs. Matea Gold in Washington, Jose A. DelReal in Council Bluffs, John Wagner in Waterloo, Katie Zezima and Philip Rucker in Des Moines, and Ed O'Keefe in Manchester, N.H., contributed to this report.
Clockwise from top left: Ted Cruz in Emmetsburg, Iowa, on Jan. 29 (Joshua Lott for The Washington Post); Hillary Clinton in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 30, 2016. (Melina Mara/Washington Post); Bernie Sanders in Des Moines (Joshua Lott for The Washington Post); Donald Trump at Drake University on Jan. 28 (Charles Ommanney, Washington Post).