MANCHESTER, Iowa (AP) — The 2016 presidential contenders are begging their Iowa supporters to get to the caucuses Monday and Donald Trump, true to form, is in-your-face about it.
“You’re from Iowa,” Trump told a Dubuque crowd Saturday. “Are you afraid of snow?”
A snowfall forecast to start Monday night appeared more likely to hinder the hopefuls in their rush out of Iowa than the voters who will be flocking to the caucuses in the first contest of the presidential campaign. Still, there was every reason for candidates to be urgent about turnout in a contest being fought down to the wire in both parties. Democrat Bernie Sanders told supporters that his race with Hillary Clinton looks like a tossup and every caucus-goer counts.
On the Republican side, Ted Cruz directed much of his final advertising against the Florida senator in the frenzied weekend prelude, feeding a Republican feud that turned increasingly bitter in the final days.
Considered to be vying with front-runner Donald Trump for Iowa victory Monday, Cruz denounced the next in line, according to polls, sharply challenging Rubio’s conservative credentials on the airwaves while ignoring him face to face with Iowans. One ad said darkly of Rubio: “Tax hikes. Amnesty. The Republican Obama.”
“The desperation kicks in,” Rubio said in response to Cruz. “From my experience, when people start attacking you it’s because you’re doing something right.”
Iowa offers only a small contingent of the delegates who will determine the nominees, but the game of expectations counts for far more than the electoral math in the state. Campaigns worked aggressively to set those expectations in their favor (meaning, lower them) for Iowa, next-up New Hampshire and beyond.
Asked whether Rubio could win or come in second, his senior strategist Todd Harris laughingly responded with an obscenity and said the goal in Iowa is third, behind the flamboyant Trump and the highly organized Cruz.
“There’s no question we are feeling some wind at our back,” Harris told The Associated Press. But, he added, “It’s very hard to compete with the greatest show on earth and the greatest ground game in Iowa history. So we feel very confident that what we need to do here is finish a strong third.
In the last major preference poll before the caucuses, Trump had the support of 28 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers, with Cruz at 23 percent and Rubio at 15 percent. The Iowa Poll, published by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg, also found Clinton with 45 percent support to Sanders’ 42 percent in the Democratic race. The poll was taken Tuesday to Friday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Cruz’s campaign was challenged by Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate over a mailer sent to potential voters that seemed designed to look like an official notice warning recipients about “low expected voter turnout in your area.” The mailer refers to a “voting violation” and grades the recipient’s voting history and that of several neighbors, citing public records.
Pate said Cruz’s campaign “misrepresents Iowa election law.” There’s “no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting,” he said, and insinuating otherwise is “not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa caucuses.”
Cruz brushed off the fuss. “I will apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote,” he said.