Democracy 2020 Digest: Democrats battle to avoid Iowa caucus collapse

DES MOINES – After a more than yearlong Democratic primary battle, the voters finally get to weigh in – as Monday night’s Iowa caucuses kick off the presidential nominating calendar.

And for many of the Democratic contenders, a strong finish in Iowa is crucial for their survival in the high-stakes battle for their party’s nomination.

CANDIDATES MAKE THE CLOSING PITCHES AHEAD OF CAUCUS

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – who held a slight polling advantage over former Vice President Joe Biden in the final stretch – was urging his supporters to show up in force.

The populist senator who’s making his second straight White House bid stressed on Sunday night to supporters that, “If the turnout tomorrow night is low, we’re going to lose. If the turnout is high, we’re going win. Our job together is to create the highest turnout in the history of the Iowa caucus.”

That happened in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama made history by winning the caucuses on his way to capturing the nomination and eventually the White House. Nearly 240,000 Democrats turned out to caucus in Iowa that year. But the turnout plunged to just 171,109 in 2016, when eventual nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly edged Sanders.

Sanders supporters appear energized as he drew 3,000 people to a rally in Cedar Rapids this weekend, which his campaign touted was the largest of any Democratic contender in Iowa this cycle.

“I’m looking at turnout. Will it exceed 2008?” said former Democratic National Committee chair and Fox News contributor Donna Brazile.

Biden – who drew over 1,000 supporters Sunday, in what was his largest crowd in Iowa – could use a strong finish in the Hawkeye State to help pump up his campaign coffers. Biden trails Sanders and his other top-tier rivals Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the crucial metric of campaign cash on hand.

The former vice president, delivering pizzas to a campaign field office in Des Moines on Monday, pushed back against suggestions he couldn’t survive without winning in Iowa.

“We’re going to survive all the way through this whole thing,” he told reporters.

SLIPPING BUTTIGIEG UNDER PRESSURE TO CLOSE STRONG IN IOWA

Buttigieg – who’s seen his support in Iowa polls slip the past month – has struggled to resonate with African-American and Latino voters. With more diverse Nevada and South Carolina following Iowa and the first primary state of New Hampshire on the calendar, strong finishes in the first two states seem imperative.

The candidate – the youngest in the field – has drawn large crowds the past week. On Monday he stopped by a field office in West Des Moines to thank staffers and volunteers.

“You have sacrificed. I can’t thank you enough. You are an absolute force sweeping through Iowa right now,” he said.

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg thanks staff and volunteers during a stop at a campaign field office in West Des Moines, IA on Feb. 3, 2020

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg thanks staff and volunteers during a stop at a campaign field office in West Des Moines, IA on Feb. 3, 2020

Also looking for a strong showing is Warren. She’s seen her support in polls in the early voting states and nationally drop since the late autumn. But the progressive senator  – along with Sanders – has a powerful organization in the state and is banking on her ground game to help her come out of Iowa with momentum.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota is facing the danger of not being viable. That happens when a candidate fails to crack 15 percent support at an individual caucus precinct and his or her supporters then have the option of supporting another candidate or remaining neutral.

But regardless of her finish in Iowa, Klobuchar pledged during an interview this weekend on Fox News Sunday that “I’m going to New Hampshire no matter what.”

IOWA CHAOS: CAUCUS RULE CHANGE COULD CREATE DUELING CLAIMS OF VICTORY BY CANDIDATES

Making the results of Monday night’s caucuses even more complicated are new changes to reporting the results that may result in more than one contender claiming victory.

For the first time, the state party will not only report the percentages of the number of state delegates won by each candidate – which has been done for decades – but also the raw vote totals at the beginning of the caucuses and at the end of the evening.

“There’s this old saying that there’s three tickets out of Iowa. I think tonight we may see four, perhaps five,” said Brazile, who ran then-Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Iowa muscle flex by Trump campaign

President Trump’s re-election campaign is out in force in Iowa on caucus day.

While all the action and the national spotlight are on the Democratic caucuses, there are Republican caucuses being held as well across the state.

DON JR. FIRES BAC AS SHOUTING ANTI-TRUMP PROTESTER INTERRUPTS TRUMP CAMPAIGN NEWS CONFERENCE

Roughly 80 top Trump surrogates – including leading current and former members of the Trump administration and some of the president’s biggest supporters in Congress – attended a news conference in West Des Moines on Monday afternoon before fanning out across the state to Republican caucus precincts.

The idea is to pump up the turnout at the GOP caucuses.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale highlighted that “we built a well oiled machine” and that the Iowa caucuses are “the first test of our grassroots campaign.”

And Parscale emphasized that “we’re here in force to show the American people that this is a real movement” and explained that “today’s the first step in that process.”

Parscale was accompanied on the podium by both of the president’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., as well as top campaign offiicials Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle.

Eric Trump touted the campaign’s massive fundraising effort and unprecedented war chest. Spotlighting the Trump campaign’s huge current advantage over the Democratic presidential campaigns, he showcased that “right now we have over $200 million cash on hand. Since inception we’ve raised $465 million dollars.”

Among those on hand was 2016 Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski, a close friend and outside adviser to the president who is advising and assisting the 2020 campaign.

Asked by Fox News how the 2020 campaign differs from the organization he steered during the 2016 primaries, Lewandowski said “it’s a completely different operation from running an insurgent campaign that we took over the Republican Party to now having a campaign that everybody is united on the Republican side.”