Clinton, Cruz fight headwinds in final push through Iowa – Politico

Hillary Clinton has two days to outrun the ghosts of 2008, the year her last seemingly invincible campaign crumbled in Iowa. She’ll spend it crisscrossing the state, shoring up a shrinking lead over liberal favorite Bernie Sanders, at the same time her would-be Republican opponent, Ted Cruz, is working to engineer a last-minute upset over a rising Donald Trump.

Saturday marks the start of a 48-hour sprint to galvanize far-flung pockets of support in caucuses that could be nail-bitingly close and set the terms for the rest of the presidential nominating season. The Des Moines Register will pour some lighter fluid on the already white-hot contests when it releases a poll — the last best snapshot of the Iowa race — at 6:45 p.m. Eastern time tonight.

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Previous polls have suggested that Trump, who traded leads with Cruz in recent weeks, has a small advantage in the Republican contest. He’s been aided by an anti-Cruz pile-on spearheaded by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who’s been lambasting Cruz for opposing federal ethanol subsidies, a lifeline for Iowa farmers.

On Saturday morning, Trump projected trademark confidence, tweeting: “I will be in Iowa all day and until Tuesday morning. Finally, after all these years of watching stupidity, we will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

And Cruz, leading into the weekend, is sticking to his script, arguing that Trump is not the conservative the Republican base says it wants. “Donald each day seems to be getting more and more dismayed, more and more rattled, and he responds by just launching personal insults and attacks,” Cruz told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. He added, “I am not going to insult Donald. I do think the voters are making a determination of who has been a consistent conservative.”

Clinton, on the other hand, is fighting larger forces within the Democratic Party: a lurch to the left that’s allowed Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” to paint her as out of touch and too close to Wall Street interests.

Whether Clinton and Cruz are successful will be dependent on factors beyond their control — does Trump manage to motivate thousands of first-time caucus-goers, for example, or will a developing winter storm strike early and disrupt voting patterns?

On Saturday, Clinton will get a boost from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who will double as a high-wattage campaign surrogate in three Saturday stops. She’ll hold two events herself before joining him in the evening, along with their daughter Chelsea, at a rally in Cedar Rapids. Sanders won’t have a former president at his side for his five stops, but he adds some star power to his event schedule with an Iowa City appearance alongside the band Vampire Weekend.

A list of Sanders surrogates distributed by his campaign Saturday morning included Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Chuy Garcia, who challenged Rahm Emmanuel in last year’s Chicago mayoral race.

On the Republican side, a fierce battle is underway for the third-place slot, an opportunity for a center-right Republican to emerge as an alternative to Cruz or Trump. Marco Rubio has been ascendant in recent days — so much so that some rival camps suggested he could even sneak into second place, though his team is eager to downplay the possibility — and would try to segue that momentum into a similarly strong finish in New Hampshire, which votes Feb. 9.

Cruz clearly feels the heat, and goes into Saturday poised to fight both Trump and Rubio. “We’re seeing something really remarkable happening,” he said on Hewitt’s show. “The Washington establishment is abandoning Marco Rubio, because I think they’ve determined that he cannot win, and they’re flocking to Donald Trump.”

Rubio begins the day in western Iowa, with events in Sioux City and Council Bluffs before heading back to the Des Moines area for an event in Ames and an Urbandale rally that will feature an appearance from popular Sen. Chuck Grassley, who’s been appearing with other candidates all week. His trip east is nearly the direct inverse of Cruz, who begins the day near Des Moines and works his way west to Sioux City.

Two of the three governors running — New Jersey’s Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — are hopeful that a third- or fourth-place showing injects momentum into their middling campaigns. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is spending the weekend in New Hampshire, where he’s seeking to cement his status as the establishment-lane favorite.

Christie and Bush — along with Trump — will be blanketing eastern Iowa for most of the day, with stops in cities like Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Clear Lake, Clinton and Davenport.

One wildcard: Ben Carson. The retired neurosurgeon briefly led polls in Iowa before his campaign fell apart in November. But he’s held onto a loyal base of support, creeping close to 10 percent of likely caucus-goers. If he’s able to hang onto his committed backers, it’s bad news for Cruz, who has been peeling support from the hemorrhaging Carson campaign since he began to decline. Carson will spend the day primarily in northwest Iowa before calling it a night in West Des Moines.

Perhaps the trickiest part of the equation for the campaigns is estimating Republican turnout. Estimates have ranged wildly from a low of 120,000 — about the same level as 2012 — to a record-shattering 170,000, the latest prediction in a Monmouth University poll. The higher the turnout, according to Monmouth, the likelier a Trump victory. Cruz’s campaign recently pegged turnout closer to traditional levels, in the 125,000 to 134,000 range.

Another uncertainty for both parties is the weather. The National Weather Service expects a potentially significant winter storm forming across parts of the Midwest to hold off until late Monday night or Tuesday morning, sparing most caucus locations. But the snow could start earlier in parts of southern Iowa, making travel hazardous for the caucuses south of Route 34, in cities like Red Oak, Osceola, Ottumwa and Burlington.

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