Trump, Cruz, Rubio battle in leadoff; Clinton, Sanders in tight battle for Iowa

The Contender game creators Justin Robert Young and John Teasdale visit Iowa to promote their product during caucus season. (Credit: Chance Seales)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were locked in a tight battle Monday in Iowa’s leadoff presidential caucuses as the two candidates sought validation for their rival appeals to move the nation forward through Clinton’s incremental, pragmatic approach or Sanders’ call for political revolution.

Nine months after launching their campaigns, Clinton and Sanders faced Iowa voters in equally precarious positions.

Long the front-runner, Clinton was working to banish the possibility of dual losses in Iowa and in New Hampshire, the nation’s first primary, where she trails the Vermont senator. Two straight defeats could set off alarms within the party and throw into question her ability to defeat a Republican.

Sanders hoped to replicate President Barack Obama’s pathway to the presidency by using a victory in Iowa to catapult his passion and ideals of “democratic socialism” deep into the primaries. He reported raising $20 million — mostly online — during January and could experience a fundraising bonanza if he prevails in Iowa.

“We’ve got a tie ballgame — that’s where we are,” Sanders told volunteers and supporters in Des Moines Monday, imploring them to turn out and caucus. “We will struggle tonight if the voter turnout is low. That’s a fact.”

The race was close between Clinton and Sanders, according to entrance poll interviews with early arrivals to caucus sites conducted by Edison Research for AP and television networks.

Speaking to reporters briefly in the doorway of his campaign bus Monday, Sanders already was working to discount the importance of a Clinton edge coming out of Iowa, saying that if the former secretary of state “ends up with two delegates more of many, many hundred delegates, you tell me why that’s the end of the world.”

“This is a national campaign. We are in this to win at the convention. We’re taking this all of the way,” he said.

A loss in Iowa would be a major setback for Sanders’ upstart challenge against Clinton, who has deep ties throughout the party’s establishment and a strong following among a more diverse electorate that plays a larger role in primary contests in February and March.

Clinton hoped to overcome her surprising 2008 defeat to Obama in Iowa, which transformed the then-first term Illinois senator from a longshot into serious contender.

Caucus-goers were choosing between Clinton’s pledge to use her deep experience in government to bring about steady progress on democratic ideals and Sanders’ call for radical change in a system rigged against ordinary Americans.

“Hillary goes out and works with what we have to work with. She works across the aisle and gets things accomplished,” said 54-year-old John Grause, a precinct captain for Clinton in Nevada, Iowa.

“It’s going to be Bernie. Hillary is history. He hasn’t been bought,” countered 55-year-old Su Podraza-Nagle, 55, who was caucusing for Sanders in the same town.

Six in 10 Democratic caucus-goers said they were looking for a candidate who will continue President Barack Obama’s policies, according to preliminary entrance polls of those beginning to arrive at caucus locations.

Caucus-goers were about evenly split on whether the most important issue facing the country was health care, the economy or income inequality.

About 4 in 10 say they were first-time caucus attendees, about the same proportion who said so in 2008.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who’s failed to break single digits in most polls, trailed Clinton and Sanders by wide margins and was only expected to affect the outcome in a tight race.


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Republicans began caucusing Monday night in what looks to be a three-way battle among billionaire Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in an intense fight for the GOP’s identity and soul.

As the first presidential primary contest of 2016, Iowa’s decision will shape the path of the Republican race. Trump has surged atop national polls with his aggressive populism and packed rallies, while Cruz carved out support in Iowa with his fiery conservatism and methodical outreach. Rubio is working to emerge as the clear favorite in his party’s mainstream wing, which fears either Cruz or Trump would be disastrous in a general election matchup against the Democratic nominee.

The results in Iowa may also narrow what has been an unusually crowded Republican field, with a number of candidates struggling to achieve the turnout needed to continue. Trump, Cruz and Rubio were in a tight fight for victory, according to entrance poll interviews conducted by Edison Research for the Associated Press and television networks. The key to winning may depend on tapping into voter frustrations with the federal government. Nine out of 10 Republican voters said they’re angry or dissatisfied with Washington.

Davenport’s Dwight Reese, 55, had been torn between Trump and Cruz but said before leaving for his caucus site that he’d decided last night to back Cruz “100 percent” since Trump hasn’t always held conservative positions.

“I got kind of caught up in the Trump phenomenon,” said Reese, who works at an automotive warehouse.

But he said Cruz “stands for everything I believe in. I believe I can trust him.”

Likewise, Joshua Eike, 42, had been torn between Trump and Cruz. But the entrepreneur from Yale, Iowa, decided, after some final research on both campaigns’ websites, to caucus for the outsider Trump, who has never held elected office.

“He truly is not a standard politician and that’s important to me,” Eike said.

Monday’s contest will offer the first hard evidence of whether Trump can turn the legion of fans drawn to his plainspoken populism into voters. The scope of the billionaire’s organization in Iowa is a mystery, though Trump himself has intensified his campaign schedule during the final sprint.

Trump and his wife went to the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in West Des Moines in an unannounced visit to make a final pitch. Trump says he’s feeling good about the results.

Cruz has modeled his campaign after past Iowa winners, visiting all of the state’s 99 counties and courting influential evangelical and conservative leaders. He has spent the closing days of the Iowa contest attacking Rubio in an effort to keep the Florida senator from inching into second place.

Many Republicans view Rubio as a more mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz, though his viability will depend on staying competitive in Iowa.

Rubio in recent days lashed back at the many attacks aimed in his direction, but adopted the same reflective tone as many of his rivals in the campaign’s final hours, telling NBC that Cruz “has a very strong ground game.” He dismissed the attacks against him as “politics as usual.”

Meanwhile, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich barely register in recent Iowa polls. The trio of governors is banking instead on strong showings in New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary to jumpstart their White House bids.

Iowa has decidedly mixed results in picking the parties’ eventual nominees. The past two Republican caucus winners — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — faded as the race stretched on.

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