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Democratic, GOP races tight as Iowa kicks off 2016 voting

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pauses with a sign with his autograph on it while greeting his supporters at a rally on Sunday in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

DES MOINES, Iowa » In a high-stakes test of enthusiasm versus organization, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders hope to ride voter energy into victories in today’s Iowa caucuses, as Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton bank on sophisticated get-out-the vote operations months in the making.

The caucuses kick off the 2016 presidential nominating contests, marking a new phase in a tumultuous election that has exposed Americans’ deep frustration with Washington and given rise to candidates few expected to challenge for their party’s nomination when they first entered the race.

After months of campaigning and more than $200 million spent on advertising, the race for supremacy in Iowa is close in both parties. Among Republicans, Trump appears to hold a slim edge over Cruz, a fiery senator from Texas. Clinton and Sanders entered today in a surprisingly tight Democratic race, reviving memories of the former secretary of state’s disappointing showing in Iowa eight years ago.

“We knocked on 125,000 doors this past weekend,” Clinton told NBC’s Today this morning. “Although it’s a tight race, a lot of the people who are committed to caucusing for me will be there and standing up for me and I will do the same for them in the campaign and in the presidency.”

Sanders, the Vermont senator who has been generating big, youthful crowds across the state, urged voters to help him “make history” with a win in Iowa.

In a show of financial strength, Sanders’ campaign announced Sunday it had raised $20 million in January alone. While Sanders has a large team in Iowa, his operation got off to a later start, particularly compared with Clinton, who has had staff on the ground in the state for nearly a year.

Today’s contest will also 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, including a pair of rallies today.

Cruz has modeled his campaign after past Iowa winners, visiting all of the state’s 99 counties and courting influential evangelical and conservative leaders. With the state seemingly tailor-made for his brand of uncompromising conservatism, a loss to Trump will likely be viewed as a failure to meet expectations.

Seeking to tamp down expectations, Cruz said Sunday that he’s just pleased to be in the mix for first place.

“If you had told me a year ago that two days out from the Iowa caucuses we would be neck and neck, effectively tied for first place in the state of Iowa, I would have been thrilled,” Cruz said.

Cruz has spent the closing days of the Iowa campaign focused intensely on Marco Rubio, trying to ensure the Florida senator doesn’t inch into second place. Rubio is viewed by many Republicans as a more mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz, though he’ll need to stay competitive in Iowa in order to maintain his viability.

Rubio, who traditionally lashed back at the attacks, adopted the same reflective tone as many of his rivals, telling NBC that Cruz “has a very strong ground game.” He diminished the attacks against him as “politics as usual.”

The campaigns were anxiously keeping an eye on the weather. A snowfall forecast to start tonight appeared more likely to hinder the hopefuls in their rush out of Iowa than the voters. Republican John Kasich already had decamped to New Hampshire, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush following behind this afternoon, hours before the caucuses start.

The trio of governors has had a light footprint in Iowa, banking instead on strong showings in New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary to jumpstart their White House bids. Yet some Republican leaders worry that if Trump or Cruz pull off a big victory in Iowa, it would be difficult to slow their momentum.

Bush, for example, started the year as a fundraising juggernaut. But according to records released Sunday, both his super PAC and campaign fundraising declined significantly in the later months of 2015 as he struggled to keep up with Trump.

Unlike in primaries, where voters can cast their ballots throughout the day, the caucuses begin across Iowa at 7 p.m. CST. Democrats will gather at 1,100 locations and Republicans at nearly 900 spots.

Turnout was expected to be high. The Iowa Republican Party expected GOP turnout to top the previous record of 120,000 people in 2012. Democrats also expect a strong turnout, though not nearly as large as the record-setting 240,000 people who caucused in the 2008 contest between Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

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. But Obama’s unexpected 2008 victory was instrumental in his path to the nomination, easing the anxieties of those who worried the young black senator would struggle to win white voters.

While both parties caucus on the same night, they do so with different rules.

Republicans vote by private ballot. The state’s 30 Republican delegates are awarded proportionally based on the stateside vote.

Democrats take a more interactive approach, with voters forming groups and publicly declaring their support for a candidate. If the number of people in any group is fewer than 15 percent of the total, they can either choose not to participate or can join another viable candidate’s group.

Those numbers are awarded proportionately, based on statewide and congressional district voting, as Iowa Democrats determine their 44 delegates to the national convention.

Pace reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lisa Lerer, Scott McFetridge and Scott Bauer contributed to this report.

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    • Oh RIGHT. What we need is a sixth-grader holding up rude signs with hate slogans on them, when it comes to international diplomacy with countries that have nuclear armaments. You CANNOT be serious. He will get us all blown up in the first six months if he becomes president.

      • Yes, so right. However, I’m a teensy bit worried about the alternative, Ms. Clinton, whose main accomplishment may have been putting sensitive Top Secret classified national security information ON CRAIG’S LIST. (Well, it might as well have been on Craig’s List).

        Here’s the latest: “Highly classified Hillary Clinton emails that the intelligence community and State Department recently deemed too damaging to national security to release contain “operational intelligence” – and their presence on the unsecure, personal email system jeopardized “sources, methods and lives,” a U.S. government official who has reviewed the documents told Fox News.”

        At this point, Clinton is lying about here previous lies regarding this matter. The presidency: Forget about it. If she and her accomplices aren’t indicted for this conduct, we no longer live in a nation of laws and justice.

      • I think that you have it all backwards. He strongly opposed the Iraq war which Hillary supported. He suggested 3 years go that the way to hobble ISIS was to destroy their money supply. It took Obama 3 years to get it and start action. He said that to control North Korea we have to negotiate with China, something we have totally failed at. Instead of saying he would shoot down Russian planes, as did Christie, he said that we will use diplomacy and can work with Putin.

        And by the way, calling someone a sixth-grader is is childish, particularly from someone whose education and accomplishments goes far beyond Huladancing. You also seem to have a very low threshold for the use of the word “hate”. I know it is a popular stunt in some circles to use this for anyone who does not agree with curtain positions, but it is wearing a little thin.

      • TOTALLY Serious!!….Were you “Serious” when you voted for the MOST Inexperience President ever!The President,who never ran anything before?? Yes!Yours truly…. the Notorious Community Organizer: Barrack Hussein Obama.You gave him the reigns & now?Everything today is a HUGE MESS!

        Remember now,(D)Hillary is in the same boat.No accomplishments…waiting to be indicted! And the Same for the “Sickle and Hammer” My favorite Socialist…. (I)Bernie Sanders. Ha!ha!ha!ha!

  • What the people of Iowa (and this state) need to inform their voting is “The 50 Dollar Lesson”.

    “Recently, while I was working in the flower beds in the front yard, my neighbors stopped to chat as they returned home from walking their dog.

    During our friendly conversation, I asked their little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, “If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?” She replied… “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed with pride!

    “Wow…what a worthy goal!” I said. “But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that!” I told her. “What do you mean?” she replied. So I told her, “You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and trim my hedge, and I’ll pay you $50. Then you can go over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out and give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.”

    She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?” I said, “Welcome to the Republican Party.” Her parents aren’t speaking to me anymore.”

  • Iowa caucus voters, who are 99% white, voting in a process that puts low-income residents at a distinct disadvantage, will have an extremely disproportionate influence in selecting Presidential candidates in a country in which more than 50% of babies born in 2016 are non-white, and the big winner will undoubtedly be the candidate endorsed by white nationalists and neo-nazis. This isn’t democracy.

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