Our reporters are in Iowa following the top campaigns in the final days of the race. Here’s everything you need to know about where the campaigns are headed and the day’s strategy — whether the candidate is present or not.
We’ll be updating this story with key moments on the trail, so check back periodically.
Biden is in the midst of a 20-city, 17-county Iowa swing that he billed as a bus tour. But while in Council Bluffs on Wednesday night, he noted he was catching a flight back to Des Moines, about two hours away by car.
That immediately caused some static among the reporters who were slogging across the state tracking his “Soul of the Nation” campaign bus. Today, Biden starts in Waukee, about 20 minutes outside of Des Moines, then heads to Newton and ends in the working class town of Ottumwa. Biden has been zipping around the state since Saturday, taking advantage of the fact that Sanders and Warren especially are bound to Washington.
On Thursday morning, he’s set to give a prebuttal to President Donald Trump’s rally in Des Moines that night. The theme: Who has the character to be president, and who does not? Biden is simultaneously releasing an ad playing up his experience as Barack Obama’s veep, his working-class upbringing and the hardships in life he’s overcome.
Biden is hovering at or near the top of polls in Iowa, as he has been for awhile. The question is whether there’s a shift in enthusiasm in the crowds, and are they getting any bigger? And are the voters who are still weighing Biden against his opponents finally prepared to make a decision?
Buttigieg is tearing across Iowa on Thursday, traveling nearly 200 miles to hit four cities in a northeastern swing through the state. He’ll do four town hall events, answering voter questions and snapping selfies along the way. He’s hitting up a cross-section of small cities and towns, drawing on largely rural counties. He’ll go as far as Decorah, Iowa, nearly crossing the Minnesota border, then end in Ankeny, Iowa, a well-educated suburb just outside of Des Moines.
The play is to get Buttigieg in front of as many Iowans as possible, taking advantage of an impeachment-free schedule. He’s focusing on rural areas, where other candidates won’t have time or resources to get to.
For me, what’s most interesting about his events is the q-and-a time with voters: He often takes five to seven questions from the crowd or pulled from a fishbowl of pre-written queries. Earlier this week, several challenged his lack of support among black voters — a sign that his weakness in South Carolina is seeping into his ground game in Iowa.
– Elena Schneider
On Wednesday night, three state legislators who endorsed Klobuchar made calls to potential caucus-goers on her behalf. Talking points on the wall of a Des Moines field office captured the goldilocks argument her supporters are making: “She’s not too liberal, not too conservative, not too old, not too young. She is just right to make the perfect president.”
Iowa state Rep. Monica Kurth who previously backed Cory Booker, endorsed Klobuchar a week ago after vacillating between Klobuchar and Biden. Klobuchar’s energy, younger age and moderate leanings ultimately did it for Kurth. But the state lawmaker said it wasn’t easy deciding when the field is still so large. And given the large number of undecideds so close to the caucuses, voters feel the same way, she said. “If Klobuchar ends up high in Iowa, then other states will give her a better look. If she ends up in the top 3 that would be a game-changer,” she said.
Meanwhile, Klobuchar is set to meet with Congressional Hispanic Caucus members Thursday through BOLD PAC, the caucus’ campaign arm. She’s the fourth presidential candidate to meet with BOLD PAC. Like Buttigieg, Klobuchar polls poorly with voters of color — she didn’t register in a January Washington Post-Ipsos poll of black voters nationally. In a Fox News poll of Nevada, she drew 1 percent support among Latinos.
Sanders doesn’t look too happy sitting through the impeachment trial, according to reporters there. But his surrogates are doing their best to perk him up, campaigning for Sanders across Iowa in what his team says is a natural extension of his “Not Me, Us” campaign. Author and climate change activist Naomi Klein, Linn County Board of Supervisors member Stacey Walker, band Las Cafeteras and his wife, Jane, are stumping for him in Des Moines and nearby counties.
There’s always a chance Sanders could fly charter to Iowa for a quick in and out: After impeachment proceedings ended early on Saturday, he came to the state for a surprise appearance at a rally with Michael Moore and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
His campaign has also been stressing its fundraising strength and ability to fight back in the wake of attacks: A super PAC began airing a negative ad in Iowa Wednesday, saying Sanders is unable to beat President Trump. The campaign’s response? It announced it raised $1.3 million from 70,000 donations after sending an email highlighting the attack ad as well spending by a pro-Joe Biden super PAC.
Warren has said repeatedly that her duty to be in the Capitol for impeachment is more important than politics, but she does seem antsy to return to Iowa ASAP. “I wish we were doing an in-person town hall, but this is the best we can do,” she said during a tele-town hall this week that the campaign said more than 20,000 Iowans dialed into.
Her campaign had originally advised several events with Warren herself for Thursday that they were forced to change because of impeachment. Instead, Warren’s husband, Bruce Mann, along with their dog Bailey will appear in Council Bluffs and Le Mars in her place. Former presidential candidate Julián Castro will also be campaigning for her in Marshalltown. Even without the candidate, the campaign is sending its surrogates mostly to delegate-heavy counties.
I’m curious whether Warren will try to find some other ways to break through or make news while she’s in D.C.. She had a newsy back-and-forth with Trump defender Alan Dershowtiz this week, but it’s unclear how much that will matter in Iowa. Will she do something else to try and shake things up?
In most recent polls, Warren seems to have plateaued in the mid- to high teens. The top four candidates remain clustered fairly closely together, but Warren has placed fourth in several of those polls, including one from Monmouth Wednesday that pegged her at 15 percent — at the edge of viability.