DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidates are preparing for a final, frenetic weekend of campaigning ahead of the Iowa caucuses, kick-starting the battle to take on President Donald Trump in November.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, return to the campaign trail on Friday, a day after knocking each other and progressive rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, were stuck in Washington for Trump's impeachment trial, but took steps to show their strength in Iowa. Warren announced the backing of two prominent Iowa Democrats and began airing television and online ads arguing she's the most electable candidate in a crowded primary field, capable of uniting the party and defeating Trump while silencing doubts that sexism could prevent a woman from winning the White House. Sanders' campaign, meanwhile, will host a concert featuring music from the band Bon Iver as part of his effort to energize young voters.
Speaking on Capitol Hill, Klobuchar said “you never know what's going to happen" with the impeachment schedule. But she said her campaign would move forward even if she is required to be in Washington on Monday, the day of the caucuses.
“I just say bring it on," she said. “Because I just have faith in the people of the country to actually want someone with the experience of standing up.”
Whenever they get to Iowa, the candidates will face a competition that is exceedingly fluid. Sanders, Biden, Buttigieg and Warren are bunched at the top of most Iowa polls, and Klobuchar has shown signs of strength in recent weeks. Everyone is looking for a strong showing here that could lift them heading into later contests that will help decide the Democratic nomination.
In a race that is so jumbled, competitions are intensifying among the candidates to at least emerge from Iowa as the leader of their ideological lanes. For Sanders and Warren, the caucuses represent an opportunity to consolidate support from progressives. They both back priorities such as endorsing universal, government-funded health care under “Medicare for All” and wiping out virtually all student debt. But neither of them has emerged as the undisputed leader of the party's left flank.
“The only way to not have that issue is to have one win and the other lose," said Rebecca Katz, a liberal Democratic strategist based in New York. “I think what you see is the progressive wing is very big and has a lot of needs. It’s not something where, all of a sudden, one becomes the leading progressive and all fall in line. Especially if they finish one-two (in Iowa), it’s not cut and dried.”
The moderate slice of the party is also struggling to unite behind options that include Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar.
As a former vice president who is competing in the Iowa caucuses for the third time, Biden is a well-known figure in the state and has won the backing of several leading current and former elected leaders. But attendance at his rallies has been relatively small in recent days, raising questions about the durability of his support. A super PAC aligned with his campaign has already poured $7.6 million into Iowa — meaning it may not be able to provide additional help in other states if Biden fails to meet expectations.
Biden has also intensified his attacks on Sanders, questioning whether the senator is truly a Democrat given his democratic socialist ideology. Sanders' camp has shrugged that off, saying it didn't work for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic primary and it won't resonate now.
Buttigieg, meanwhile, is under pressure to prove that eye-popping fundraising numbers will translate to caucus support by offering a two-pronged argument. He unveiled a video Friday stressing party unity. But, while campaigning, he has singled out Sanders as too uncompromising in his progressive views and Biden as being tainted by past political brawls during a long career in Washington.
While Sanders and Warren were equally unable to make their final appeals in person all week because of impeachment, being tethered to Washington may have been especially frustrating to Klobuchar. She had been seemingly gaining ground in Iowa but could see that momentum fade because she's been unable to make a final argument in the state.
In a telephone town hall with New Hampshire voters Friday, Klobuchar urged supporters to help ensure she doesn’t lose ground while “doing important work.”
“My ask of you is to run for me, to help me,” she said. In a memo to reporters, her campaign said that her being the only candidate to campaign in all 99 Iowa counties can boost Klobuchar in smaller counties, where the threshold of support needed to pick up delegates to the Democratic National Convention is lower.
“Achieving viability in rural and mid-sized precincts will propel us forward in the delegate count,” campaign manager Justin Buoen and senior caucus adviser Norm Sterzenbach wrote.
The race's fourth senator, Michael Bennet of Colorado, attempted to provide his own contrast to the rest of the field by unveiling a new television ad airing in New Hampshire, which votes after Iowa.
A field that was once the largest in modern history lost another member on Friday when John Delaney exited the race. The former Maryland congressman poured millions of dollars of his own money into the race but never gained traction.
“At this moment in time, this is not the purpose God has for me," Delaney told CNN.