WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In a final frenzy to inspire supporters to turn out for Monday’s Iowa caucuses, the presidential contenders scrambled to close the deal with the first voters to have a say in the 2016 race for the White House.
The result Sunday was a blur of sometimes conflicting messages. Even as the candidates begged backers to caucus, many hopefuls also tried to lower expectations and look ahead to the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9 and later contests.
Republican Donald Trump, who has a slight edge over Ted Cruz in Iowa, predicted that “many” senators “soon” would endorse him rather than their Texas colleague. Trump didn’t name any such senators, and none immediately emerged.
Democratic Hillary Clinton, in a tight race with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, suggested that political point-scoring helped explain the hubbub over the State Department’s announcement Friday that it was withholding some emails on the home server she used while secretary of state.
The Sanders campaign, meanwhile, sought to claim financial momentum, saying it has raised $20 million in January, suggesting he will continue to match Clinton’s resources.
One development — the weather — was beyond the candidates’ control. A snowfall forecast to start Monday night appeared more likely to hinder the hopefuls in their rush out of Iowa than the voters. Republican John Kasich already has decamped to New Hampshire.
Iowa offers only a small contingent of the delegates who will determine the nominees, but the game of expectations counts for far more than the electoral math in the state. Campaigns worked aggressively to set those expectations in their favor (read: lower them) for Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond.
Meantime, on the final full day before the caucus, a pastor at a church outside Des Moines urged politicians to treat their opponents with love and not attack ads.
With Cruz and his family in the audience, pastor Mike Housholder of Lutheran Church of Hope played two parody attack ads questioning the faith of church members. There is a better way, he said — by speaking the truth with love. If you can’t do that, he said, don’t speak.
Trump, meanwhile, attended mass Sunday in the non-denominational church First Christian Orchard Campus in Council Buffs with his model wife and two staffers. The billionaire took communion when it was passed, but momentarily confused, he mistook the silver plates being circulated around the auditorium, and dug several bills out of his pocket.
“I thought it was for offering,” he said with a laugh to his staff.
The candidates’ agreed on one thing: It’s all about turnout now.
“If people come out to vote, I think you’re going to look at one of the biggest political upsets in the modern history of our country,” Sanders told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Clinton said she had been subjected to “years of scrutiny, and I’m still standing.” On ABC’s “This Week,” she said, “I feel vetted … and I think I’m the best person to be the nominee and to defeat whoever they nominate in November.”
Trump said “I don’t have to win” in Iowa, before adding that he believes he has “a good chance” of victory.
He said he was confident of taking New Hampshire and many other contests down the road. On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he cited Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, along with strong hopes for New York and Virginia. All come after the traditional first four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — that vote in February.
Cruz is conceding nothing.
“What we’re seeing is the old Reagan coalition coming together. … And if conservatives come out, we’re going to win tomorrow,” the Texas senator told “Fox News Sunday.”
Cruz directed much of his final advertising against Marco Rubio as the senators’ feud intensifies at the Iowa finish line.
Cruz took to the airwaves to challenge the conservative credentials of Rubio, the Floridian running third in Iowa, according to the polls.
One ad said of Rubio: “Tax hikes. Amnesty. The Republican Obama.”
Rubio countered on CNN that Cruz is “always looking to take whatever position it takes to win votes or raise money.”
The last-minute scramble comes on the same day that campaigns will file campaign financial disclosures showing how much they’ve raised this month.
The Sanders campaign announced that it has raised more than $20 million this month. That means his pace is picking up. Earlier, his campaign said it raised $33 million over the last three months of 2015, compared to $37 million for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the same time period.
In addition to the candidates, the outside political groups helping them — super PACs — must turn in progress reports on their fundraising and spending.
The chief super PAC helping Rubio raised more than $30 million last year, half of it in the last six months. The group, Conservative Solutions PAC, shared its fundraising numbers ahead the required deadline to file with regulators. The PAC began the year with about $14 million left to spend.
In the last major preference poll before the caucuses, Trump had the support of 28 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers, with Cruz at 23 percent and Rubio at 15 percent. The Iowa Poll, published by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg, also found Clinton with 45 percent support to Sanders’ 42 percent in the Democratic race. The poll was taken from Tuesday to Friday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.