And for many of the Democratic contenders, a strong finish in Iowa is crucial for their survival in the high-stakes battle for their party’s nomination.
The populist senator who’s making his second straight White House bid stressed on Sunday night to supporters that, “If the turnout tomorrow night is low, we’re going to lose. If the turnout is high, we’re going win. Our job together is to create the highest turnout in the history of the Iowa caucus.”
That happened in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama made history by winning the caucuses on his way to capturing the nomination and eventually the White House. Nearly 240,000 Democrats turned out to caucus in Iowa that year. But the turnout plunged to just 171,109 in 2016, when eventual nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly edged Sanders.
Sanders supporters appear energized as he drew 3,000 people to a rally in Cedar Rapids this weekend, which his campaign touted was the largest of any Democratic contender in Iowa this cycle.
“I’m looking at turnout. Will it exceed 2008?” said former Democratic National Committee chair and Fox News contributor Donna Brazile.
Biden – who drew over 1,000 supporters Sunday, in what was his largest crowd in Iowa – could use a strong finish in the Hawkeye State to help pump up his campaign coffers. Biden trails Sanders and his other top-tier rivals Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the crucial metric of campaign cash on hand.
The former vice president, delivering pizzas to a campaign field office in Des Moines on Monday, pushed back against suggestions he couldn’t survive without winning in Iowa.
“We’re going to survive all the way through this whole thing,” he told reporters.
Buttigieg – who’s seen his support in Iowa polls slip the past month – has struggled to resonate with African-American and Latino voters. With more diverse Nevada and South Carolina following Iowa and the first primary state of New Hampshire on the calendar, strong finishes in the first two states seem imperative.
The candidate – the youngest in the field – has drawn large crowds the past week. On Monday he stopped by a field office in West Des Moines to thank staffers and volunteers.
“You have sacrificed. I can’t thank you enough. You are an absolute force sweeping through Iowa right now,” he said.
Also looking for a strong showing is Warren. She’s seen her support in polls in the early voting states and nationally drop since the late autumn. But the progressive senator – along with Sanders – has a powerful organization in the state and is banking on her ground game to help her come out of Iowa with momentum.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota is facing the danger of not being viable. That happens when a candidate fails to crack 15 percent support at an individual caucus precinct and his or her supporters then have the option of supporting another candidate or remaining neutral.
But regardless of her finish in Iowa, Klobuchar pledged during an interview this weekend on Fox News Sunday that “I’m going to New Hampshire no matter what.”
Making the results of Monday night’s caucuses even more complicated are new changes to reporting the results that may result in more than one contender claiming victory.
For the first time, the state party will not only report the percentages of the number of state delegates won by each candidate – which has been done for decades – but also the raw vote totals at the beginning of the caucuses and at the end of the evening.
“There’s this old saying that there’s three tickets out of Iowa. I think tonight we may see four, perhaps five,” said Brazile, who ran then-Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.