A Last-Minute Caucus Reader

Glenn Beck campaigns for Ted Cruz Saturday in Ames. Photo: Jon Lemons/Iowa Informer

Planning on caucusing Monday? Here’s a quick roundup of some of the latest reports (and a couple others for good measure) to give you a sense of the state of the race on caucus eve:

Clinton schemes to prevent second Iowa upset as GOP super PACs try to boost Sanders: Buzzfeed looks into an app created by the Hillary Clinton campaign to do on-the-fly caucus math to determine if it would be useful to release some of her supporters to Martin O’Malley so he reaches the 15 percent viability threshold at certain precincts. The hope is that doing so could limit the number of delegates Bernie Sanders receives. Meanwhile, the Sanders camp, which announced a $20 million January fundraising haul, has also been getting help from conservative super PACs. The ESA Fund, founded by GOP billionaire Joe Ricketts, has dropped $600,000 on an ad airing in Iowa that calls Sanders “too liberal” — a technique similar to that used by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who called rival Todd Akin “too conservative” in an effort to promote him. Other GOP super PACs have gone after Clinton’s ties to Wall Street in an effort to boost the candidate they view as less electable to a primary victory using an issue that has drawn voters to Sanders (not without reason, as The New York Review of Books‘ recent review of Clinton’s corporate donor network shows).

O’Malley as spoiler?: With Clinton and Sanders neck-and-neck in the polls, could O’Malley supporters determine the winner of the Democratic caucuses in precincts where he isn’t viable (assuming Clinton supporters don’t help boost his numbers)? Some think Sanders would appeal to them more, as an anti-Clinton alternative and given O’Malley’s progressive views. But others, including an immigration reform activist the Informer spoke with last week, have contrasted the former Maryland governor’s appeal to Latinos with a vote Sanders cast against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007. (The activist we spoke with said she would “hold strong” for O’Malley and wasn’t sure yet who she might move to as a second choice.) In the end, considering O’Malley’s slim support, it may not make much of a difference either way.

Selzer poll predicts wins for Clinton, Trump: Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register released its final caucus poll by the lauded Ann Selzer, who since 1988 has predicted the winners in Iowa wrong just once: in 2012, when Rick Santorum won instead of Mitt Romney (although Romney was initially declared the winner — by eight votes — after a botched count). Selzer’s latest poll has Donald Trump ahead of Ted Cruz in the GOP caucus, 28 percent to 23 percent; and Clinton over Sanders, 45 percent to 42 percent. Cruz backers have been quick to criticize the poll, arguing its projected turnout rate is unrealistic.

Can Sanders win?: FiveThirtyEight‘s polling guru Nate Silver lays out a road map of what it might take for Bernie to beat the odds and secure the Democratic nomination.

Ted Cruz’s shady mailers: The Informer recently noted that the state chairman of the Cruz campaign, Matt Schultz, who has defended a late get-out-the-vote caucus mailer criticized by the secretary of state as “misrepresent[ing] Iowa election law,” is himself the former secretary of state whose tenure centered on a fruitless voter fraud investigation ostensibly conducted to ensure the integrity of Iowa’s election laws. At the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza takes a closer look at the “social pressure” science behind the mailers’ fake letter grades and how the the Cruz campaign misfired with the effort, angering voters who feel they’re being shamed into caucusing.

The Duck Dynasty vote: Speaking of Cruz, the Texas senator, not to be outdone by Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Trump, has been traveling the state with conservative celebrities of his own. On Saturday, Cruz was in Ames with apocalyptic radio host Glenn Beck, who warned the audience that “we’re looking at catastrophic consequences in the next four to eight years — if we make it” and previously compared the candidate to George Washington. Cruz also spent the day campaigning with Phil Robertson, the anti-gay patriarch from A&E reality show Duck Dynasty. Other candidates have also brought out big-name endorsements: On the Democratic side Saturday in Ames, Bill Clinton mingled with Harrison Barnes’ family at Stomping Grounds while Hillary touted her gun control message with former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was nearly killed in a mass shooting five years ago, on Iowa State University’s campus. In Iowa City the same evening, Sanders sang “This Land Is Your Land” with members of indie rock bands Vampire Weekend and Dirty Projectors, after an introduction from Cornel West.

Have candidates neglected low-income Iowans?: Plenty of ink has been spilled on arguments questioning whether Iowa, as the first-in-the-nation caucus state, is really representative of American voters at large. But have candidates themselves failed to target a representative sampling of Iowans? A couple weeks ago, FiveThirtyEight looked at how presidential contenders had been avoiding visits to the poorer parts of Des Moines. Update, 2/1: And does the caucus system itself discriminate by class and age?

Not sure how to caucus?: The Iowa Democratic Party has a list of caucus locations and an explainer of the process on its website. The Iowa GOP has information here. Caucuses begin at 7 p.m. Monday, with same-day voter registration available for both parties for those who are unregistered or not currently a member of the party whose caucus they plan to participate at (the caucuses are run by the parties, not the secretary of state, but similar same-day registration rules may apply). There are substantial differences between how the two parties caucus: Republicans vote by secret ballot, while Democrats split into candidate preference groups and can try to entice others to switch their candidate of choice, allowing for the sort of strategizing as the Clinton camp’s plans to pad O’Malley’s numbers mentioned above.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.