DES MOINES, Iowa — In an already unusual campaign cycle, undecided Iowa voters on Monday will have no poll to mull out the Democratic presidential frontrunners as the nation looks to them in the first-in-the-nation nominating contest.
Instead they’ll make their choices based on the countless campaign stops, mailers, TV ads, billboards and door knocks from the campaigns of seven Democrats who have actively asked for their support in the state.
The candidates zigzagged Iowa on Saturday and Sunday — with Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet momentarily freed from Washington, D.C., impeachment proceedings to actively make their last pitches.
For many, the message was of gratitude and a plea for unity for the Democratic party, no matter the outcome of the Iowa caucus.
While that message has been heard countless times on the campaign trail, boos at a Sanders event on Friday from Democratic Rep. Rashida Rlaib reignited some of the rawness of the 2016 election — and had some Democrats worried huge discord might once again cost them the presidency should a moderate like former Vice President Joe Biden or former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg wins Iowa.
Biden’s closing pitch remained that he’s the one with the experience, the one who can handle foreign affairs and lead the country with “hope over fear.” Buttigieg spent the weekend painting himself as a moderate candidate who has worked hard to win back voters who voted for President Obama and flipped to Donald Trump in 2016. Warren said she’ll fight against corruption and beat Trump: “Fighting back is an act of patriotism,” she said at a town hall in Cedar Rapids on Saturday.
Sanders on Sunday asked his supporters — knowing they’re vast in number — to come out, with a high voter turnout being his ticket to victory. His campaign events this weekend, including a Vampire Weekend concert at a rally in Cedar Rapids, showed the sheer volume of his supporters.
At a middle school gymnasium in Des Moines on Sunday, Biden spent some of his time addressing unity.
“Look, we need a president who can bring us together, unite our party when this nomination is all over, unite the country,” Biden said. “... Democracies bank on consensus. And there’s no way to govern ... if we can’t reach consensus in America. We have to be able to pull Democrats, independents and Republicans together.”
He joked that people say to him, “You used to be able to do that,” Biden said.
“I refuse to believe that the other side is our enemy, not our competitor,” Biden said. “When we make it an enemy, we get nothing done.”
Biden was interrupted twice by protesters, one of whom accused Biden of taking campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry: “Stop taking fossil fuel money,” a woman yelled. The issue came up in September at a CNN climate town hall after Biden participated in a fundraiser hosted by a former adviser, who was an original investor in Western LNG, USA Today reported. Biden has vowed not take money from fossil fuel companies on the campaign trail.
As the crowd tried to urge him to ignore the woman, Biden tried to respond amid “We love Joe,” chants.
“I’m not going to attack another Democrat,” Biden said to cheers.
Outside a Cedar Rapids field office on Sunday morning, Sanders called the election the “most consequential” in the modern history of America.
“Maybe in the history of our entire country. What’s at stake is whether we will continue an administration where we have a president who lies all the time. Whether we continue an administration which has a record of corruption. Whether we continue an administration with a president who is a racist, sexist, a homophone, a xenophobe, is a religious bigot as well,” Sanders said.
“I think we all understand that this is not the kind of person who should remain in the White House,” Sanders said. “What tomorrow night is about is the understanding that we need a government that stands for justice, not greed, stands for compassion, not pathological lying.”
Sanders — who has consistently polled well in Iowa, alongside Biden — said he believed he is “in a position to win tomorrow night, in a position to defeat Trump.” He said the only way to win is if voter turnout is high.
“We will know very early on how well we’re going to do,” Sanders said.
While many Iowans remain undecided, a much awaited CNN and Des Moines Register poll was canceled on Saturday after Buttigieg’s campaign complained his name had been omitted by a poll interviewer. A late poll often serves as a push to support the frontrunners. Prior to the last-minute campaigning, many believed Klobuchar’s numbers were rising.
“It’s hard to say [if it will affect the race]. I think the poll might have captured any momentum, any candidate’s momentum or any changes that are happening. It’s unfortunate because we won’t know now,” said Robin Johnson, a political science professor at Monmouth College.
Johnson said candidates are pitching unity, because “they know most voters want that in order to beat Donald Trump.”
“The party is going to have to be unified,” Johnson said. “At this point I think it remains to be seen whether or not they’re going to be able to follow through.”
Johnson warned of “a lot more rough campaigning” ahead.
“There’s just a lot of suspicions, especially coming from the Sanders folks about whether they’re going to unite around a candidate other than Bernie getting the nomination,” Johnson said.
Buttigieg took swipes at both Sanders’ and Biden’s campaigns at an elementary school stop in Anamosa in Saturday. He also said hello to “future former Republicans” — a term he’s coined in his efforts to scoop up voters who flipped in 2016. The school is in Jones County, where just 703 Democrats caucused in 2016, the campaign said. The population is about 20,700.
“You’re very welcome to be here,” Buttigieg said to those prospective voters.