In under a week, the Iowa caucuses will officially kick off the presidential primary season. In the last days before the caucuses, candidates are scampering across the state for a final mad dash of glad-handing and baby-kissing.
New Reality: GOP Rallying Behind Trump
After about one month of holding the top spot in Iowa, Sen. Ted Cruz has fallen to second place behind businessman Donald Trump. The besties-turned-rivals have sparred about everything, from Cruz’s citizenship status to Trump’s previous liberal views. In the last 10 days, Trump has pulled ahead by almost six points, leading the Texas Republican 33.2 percent to 27.5 percent as of Jan. 26.
For Trump, last week was bookended by vastly different signs of support in Iowa: On Tuesday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed Trump in Ames, and on Saturday, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced the businessman before a rally. Both were significant showings of support: one from the tea party wing, and another from an establishment figure in Iowa politics.
And, even more recently, Trump got the thumbs-up from Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University and a crucial voice in the evangelical community. That’s quite a blow to Cruz, who founded his career on his Christian conservative bona fides and started his presidential campaign at Liberty in March 2015.
While it further illustrates Trump’s deft ability to garner support during this year’s unprecedented race, it also reflects Cruz’s continued position as a pariah within the GOP.
Cruz has been deeply unpopular in the Republican Party since he set foot on Capitol Hill, spearheading a 16-day government shutdown in 2013 just 10 months after his swearing in. The Texas senator is also known for his conservative views, which lead many in the party to predict he couldn’t win the general election. In fact, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, also the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, recently called Cruz an “extremist” and said if Cruz were the nominee, the party would have “wholesale losses” throughout the country.
Other Republicans, like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, have come out against Cruz, too. And Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst — a rising Republican star who was voted in on a wave of anti-establishment support and won an endorsement from Cruz in her 2014 race — said she wouldn’t endorse a candidate before the caucuses. But what makes that sting a bit for the Cruz campaign? Ernst made the statement while introducing Sen. Marco Rubio at one of his Iowa events. (In fairness, Rubio endorsed Ernst, too, but this is the only campaign event Ernst will attend before the caucuses. Ernst’s non-endorsement endorsement is similar to Grassley’s move, which subtly shows preference for certain candidates.)
Although very little of it amounts to a ringing endorsement of Trump, Republicans seem to be coalescing around him as the lesser-of-two-evils candidate.
Cruz, for his part, scored endorsements from talk radio hosts Glenn Beck and Dana Loesch in the last few days. Those are two key figures in conservative circles, but it might not be enough to propel Cruz as so many others line up behind Trump.
Dems Still Split in Iowa
With only a handful of days until Hillary Clinton stares down her past demons in Iowa, Hawkeye State Democrats haven’t decided who they prefer. The former secretary of State is still neck-and-neck with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has proven anti-establishment frustration isn’t specific to the GOP.
On the heels of a fierce Saturday night debate and a rousing campaign ad, Sanders is riding the momentum straight to the Feb. 1 caucuses. The rumpled suits and flyaway hair still give off the thoughtful revolutionary vibe, but Sanders has displayed a political adeptness recently that should cause concern within Clinton’s camp.
Last week, Sanders connected recent Clinton endorsements from women’s groups and a prominent gay rights organization to her status as an “establishment” candidate. Clinton pushed back — and used it as a way to talk about her record on women’s rights — but Sanders had effectively achieved his goal of painting Clinton as a creature of the Washington institution. And while Sanders continues to run a technically positive campaign, he has been talking more aggressively about Clinton and her campaign — a run-of-the-mill politics move, to be sure, but one that shows a subtle strategy shift on his part.
With Iowa’s caucus next Tuesday, we will soon learn whether all of this posturing paid off. Before then, Republicans will meet one last time on Jan. 28 for a debate hosted by Fox News. For the record, Trump said he’s not sure he’ll participate because he thinks moderator Megyn Kelly is “very biased and I don’t think she can treat me fairly.” Trump has questioned Kelly’s professionalism since the first GOP debate back in August, when he criticized her for questions about his comments about women.
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