Billionaire businessman Donald Trump is steaming towards victory in Monday evening’s GOP Iowa caucuses while former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remains locked in a close contest with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic contest.
As GOP and Democratic candidates make one last desperate push to win over supporters, a new Des Moines Register-Bloomberg poll released Saturday night shows Trump leading Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 28 percent to 23 percent, with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida at 15 percent and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 10 percent.
For Cruz, the darling of Evangelical Christians and Tea Party conservatives, Iowa may offer his only chance of slowing down the Trump juggernaut before Trump gains momentum in New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond. However, Trump has overtaken Cruz in Iowa in recent weeks with relentless attacks on his “nasty” personality, his failure to properly disclose $1.2 million in loans from Goldman Sachs and Citibank to his 2012 Senate race and questions about whether the Canadian-born Cruz is even eligible to serve as the commander in chief under the Constitution.
If Cruz falters, Rubio could make a play to leapfrog Cruz and pose the strongest challenge from among more establishment Republicans, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich or former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
On the Democratic side, Clinton continues to hold a modest lead over Sanders, 45 percent to 42 percent, according to the usually reliable Des Moines Register statewide poll. Clinton lost to Barak Obama in the 2008 Democratic campaign after beginning the race as the prohibitive frontrunner. She is once again facing the nightmare of blowing a big lead – this time to Sanders, the 74-year-old democratic socialist who is waging war on Wall Street and promising free college tuition, national health coverage for all Americans and expanded Social Security benefits.
Sanders has portrayed Clinton for being far too cozy with Wall Street and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees and contributions from the financial world. On Sunday, he stepped up his criticism of Clinton’s mishandling of email while she was secretary of state, saying that the “top secret” information included in emails that passed through her private server raised questions about her electability as the Democratic nominee.
Asked by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News’ This Week whether he would be slapped by Republicans with the label of socialist, Sanders replied, “Well, in terms of what people are going to get slapped with, look at the front pages today in terms of what Secretary Clinton is getting slapped with” with regards to her email controversy.
Trump returned to Iowa on Saturday aboard his private jet, which made a dramatic roaring pass over a crowd in Dubuque. Later, he warned his supporters that his campaign would prove to be “a waste of time” unless they turned out to vote for him in the caucuses.
Later in his interview with ABC News, Trump lashed out at new Cruz campaign ads seeking to closely link the real estate tycoon to the Clinton family and arguing that Trump favors Obamacare and creating a “single payer”-style national health program along the lines promoted by Sanders. “Ted Cruz is a total liar,” Trump said.
Trump crowed that after trailing Cruz by three points in the polls three weeks ago, he is now leading the Texan by five point. “We had a great week and maybe even a great couple of weeks in Iowa,” he explained. “We have been here a lot. I have a fantastic relationship with the people of Iowa and the evangelicals and the tea party. We really have done a lot of work in Iowa.”
Cruz is making similar claims - even as a last-minute flurry of negative ads and allegations against Trump suggests an element of desperation -- and has vowed to bring the conservative movement together again to topple Trump on Monday night.
“I’m thrilled to be where we are,” Cruz said today on Fox News Sunday. “We’re 36 hours away from the Iowa caucuses and we’re in a statistical dead heat for first place. If you had told me ten months ago we would be where we are now, we would have been thrilled with it.
“Right now, this is all about turnout, this is all about who shows up tomorrow night at 7 pm,” Cruz added. “If conservatives come out, we will win. What we’re seeing is the old Reagan coalition coming together. We are seeing conservatives and evangelicals and libertarians and Reagan Democrats. And if conservatives come out, we’re going to win tomorrow.”
Hillary Clinton talked about the latest State Department revelations that at least 22 emails on her private server contained “top secret” information and therefore couldn’t be released during her appearance on This Week. She said, “This is a continuation of the story that has been playing out for months” and “there is no classified marked information on those emails, sent or received by me.”
She suggested that political games were being played by some government officials involved in an “interagency dispute” between the State Department and the intelligence community.
“I just have to point out that the timing of some of the leaks that led up to it are concerning,” she said. “And I want this matter resolved, and the best way to solve it is to do what I asked months ago, which is release these, let the public see them and let’s move on.”
Experts have been saying for days that much will depend on the candidates’ “ground game” or turn-out-the vote effort, and that a huge turnout will greatly benefit Trump and Sanders in their respective races. Estimates have ranged from as few as 160,000 to as many as 250,000.
But there will be many variables at play during the caucuses. And the Des Moines Register poll included a huge note of caution: Forty-five percent of those interviewed said they could change their minds before the caucuses begin.