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Biden allies lower expectations for Iowa: 'Most feel it's not going to be great'

Joe BidenJoe BidenNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter Trump narrows Biden's lead in Pennsylvania: poll Florida breaks first-day early voting record with 350K ballots cast MORE’s campaign team is setting expectations low for the Iowa caucuses Monday night. 

While some campaign aides were unsure how the results would turn out hours before the caucuses would begin, they expressed some apprehension about the outcome. 

“Most [aides] feel it’s not going to be great,” one longtime Biden ally who has had conversations with top aides inside the campaign, acknowledged Monday. 

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Biden’s aides and allies said they were hoping to place in the top three. But even if they fall short, the campaign is “built for the long haul,” one Biden confidant said.

Biden said in an interview with NBC that “my gut tells me things are going well.” Still, he added, that the results would be “close.”

The latest poll in the state by Emerson College and Channel 7 News Iowa showed Biden trailing Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Push to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw MORE (I-Vt.) by 7 points, 28 percent to 21 percent. Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 Biden town hall questioner worked as speechwriter in Obama administration: report MORE, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., came in third with 15 percent. 

A separate poll by CBS News poll conducted by YouGov on Sunday showed that Biden was tied with Sanders at 25 percent.  

Another much-anticipated poll from the Des Moines Register and CNN was canceled over the weekend after at least one reviewer omitted Buttigieg’s name from one of the interviews conducted. 

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Since entering the race last April, Biden has reiterated that he is the most electable Democrat to oppose President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE. He has also said he is the only Democrat who has replicated the so-called Obama coalition, drawing support from across the Democratic Party. 

“I’m the only one with broad support,” he said in a separate interview with Savannah Guthrie of NBC News which aired Monday morning. 

The expectation-setting is typical of campaigns, who have a lot of incentive to avoid a spiral of negative news coverage if their candidate does not perform up to expectations.

But it's an especially tricky prospect for Biden, who has been running at the top of the polls for more than a year now.

The effort to manage expectations for Biden in Iowa underscores the precarious nature of his front-runner status, particularly amid the rise of Sanders, whose supporters have an intensity and enthusiasm that Biden has been unable to match.

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The problem, some Biden allies say, is that expectations for most of the candidates besides Sanders are also low, potentially setting up another moderate candidate, such as Buttigieg or Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Senate Democrats seek to alleviate public concern about some results not being available on election night Washington flooded with Women's March protesters ahead of Barrett confirmation vote MORE (D-Minn.), to outperform and leave Iowa with a burst of momentum.

“If Amy or Pete does better than expected and is getting a ton of buzz going into New Hampshire, that’s really bad for Biden,” said one Democrat who has raised money for Biden. “The longer there are more moderate candidates fighting over table scraps while Bernie gains strength, the more narrow the path gets for him going forward.”

Biden does appear to have the luxury of underperforming in Iowa, as his allies can credibly argue that Biden’s core constituency of black voters will be there to turn out for him in South Carolina and in the more diverse Super Tuesday states, such as Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.

“The Iowa caucuses are totally up in the air, especially this year with so many candidates running and the weird way that voters will realign and the different ways the results will be reported,” said one Democrat who has raised money for Biden. “If Biden wins Iowa, that’s great. If not, he’s got big plans for other states and has made that clear for a while. The campaign still thinks they have a great shot at winning this thing no matter what happens in Iowa.”

Kelly Dietrich, a veteran Democratic fundraiser and the CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee agreed that Biden, perhaps more than anyone “has the fairly unique ability to play the long game here.”

“No matter what happens in Iowa, he’ll be competitive moving forward,” Dietrich said. “He’s the most well-known and only candidate in this race that nearly every Democrat has voted for twice as vice president. There’s a lot of undecided people still and so many ways this could play out, but Biden will be in it regardless.”

“Maybe more so than other candidates, he’s in a strong position in the remaining early-voting states like South Carolina and then going into Super Tuesday, it’s a whole different calculus … he’ll be able to compete anywhere because of his experience and long relationships with voters.”