The Memo: What each candidate needs in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa — The winners and losers from Iowa’s Democratic caucuses on Monday won’t only be determined by the final results. Which candidates surpass or disappoint expectations — and who bests their rivals in particular ideological lanes — will also be crucial.

Here’s what each major candidate needs to do.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Schumer: Administration 'must move heaven and earth' to implement new unemployment benefits Biden associates reach out to Holder about VP search MORE (I-Vt.)



At this stage, it would be a surprise if Sanders did not emerge the victor on Monday night.

He is the undisputed leader in the polling averages. One of the final major surveys in the state, from Emerson College, had him ahead of his closest rival, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims The Memo: Scale of economic crisis sends shudders through nation The Hill's Campaign Report: Coronavirus forces Democrats to postpone convention MORE, by a full 9 points.

Sanders also attracts huge crowds here. On Saturday night, he rallied more than 3,000 people in Cedar Rapids. His campaign said that was the biggest crowd for any Democratic candidate during this cycle in Iowa.

Sanders appears to have peaked at just the right time, after a long period when he looked stagnant in the polls and at risk of being eclipsed on the left by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMaryland Legislative Black Caucus pushes for state to release racial breakdown of coronavirus impact Hillicon Valley: T-Mobile, Sprint complete merger | Warren pushes food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees | Lawsuit accuses Zoom of improperly sharing user data Warren calls on food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees MORE (D-Mass.).

A victory here for Sanders would put him in great shape for the New Hampshire primary eight days later. He appears even stronger in the Granite State, which abuts his base of Vermont. If Sanders wins the first two contests, the Bernie Bandwagon will take some stopping.

Still, Iowa can deliver surprises.


If Sanders were to lose, it would deepen concerns that have long dogged him: Whether he can unite the party and, relatedly, whether he is electable against President TrumpDonald John TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders MORE in November.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Avoid disaster.

Biden, a known quantity in so many ways, is something of a mystery in Iowa.

His events are usually low-key affairs with modest-sized crowds. But he performs well in polls, nonetheless. Of five major recent surveys in Iowa, the former vice president has led two outright, been tied for the lead in another, and been second and fourth in the others.

Further adding to the Biden conundrum is the question of organizing and turnout.

His campaign displays little of the organizing intensity that can be seen at other candidates’ events, where clipboard-clutching volunteers make their way through the crowds intent on eliciting voter information and commitments to caucus.

On the other hand, older voters — one of the strongest demographics for Biden — are among the most reliable attenders of caucuses, so it is conceivable he doesn’t need as much organizational muscle.

An additional wrinkle if Biden has a poor night: Does he stay ahead of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence defends response, says Trump never 'belittled' virus threat MORE (D)?

The real peril for Biden lies in the possibility of Buttigieg overtaking him as the leading centrist.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

A Warren victory here on Monday would be a surprise — but not a seismic shock.

Her rallies are large and enthusiastic, and even her rivals acknowledge the strength of her organization.

On the ground, there are murmurings among the state’s political cognoscenti of a late surge by the Massachusetts senator, especially if caucusgoers feel last-minute misgivings about Sanders.


Like Sanders and Klobuchar, Warren’s campaigning has been curtailed by Trump’s Senate impeachment trial and she is trying to make up for lost time.

It’s possible, of course, that the positive rumors about Warren’s chances prove wrong. She was fourth in a CBS News/YouGov poll of the state released Sunday morning. Skeptics also contend her appeal is far weaker in rural areas of the state than in the more liberal cities.

A fourth-place finish would be difficult for Warren to overcome, especially if Sanders wins. She and Sanders are fighting for progressive voters and if he emerges as the clear, unambiguous choice of the left on Monday night, he would deal a potent blow to Warren’s chances.

Things could get very intriguing for Warren under other scenarios, however — especially if Sanders falls short.

To take one hypothetical, if Biden won, Sanders came second and Warren a close third, she would go into New Hampshire in a competitive position — and positioned for a long battle for the nomination.

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D)

Beat Biden.


Besting the former vice president is the game-within-the-game for Buttigieg. His path into serious contention requires supplanting Biden as the favored choice for moderate Democrats.

Iowa, where Buttigieg has been campaigning hard, may present his best opportunity to do that.

The former mayor’s appeal is straightforward: He is catering to centrists but also presenting himself as a harbinger of change. Buttigieg, at 38, is by far the youngest candidate in the field. If he wins the nomination, he would also become the first openly gay nominee of a major party.

It’s unlikely — but not totally outside the realm of possibility — that Buttigieg could win. He was just 4 points behind co-leaders Sanders and Biden in the Sunday CBS poll.

On the downside, an adequate performance — one in which he finishes third or fourth, and behind Biden — likely does not shake up the race enough for his purposes.

If he wants to win the nomination rather than simply burnish his reputation, Buttigieg needs a game-changer in Iowa.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden MORE (D-Minn.)


Spring a surprise.

Klobuchar could yet be a dark horse in Iowa.

Political experts here think her practical, no-nonsense demeanor and roots in the region — she is the only major candidate from a state that borders Iowa — give her a shot at outperforming expectations.

Unfortunately for Klobuchar, if the polls are right, she will likely be fifth. That’s not good enough to vault her into real contention for the nomination.

There is another challenge, too: Under the caucus rules, any candidate who gets less than 15 percent support in the initial counting of support at each caucus location is rendered “non-viable,” and their supporters are freed to support someone else or go home.

Klobuchar is currently at 8.8 percent support in the RealClearPolitics polling average in the state — something that poses obvious dangers that she will fail to meet the viability threshold in a lot of caucus locations.

Even a third-place finish would be a huge moral victory for Klobuchar. But that looks like an uphill climb.