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With Polls Showing Tight Races, Candidates Make Final Push In Iowa


We start today with the biggest story in politics. After nearly a year of campaigning, tens of millions of dollars spent on campaign ads, a slew of debates, a presidential race that no one predicted is finally going to start being decided tomorrow in Iowa at the caucuses.


MARCO RUBIO: We must act now in this time, at this turning point in our history. And that's why I'm here to ask you to caucus for me Monday night.


HILLARY CLINTON: If you will go caucus for me Monday night, if you will go stand up for me here, if you will be there for me, I promise you this - I will stand for you. I will fight for you through this campaign.


JEB BUSH: And that's why I'm running for president. That's why I hope you'll caucus for me on Monday night. Thank you all very much.


MARTIN: We still have no idea who will win. The races are about as close as possible. We wanted to check in with our folks who are covering both sides of the race. NPR's Sarah McCammon is covering the Republicans. She's at a Ted Cruz rally in Iowa City. Hello, Sarah McCammon.


MARTIN: And NPR's Sam Sanders is with the Democrats. He's at a Bernie Sanders rally in Waterloo. Hi, Sam Sanders.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Hey there. How are you?

MARTIN: So we start with you. The Democratic race is basically tied between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. How do things look on the ground there in Iowa?

SANDERS: So it's basically tied, but Hillary Clinton is just a hair up in the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll. And this is the same poll that predicted her loss to Barack Obama in '08. It's important to point out in many ways, this year is very different for Hillary than '08. She has a statewide strategy. She's appealing very hard to Democratic Party establishment. She's learned a lot of lessons from her loss here eight years ago. And she's also inherited a lot of the successful Obama ground game that helped win in '08. And it's important to point out that she has done this whole thing in Iowa one more time than Bernie Sanders has.

MARTIN: And what about Bernie Sanders?

SANDERS: So all along, he's been trying to run a very positive campaign. But just this morning, he brought up this ongoing Clinton email scandal unprompted. He's saying it's not an issue for him, but he thinks that it will be a thing that the GOP will use against Clinton if she gets the nomination. So the whole strategy from Bernie has been to motivate passionate young voters to get them excited. But the question is if these college students will caucus at their college campuses or go home throughout the state to caucus. It works better for Bernie Sanders if those college supporters caucus from home and his support is more widespread throughout the state. I talked to a student at the University of Iowa yesterday. Her name is this Lillie Oswinkle (ph), and I asked her about that.

LILLIE OSWINKLE: When I saw that, I thought maybe I should go home. But it just - I can't manage that. So I have to do it here. So...

SANDERS: Do you have a car?

OSWINKLE: Yes, but...

SANDERS: So you could drive home.

OSWINKLE: Oh, I'm worried - I got work off 30 minutes before I have to be at the caucus. So it's kind of - I can't.

SANDERS: She says she's not quite sure how to caucus. She's watched a Bernie Sanders campaign video on how to did do it, and she told me verbatim that Bernie's got her back. But she also says she's literally just going to show up and hope someone tells her how to do it. You know, so Bernie has been saying that he wants to start a revolution. And the question is whether that army will show up when it's time for the fight.

MARTIN: Well, we can certainly hear them in the background, Sam. I can...

SANDERS: That's true.

MARTIN: ...Hear that they're kind of fired up. But the question is are they ready to go?

SANDERS: There you go.

MARTIN: What about you, Sarah McCammon? You've been covering the Republicans. How does the race look on that side?

MCCAMMON: You know, in some ways there are some parallels. You know, I was with Donald Trump yesterday. He was looking very confident, telling Iowans to vote for him because he's a winner, and they want to pick a winner. And he reminded them that it's been a long time since Iowa Republicans chose a president. That was back in 2000 with George W. Bush. And then Trump's confidence really only grew after the release of that Des Moines Register poll. It showed him five points above Ted Cruz, who has been his chief rival here for the last several weeks at least. And the big question, much like with Sanders supporters, is will Trump's people turn out in the same numbers as they turn out in the polls and at these big rallies? I talked to several folks yesterday at a Trump rally in Dubuque. Rick and Jessica Garner (ph) told me how much they like how unconventional Trump is.

JESSICA GARNER: He's nuts. He's completely out of the box. Nothing about him is ordinary or normal, what we would consider for the standards that have been set for previous presidents.

MCCAMMON: And that doesn't worry you?

GARNER: No, no. I think we need it.

MCCAMMON: And Rick and Jessica Garner say they've never caucused before, but they do plan to go and caucus on Monday night.

MARTIN: What about Ted Cruz, who's his chief rival in the state?

MCCAMMON: Well, at least if you look his campaign schedule this week, he seems a little less confident. He's been all over Iowa, sometimes making five or six stops in a day, whereas Trump was here, you know, Tuesday night, Thursday night and this weekend but also found time this week to carve out some time to go to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Cruz is putting all of his attention here in Iowa. And, you know, he's told reporters that if he'd known months ago that he'd be polling what he described as neck-and-neck with Trump, he'd be thrilled. But it's clear that he'd really like to win. He's been pressing hard to get the support of evangelical Christians, who are very well organized and influential in Iowa. And that'll be the test for Cruz - whether he can get those religious conservatives to show up for him. They have a lot of options this year, and Trump is relatively popular with that group as well, although not as popular as Cruz.

MARTIN: And I guess then I can also hear the enthusiasm in the background of you, Sarah McCammon as well.


MARTIN: So both of you have been covering this campaign for months now. How does it feel to be at this moment when it's all going to start getting decided? Sam, I gave you the first word, so I'm going to give Sarah the last word. So Sam, you first, how does it feel now that it's kind of really coming down to voting time?

SANDERS: Well, I woke up this morning and said to myself oh, my goodness, we're almost there. It's almost done. Iowa's almost done. And then I realized there's still a whole election to go. There's still nine more months of this. And as crazy as this whole thing has been up until this point, there's a long, long, long way to go.

MARTIN: OK, what about you, Sarah McCammon?

MCCAMMON: I had very similar thoughts, Michel. You know, it is exciting though to get to this point in the race where the first voting is really going to begin. It's been all about polls and rallies and ground game up to this point. But we're going to see some real results tomorrow night. And I think you can - you can hear the energy and the excitement among voters this weekend, too, because it's definitely getting real.

MARTIN: All right, that's NPR's Sarah McCammon and Sam Sanders at two different rallies in Iowa covering the caucuses, which are tomorrow. Thank you both so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

SANDERS: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.