What You Need to Know About the Upcoming Iowa Caucus

We are a mere few days from the Iowa caucus on February 1, the first in the nation endorsement contest for both the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees. A lot has changed since the summer, when everyone assumed Donald Trump would quickly flame out and that Bernie Sanders was just running a vanity campaign in order to move Hillary Clinton further to the left. Instead of a mostly settled Democratic race and a battle royale in the GOP, we have a head to head fight in the GOP and a Democratic race that changes every minute.

When Trump entered the fray in July, no one expected his frontrunner status to last more than a few speeches. Now, he’s not only the person to beat on the Republican side, the party establishment itself seems to be finally ready to deal with his inevitability. If there was any doubt that the party has succumbed to the idea that Trump very well may be the nominee, and must be treated as such, that doubt was dismissed last week when National Review wrote a blistering editorial about why Trump’s campaign must be defeated, stating Trump was “a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.” In response, the Republican National Committee rescinded its invitation to the outlet to help co-host an upcoming GOP debate.

“That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump,” writes the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. “Party elites – what’s left of the now-derided ‘establishment’ – are acquiescing to the once inconceivable: that a xenophobic and bigoted showman is now the face of the Republican Party and of American conservatism.”

While the establishment may be ready to throw in the towel, Texas Senator Ted Cruz says he’s not going down without a fight. But that fight may be a little less feisty now that Trump has regained his lead over Cruz in Iowa. One factor his campaign may not have been prepared for? An endorsement for Florida Senator Marco Rubio by the state’s biggest paper. Then again, according to conservative pundits, that endorsement may be worse for a GOP candidate than not being recognized at all.

On the Democratic endorsement side, the race couldn’t be any tighter. Iowa is a dead heat for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, with latest polling leaving the two candidates just one point apart – and well within the margin of error. Complicating the ability to see if either candidate has an edge is the fact that many are predicting this could be the biggest caucus in a long time.

“Republican Party of Iowa state chairman Jeff Kaufmann and Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Andy McGuire talked about the caucuses during taping for this week’s episode of ‘Iowa Press’ on Iowa Public Television,” reports the Iowa Gazette. “Kaufmann said he expects the largest caucus turnout in his party’s history. That expectation is bolstered by a large field of candidates and the potential for a wave of first-time caucusgoers turning out to support candidate Donald Trump.” Democratic leaders believe their caucus will also be large, but likely not as large as the 2008 caucus that gave President Barack Obama his first win.

Who wins Iowa will have a big effect on who the eventual nominee is – at least, it will if you are a Democrat. Traditionally, the Democratic candidate who wins Iowa is far more likely to be the overall nominee, with Iowa failing to predict the eventual winner only a few times in the last half a century. On the other hand, they almost always pick a GOP nominee who fails to win the party endorsement, so maybe Cruz doesn’t have to feel so bad if he fails to win the state after all.