Loading, Please Wait...
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP): Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders hope to translate voter enthusiasm into victories in Monday's Iowa caucuses, as Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton bank on sophisticated get-out-the vote operations.
The caucuses kick off the 2016 presidential nominating contests, marking a new phase in a tumultuous election that has exposed Americans' deep frustration with Washington and given rise to candidates few expected to present a serious challenge for their party's nomination when they first entered the race.
After months of campaigning and more than $150 million already spent on advertising, the race for supremacy in Iowa is close in both parties. Among Republicans, Trump appears to hold a slim edge over Cruz, a fiery senator from Texas.
Clinton and Sanders entered Monday in a surprisingly tight Democratic race, reviving memories of the former secretary of state's disappointing showing in Iowa eight years ago.
"Stick with me," Clinton said as she rallied supporters Sunday. "Stick with a plan. Stick with experience."
Sanders, the Vermont senator who has been generating big, youthful crowds across the state, urged voters to help him "make history" with a win in Iowa.
In a show of financial strength, Sanders' campaign announced Sunday it raised $20 million in January alone. While Sanders has a large team in Iowa, his operation got off to a later start, particularly compared with Clinton, who has had staff on the ground in the state for nearly a year.
Monday's contest will also offer the first hard evidence of whether Trump can turn the legion of fans drawn to his plainspoken populism into voters. The scope of the billionaire's organization in Iowa is a mystery, though Trump himself has intensified his campaign schedule during the final sprint, including a pair of rallies Monday.
Cruz has modeled his campaign after past Iowa winners, visiting all of the state's 99 counties and courting influential evangelical and conservative leaders. With the state seemingly tailor-made for his brand of uncompromising conservatism, a loss to Trump will likely be viewed as a failure to meet expectations.
Cruz has spent the closing days of the Iowa campaign focused intensely on Marco Rubio, trying to ensure the Florida senator doesn't inch into second place. Rubio is viewed by many Republicans as a more mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz, though he'll need to stay competitive in Iowa in order to maintain his viability.
Unlike in primaries, where voters can cast their ballots throughout the day, the caucuses begin across Iowa at 7 p.m. CST (0100 GMT, Tuesday). Democrats will gather at 1,100 locations and Republicans at nearly 900 spots.
Turnout was expected to be high. The Iowa Republican Party expected Republican turnout to top the previous record of 120,000 people in 2012. Democrats also expect a strong turnout, though not nearly as large as the record-setting 240,000 people who caucused in the 2008 contest between Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards.