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Senators sprint from DC for flurry of last-minute Iowa events

The break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump Friday evening offered the candidates the gift of a final two days in Iowa. How they use it matters.

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Alex Warren holds the leash as a young girl and her mother pet Bailey Warren, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren's golden retriever, during a meet and greet at Wartburg College at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, on January 29, 2020, while Elizabeth Warren remains in Washington, DC, for the Trump impeachment trial. Democratic candidates, are making their final push through Iowa before the caucuses on February 3, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON - Three people were certain to be among the throngs descending on Iowa this weekend ahead of Monday's caucuses: Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, hitting the ground running after spending two weeks doing their day jobs in Washington.

The break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump Friday evening offered the candidates the gift of a final two days in Iowa. How they use it matters. To take advantage of the final, precious hours, they're leaning heavily on the groundwork they laid in the state long ago.

"They've kind of built their own army, and they're playing into that," said Joe O'Hern, the 2016 caucus director for Democrat Martin O'Malley, said of Warren's campaign. "We're all going to find out on caucus night what that means, but they clearly have had this strategy the whole time and they're continuing to execute it."

State organizers say that a strong ground game has real impact in Iowa, and that the months of work ahead of the enforced absence for Trump's trial cushioned any blow from missing a few weeks of shaking hands or sampling donuts.

"I honestly haven't seen any impact" from the absences, said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price, speaking at a Bloomberg News roundtable in Des Moines on Friday. "When you come right down to it, it doesn't feel like they've been gone that long."

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Polls for the first-in-the-nation state back that up. In the past week, Sanders jumped nearly 5 percentage points and is now in first place with 23.8% in the RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls, despite having only spent a day and a half on the trail. Klobuchar continued to rise in Iowa and Warren fell slightly, continuing her downward trend since late October.

Despite having the state to themselves, former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in second and third respectively, both saw their average poll standing slip in the last week. Biden is now at 20.2% and Buttigieg is at 15.8%. Candidates have been campaigning in Iowa for months, if not years, Price added. Now's the time when candidates make their closing arguments and turn things over to their campaign staff to get out the vote, he said.

Andrew Turner, a veteran campaign strategist in the state, said the senators should use the extra time to emphasize "strength of the organization and making voters feel comfortable that when they walk into that room on caucus night it's going to be organized, it's going to be exciting, the candidate's going to be viable, there's going to be a ton of energy."

In Iowa, the final days can have a real impact. Voters are known for waiting right up until caucus day to decide who to support. A Monmouth University poll released Wednesday found 45% of likely caucus-goers said they were open to changing their minds.

"Caucus-goers will be looking to make that choice in the room, maybe not before they walk in there," O'Hern said.

At this point, the campaigns need to focus on one strategy and go for it, whether that's playing for viability everywhere or focusing on specific districts to gain a couple of delegates, O'Hern said.

The senators are all using their bonus time to see as many voters as they can.

Warren, along with Reps. Deb Haaland, Katie Porter and Ayanna Pressley, will hold get-out-the-caucus rallies across the state. Warren's husband, Bruce, has been appearing on her behalf, as has campaign "furrogate" Bailey, her golden retriever. Both will accompany her to rallies on Sunday.

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Also with Warren is former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who ended his own bid for the Democratic nomination a month ago and endorsed the Massachusetts senator a few days later.

Klobuchar, after having surrogates like Phill Drobnick, the U.S. Olympic gold medal curling coach, host hot-dish parties on her behalf, is going to crisscross the state all weekend. Klobuchar was also the only one of the senator-candidates to visit Iowa in the past week, jetting in for a few hours on Tuesday to hold a rally in Council Bluffs.

Sanders has leaned on high-profile national surrogates like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib - three members of the so-called Squad of progressive freshmen Democrats - and filmmaker Michael Moore. He'll host precaucus concerts this weekend with indie bands Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend to energize young voters.

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(DISCLAIMER: Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

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(c)2020 Bloomberg News

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