With only two days remaining until Iowa voters hold the first nominating contest of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, a closely watched poll is suggesting tight and largely unchanged Democratic and Republican races.
The Iowa Poll, conducted by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics and released late Saturday, showed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton hanging on to their narrow leads in the Hawkeye State.
Trump, the billionaire businessman, came in first with 28 percent, compared with 23 percent for his closest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Since early January, Trump has risen 6 percentage points in the poll.
In keeping with most other recent polls, Florida Senator Marco Rubio came in third in the GOP with 15 percent, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came in fourth with 10 percent. All other candidates polled in the single digits.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Clinton led the way with 45 percent. Her main challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was next with 42 percent. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley secured the support of just 3 percent of likely Democratic voters.
The poll is closely watched by experts and is seen as one of the most accurate indicators of whom voters will choose on Monday in Iowa.
The survey famously predicted that then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama would win Iowa in 2008. He eventually did, defeating Clinton and going on to win the presidency.
However, unlike previous election cycles, the poll this time did not appear to suggest any last-minute surprises, instead revealing too-close-to-call races on both sides.
Candidates from both parties on Saturday made a final sprint in Iowa, holding campaign events across the rural Midwestern state.
Trump returned to Iowa, after having held rallies the previous day in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s next nominating contest on February 9.
“If a lot of people come, Trump wins by a lot. If they don’t come, I don’t win. And if I don’t win, bad things happen,” he said.
Sanders offered a similarly blunt assessment of his chances. At a campaign event in Manchester, in the next primary state, he called the primary battle a “tossup.”
“We will win the caucus on Monday night if there is a large voter turnout. And we will lose the caucus Monday night if there is a low voter turnout,” Sanders said.
Turnout could be affected by a major snowstorm that forecasters expect to hit Iowa starting late Monday, as the voters are caucusing. Forecasters say the storm could dump nearly 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow on parts of the state, along with strong winds that could create blizzard-like conditions.
If the bad weather hits, experts say, candidates with better-organized ground campaigns or with more passionate supporters stand a better chance.
Clinton focuses on guns
Clinton spent Saturday trying to protect her narrow and apparently shrinking lead over Sanders. At a rally in Ames, she appeared with former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona, who was the victim of a gun attack in 2011 and is now a gun control advocate.
"How can we continue to ignore the toll that this is taking on our children and our country?" Clinton said. "When you go to caucus Monday night, please think of this."
Clinton has repeatedly tried to appeal to Democratic voters by saying she will enact tougher gun restrictions than Sanders.
Cruz mailer criticized
Meanwhile, the Cruz campaign is taking heat in Iowa over one of its campaign mailers, which seems to threaten recipients.
The mailer appears to be designed to look like an official document and includes the names of the recipients, as well as those of their neighbors.
“You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area," it reads. "Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.”
Iowa’s secretary of state, Paul Pate, issued a statement calling the flier “misleading” and a “false representation of an official act.”
“There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting,” Pate said. “Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong, and I believe it is not in keeping with the spirit of the Iowa caucuses.”
Polls earlier this month showed Cruz closing in on Trump. But he now appears to be struggling, especially after this week’s shaky debate performance in Des Moines.
Iowa is seen as a particularly crucial state for Cruz. It has a large number of evangelical Christians, which make up a significant part of Cruz’s base of support.
Trump appeals to evangelicals
Eager to gain some of those votes, Trump on Saturday made a last-minute appeal to evangelical voters with a video posted on his Facebook page.
“I really appreciate the support given to me by the evangelicals. They’ve been incredible. Every poll shows how well I’ve been doing with them,” said Trump, holding up a Bible given to him by his mother. “I will never let you down.”