DES MOINES — As candidates fan out across Iowa on Saturday for one of their final chances to make their case to heartland caucus goers, the biggest news of the day is likely to come from the downtown Des Moines Marriott, which is home base for many in the national political news media.
Bloomberg Politics and the Des Moines Register are releasing the results of their final Iowa poll, an indicator of which campaigns are on the upswing in a crucial time before the vote on Monday. Not only will it will be live-streamed, but it will be followed by food and cocktails.
What is noticeable is nervousness among Hillary Clinton supporters, wondering whether Bernie Sanders can eke out a win in a state where she had once been so far ahead in the polls. Donald Trump has led in some recent Iowa polls in a state that seemed to favor Ted Cruz, but Trump’s decision to skip the debate on Thursday has come with withering attacks from rivals that he walked away because he could stand the heat. It also could indicate whether Marco Rubio’s campaign has gained some momentum, as he tries to cast himself as an alternative to the anti-establishment crusades of Trump and Cruz.
Downtown Des Moines thrives in the once-every-four-years spotlight, not only in the hiked-up room rates and brisk bar business, but the extra flair of catching national media figures in the street or, in the case of recent weeks, a smattering of celebrities who have shown up to serve as surrogates for candidates. Gaby Hoffmann, of “Transparent” and “Girls,” was in town on Friday for Sanders; a few weeks ago “Girls” star Lena Dunham campaigned here for Clinton.
The Sanders campaign is deploying a number of entertainment figures throughout the weekend, including Josh Hutcherson, “The Hunger Games” star, who is scheduled to attend a rally at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Saturday and canvassing and phone banking events on Sunday. Also at the Sanders rally on Saturday evening are Vampire Weekend, Jill Solbule, Awful Purdies, Kay Hanley, Michelle Lewis and the Lucas Brothers. Earlier this week, Susan Sarandon campaigned with Sanders, with the actress drawing headlines for attacks on Clinton. “She failed me,” Sarandon said of Clinton’s 2002 vote in favor of U.S. military action in Iraq.
After deploying such entertainment figures as Jamie Lee Curtis and Demi Lovato in recent weeks, the Clinton campaign this weekend is largely sticking to events featuring the candidate, her husband former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton, along with policy-oriented surrogates like former Congresswoman Gabby Gifford and her husband Mark Kelly, advocates on gun violence issues. A campaign official said that there are fewer showbiz types here this weekend as they wanted to concentrate on the campaign’s closing message to voters.
Timothy Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, said that the Sanders campaign’s emphasis on actors and musicians in this final weekend makes sense given that his campaign is depending on heavy turnout among younger voters. The campaign doesn’t have quite the field operation of the Clinton campaign, so they are depending on the last burst of energy to make a difference.
“Does having those celebrities increase that enthusiasm a lot? To some extent, the last weekend before the caucuses, the answer is ‘Yes,'” he said.
On the Republican side, Cruz is being joined on the trail on Saturday and Sunday by “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, who endorsed him earlier this month in an irreverent video. Robertson’s son, Willie, is endorsing Trump.
Chris Christie was staying at the Sheraton in West Des Moines, the same hotel as Chris Soules, the former star of “The Bachelor.” He was actually in town for the Land Expo, an agriculture real estate conference. The two snapped a picture together, and the Christie campaign tweeted out the picture as a new supporter, but Soules later said that he was still undecided.
“Going to hit up the caucus for the first time before I commit,” he wrote. “Will have to DVR #TheBachelor.”
In fact, a street near the hotel, in one of the more affluent suburban areas of the city, offers an indicator of just how unexpected and unpredictable the 2016 race has been and who is driving the enthusiasm. On the fence of one subdivision is a message of ‘Feel the Bern,’ lit up in Christmas lights. Farther south, on the other side of the street, a different subdivision greets visitors with a lit-up portrait of Trump.