First Draft on Politics: Democrats Gather to Make Final Arguments in Iowa Sprint

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 08.55.13MAGGIE HABERMAN

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Good Tuesday morning. As the candidates schedules bear out, the focus is almost entirely on Iowa in the days before the caucuses. The scene there comprises both brief snapshots and grand themes as the candidates try to make their final arguments. 

On what was perhaps the best day of Hillary Clintons primary campaign since October, she ended with a strong presence at a town-hall-style forum hosted by CNN, the final appearance by all three Democrats in the same place before the Iowa caucuses.

The forum, at Drake University in Des Moines, came hours after Mrs. Clinton got a significant push from President Obama, who heaped praise on her in an interview with Politico. What’s more, he suggested that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, for all the ballyhooed enthusiasm behind his candidacy, is not an analogue to his own 2008 campaign.

It was all but an endorsement, and it seemed to buoy Mrs. Clinton. She appeared in command on the stage, and essentially declined to attack Mr. Sanders, even though the race had grown more rancorous, and though he was deeply critical of her earlier in the evening. He also declared that he would raise taxes to pay for some of his programs, a remark that could be fodder for an attack ad down the road.

But Mrs. Clinton did not seem anxious about a potential loss, sticking to her pragmatist pitch while praising Mr. Sanders’s hopeful final closing ad. The appearance seemed to set the tone for Mrs. Clinton’s closing pitch in the final seven days of the Iowa race, in which opinion surveys have shown wildly different results in a voting system that is notoriously hard to poll.

In the meantime, Donald J. Trump will return to Iowa today after a quick trip to New Hampshire, where he holds a commanding lead and where he will rely on voters to give him a boost if he loses in Iowa. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, trying to preserve his standing in that state, has turned increasingly negative toward Mr. Trump.

Cutting into Mr. Cruz’s vote share among evangelicals and conservatives are three candidates: Ben Carson, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. That could have an impact on the final tally.