Just days before the caucus and Ted Cruz is finishing on the defensive, facing attacks from all corners that threaten to deprive him of a needed first-place finish. Donald Trump is questioning his eligibility, Marco Rubio is questioning his ideological consistency, and Mike Huckabee and others are questioning his commitment to his faith. Cruz, meanwhile, is putting his hopes in the most sophisticated ground game in Iowa a GOP candidate has ever fielded, but there are signs he’s concerned. In the final hours he’s abruptly dropped his attacks on Donald Trump from his stump speech, instead returning to the fundamentals—the list of things he would do on his first day in office—that brought him to the top of the polls in the first place. He’s also shifted his television attack ads to hit Rubio, calling him the “Republican Obama” in a particularly biting one. Additionally, he is relying more on his wife, Heidi, to soften the edges and make him appear more likable in the home stretch.
Hillary Clinton will be joined by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly for the first time since they endorsed. The appearance of the gun control advocates at her event in Ames, Iowa will be part of an effort by the Democratic front-runner to slam Bernie Sanders‘ record on gun control one final time before the caucuses, and will suggest Sanders doesn’t meet the threshold on gun issues to earn President Barack Obama‘s endorsement. Meanwhile news that 22 emails on Clinton’s private server have been declared top secret could not have come at a worst time for the Democrat, fueling negative news cycles as Democrats choose between her and Sanders.
It’s expectations-setting season in Iowa, with candidates of all stripes seeking to manipulate the press coverage to ensure they get the best bump or to mitigate the damage out of their performance Monday night. Cruz and Trump have both made winning the objective, meaning one is certain to be declared a loser on Monday night. The Rubio campaign is forcefully seeking to reject the notion that anything higher than 3rd place is possible in the state, even as the candidate sees significant momentum in Cruz’s struggles. Other expectations are more complicated, with Chris Christie aiming to be first among the governors in hopes of using it as a slingshot to gain support in New Hampshire.
How Jeb Bush‘s family helps him in Iowa. Clinton gets personal. And Scott Walker is still in debt.
Here are your must-reads:
Cruz Limps Toward the Finish Line in Iowa
The onetime caucus favorite is on the defensive in the final hours, TIME’s Alex Altman reports
How Jeb Bush’s Family Helps Him in Iowa
TIME’s Philip Elliott on how Bush looks to turn out fans of his family
Clinton’s Email Troubles Come With Bad Political Timing
The investigation will be slow, deliberate and torturous for the presidential candidate, TIME’s Massimo Calabresi writes after emails declared “top secret”
Team Rubio Shoots Down Talk of Second Place Iowa Finish After Ted Cruz Shift
Managing expectations with an expletive even as race dynamics shift [TIME]
A Tale of Two Democratic Rallies
TIME’s Sam Frizell on how Clinton and Sanders rallies differ
“Now, Ted Cruz may not be a U.S. citizen. Right? But he’s an anchor baby in Canada. No, he’s an anchor baby. Ted Cruz is an anchor baby in Canada.” —Donald Trump escalates his war of words with Cruz at an event in New Hampshire.
“I think there’ve been three Democratic debates. I get confused between the Saturday Night Live skits and the real thing.” —Marco Rubio at an event in Clinton, Iowa.
Bits and Bites
Rubio urges against mass deportation as fix to immigration [Associated Press]
George W. Bush: ‘Please caucus for Jeb Bush’ [Washington Post]