Iowa Democratic caucus race too close to call, according to NBC News

DES MOINES, Iowa — Early entrance polls show four leading candidates vying for first place on Monday night as doors close Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, with final results remaining unclear.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are all contesting for the lead, according to an NBC News entrance poll.

Support for each candidate will likely change over the course of the night inside each precinct throughout the caucus process, which is very different from traditional voting.

Candidates with less than 15 percent in any precinct are deemed unviable and their supporters are forced to “re-align” to other candidates, so candidates like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, businessman Andrew Yang, and billionaire Tom Steyer may struggle to make viability in many precints.

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The campaign has been unusual this cycle, with SandersWarren and Klobuchar shuttling between Iowa and Washington as their “jury duty” at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial wears on. After returning to the Capitol on Sunday, they rushed back here Monday evening to join supporters at watch parties around Des Moines.

Convention holds there are only “three tickets out of Iowa,” and the state caucuses have a history of picking presidents, from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama. Seven out of the nine past winners of contested Democratic contests here went on to win the party’s nomination.

The candidates spent almost a year selling themselves to Iowans, sometimes one voter at a time, but the pace of race is about to increase up to warp speed.

New Hampshire’s primary comes a week from Tuesday, followed by a debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC in Las Vegas on Feb., 19, ahead of Nevada’s Feb. 22 caucuses. Next comes South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 29, but it will have to compete with the dozen states that vote three days after that on the single biggest day of the primary calendar: Super Tuesday, March 3.

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg will be waiting for whoever survives to Super Tuesday, where he has already spent around $200 million to win over voters in states that vote that day, such as California, Texas and Virginia.

Candidates who have struggled to attract support from people of color, such as Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, know they will face a tough road ahead as the contest moves on to more diverse states without a strong showing in Iowa to power them through.

But money is the real limiting factor for most campaigns, and momentum out of Iowa will be crucial to refill campaign coffers after all the leading candidates went on a spending spree in the run-up to Iowa. Former Vice President Joe Biden looks particularly vulnerable here, after he reported having less money in the bank than top rivals in his most recent campaign finance report.

Iowa’s role has been challenged recently as a growing number of Democrats, including some former presidential candidates, argue the overwhelmingly white, rural state is not representative of the diversity of the party, and some believe this year could be the last of the Iowa caucuses as they have been known.

Either way, President Donald Trump is making the most of the head start he’s been granted in the months it will likely take Democrats to pick a nominee.