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Murphy: Iowans breaking late once again
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Murphy: Iowans breaking late once again

From the ICYMI: Stories from the weekend you might have missed series

The presidential candidates have been campaigning in Iowa for more than a year and the caucuses are just two months away. And yet many Iowa Democrats remain decidedly undecided.

Do you find it difficult to believe most Iowa Democrats still haven’t made up their minds in this presidential primary, even though it may seem like the caucus season has lasted forever?

It’s true.

One Democrat at an event this week went so far as to say Iowans are still in the "speed-dating" phase of the primary.

For those of us who have been following this from its inception all those months ago, it feels like that phase should have been over in the spring. But it serves as a reminder that Iowans — at least the ones who aren’t locked into a candidate — take their time making up their minds.

For people who have followed the caucuses for years, this isn't a surprise — even when they hear Democrats say they may not make up their minds until the very night of the caucuses, Feb. 3.

What those undecided voters are saying at campaign events shows up in polling as well: Multiple recent polls in Iowa have showed a majority of likely caucus participants remain undecided or willing to change their top pick.

The candidates are aware. When speaking in Iowa, they regularly attempt to appeal directly to those undecided voters.

That means the race is still volatile, and the outcome up for grabs. Polling has shown a consistent pack of front-runners: Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. But with so many Iowans who have not yet made up their minds and even more willing to have their minds changed, that lineup could look significantly different on caucus night.

It also leaves an opening for candidates like Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker or Andrew Yang to have a late surge and become competitive with the front-runners.

There is precedent to suggest a late bloomer could still win Iowa. And if you’ve attended any of the candidates’ events lately, there’s a good chance you heard about it.

John Kerry’s 2004 victory in Iowa has become commonly cited by this year’s candidates. Sure enough, Kerry in December of 2003 was still polling in the high single-digits, well behind front-runners like Howard Dean and Wesley Clark. (Kerry, by the way, just this week endorsed Biden.)

It would not be difficult to conceive of such a late-surging victory in Iowa this year. Booker has steadily built a solid campaign operation in Iowa, and Klobuchar has boosted hers with a recent surge in polling. And both have a long list of Iowa endorsements to validate their campaigns.

Even Yang remains an intriguing wild card. His campaign has generated interest, especially with people who are new to the political process. If Yang is able to turn out enough new caucus participants, he could be a factor in the race.

There may be the usual three tickets out of Iowa. Or perhaps with a larger field that is in such flux, that old adage will be bent and the top four or five candidates could come out of Iowa still feeling hopeful.

Bottom line, this race is far from over. And tracking these final two months is going to be worth the price of admission.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.


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