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In Iowa, the circus nears an end — but, remarkably, neither party has an idea who’s going to win

AP_donld_trump_jt_160124_12x5_1600One of the oddest things about being in Iowa on the eve of the caucus is that every aspect of the process here, which is so astonishing and often absurd, is covered in such minute detail that it can all begin to seem a little mundane.

There are so many reporters from so many outlets around in the world in Iowa this week that at least one big hotel in downtown Des Moines has been selling souvenirs geared specifically toward journalists, including one t-shirt that reads “Didn’t I interview you four years ago?”

It’s not unusual as a reporter here to interview someone at random among a crowd of hundreds only to have the interviewee tick back to you the list of those outlets to whom they’ve already spoken. In a lineup for a Donald Trump event last week, TV news crews from Belgium, Japan and Switzerland all found the same group of college kids within a half-hour stretch.

If anything, though, the journalists are actually outnumbered by the volunteers and professional campaign staff. The pure density of political fauna in Iowa means that every restaurant in downtown Des Moines has an air of loosely held truce to it anytime after 10 p.m., when the events are over and the stories are filed.

At one restaurant late Saturday night, a Hillary Clinton organizer in a Make America Gay Again hat lobbied a pro-Bernie Sanders waitress while a booth full of morose Ben Carson volunteers got progressively drunker nearby. Earlier, in the foyer, a circle of Japanese TV journalists chatted with a Canadian reporter in front of a table selling souvenir caucus t-shirts and a chalkboard advertising a special Caucus Pale Ale.

All of that, of course, ends tonight. Starting at 7 p.m., Democrats and Republicans will gather in precincts across Iowa to choose the first winners in the pre-presidential race. What’s remarkable is that for all blanket coverage and analysis, all the polls and predictions, no one from either party can say with any certainty which candidate will win.

For the Republicans, Donald Trump has sustained a late lead in most polls. But there are real questions about the quality of his ground game. According to a report in Politico late Sunday, the Trump team spent almost as much on hats last quarter (US$450,000) as it did on field consulting (US$551,000).

For the Democrats, Bernie Sanders has continued to close the gap on Hillary Clinton, who held a large rally at a Des Moines public school Sunday night. The Clinton volunteers I’ve spoken to here still seem quietly confident. But they know if Sanders can turn out his vote, especially among the young, he could still easily win.

Once the results are in and the speeches given, everyone, from the journalists and staffers and volunteers, will pack up and fly (or in my case drive) east to New Hampshire ahead of next Tuesday’s primary. There, the dynamics of the race change — Sanders, the senator for neighbouring Vermont, has a large lead there, for example — but the peripheral players, the camp followers in this political war, will be the same.

via : Donald Trump – National Post