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All Eyes On Iowa


We're just two days away from the Iowa caucuses, with voters finally getting a direct say in the 2020 presidential campaign. Eleven Democratic candidates are vying for their party's nomination, and all of them must first convince the voters in Iowa. Joining us now to talk about what to expect on Monday night and beyond is NPR's Domenico Montanaro, who is in Iowa.



MCCAMMON: So we heard, first of all, a lot about impeachment earlier in the program. But that is sort of hanging over everything that's happening in politics right now. Can you tell us about how voters there in Iowa are reacting to this news just days before the caucuses?

MONTANARO: The big thing that impeachment has meant is that the top three of five polling candidates have been stuck in the Senate for a lot of the time. And boy, that is really making a lot of these campaign managers and strategists really nervous as we wind down the clock here into the last 48 hours.

MCCAMMON: So Iowa gets all this attention every year, of course, because it's the first caucus state. But there's always a lot of criticism about Iowa's prominent role because of the fact that it's a heavily white, largely rural state not representative of the country demographically. It's especially out of sync with the demographics of the Democratic Party. What are you hearing about that this year?

MONTANARO: You know, that's been a quadrennial controversy, right? I mean, every four years, Iowa gets criticized for that. And it's true. I mean, the last Iowa caucuses in 2016 were 91% white. Certainly, it doesn't line up, especially with the representation of the Democratic Party. But traditions are hard to change.

You know, Iowa has been back-timed because of how long it takes them to pick delegates, where they've had to go first because they don't pick their delegates in the end until June. So they have this very long, drawn-out process. And by this sort of roll of the dice, they wound up being first. And it's been difficult to change because it's been very predictive for the Democratic candidates who becomes the nominee.

MCCAMMON: Yeah. I mean, we talk a lot about the symbolic value of Iowa, but how important is the state really in this process if you look at the end results?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, these candidates know that it's a predictive state. It's a place where 7 of the last 9 Democratic nominees have won, including the last four. And that's a big reason why they wind up spending and have spent some $50 million on ads, radio, TV, digital. And they're certainly doing a whole lot of campaigning here in these final days.

MCCAMMON: And remind us where we are in the process, Domenico. This is just the beginning of voting for 2020. What's next after Iowa?

MONTANARO: Well, for as much as Iowa matters because of the momentum that a candidate can get coming out of here - and, like we said, how predictive it's been - really, though, 1% of the delegates come out of Iowa, so there's a long way to go after this. Iowa just brings in 41 of the national delegates, and a candidate needs 1,991 to reach that magic number to become the nominee.

You're going to have just 2% of the delegates after New Hampshire, just 5% of the delegates after the first four states with Nevada and South Carolina. But once we get into March, you're going to have more than half the delegates that are allocated by the end of March, some 30-plus contests in March. And by the end of April, we're going to have 90% of the delegates allocated.

And party officials are already looking toward the end of April as a time when they could see potentially who the nominee would be. They're anticipating that you'll see a nominee by that time.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro, senior political editor and correspondent, talking to us from Iowa.

Thanks for taking the time.

MONTANARO: Thank you so much, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.