The Note: Caucus Countdown

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--FIVE THINGS THAT COULD DEFINE THE 2016 IOWA CAUCUSES: It has all-the-makings of a historic night for Democrats and Republicans with a real possibility the current two frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could prevail -- or be beaten -- in what remains a very close race. It's been an election that has, in many ways, re-defined American politics and the way campaigns are run. ABC’s JOSH HASKELL rounds up the major storylines to watch out for tonight as the results are pouring in:

--BY THE NUMBERS: In the final poll before todays’ Iowa caucuses, Donald Trump holds a slight 5-point lead over Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are neck-and-neck within the margin of error. The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics pool took place January 26-29, three days before Trump skipped the GOP Iowa debate to one day after. This particular poll, which has a history of accuracy as it predicted Rick Santorum's late surge in 2012, shows Donald Trump as the frontrunner, but still a close race. Trump will need the help of first-time caucus-goers to boost his chances of beating Cruz and in this poll, 40 percent say their caucusing for their first time, ABC’s JOSH HASKELL and RYAN STRUYK note.

--DOES IOWA KNOW HOW TO PICK PRESIDENTS? The Iowa caucuses have been the first major electoral event of the presidential election cycle since the 1970s. But in years past, just how good have Iowans been at predicting the President of the United States? ABC’s PAOLA CHAVEZ has more.

--YOUR GUIDE TO THE WEIRDEST IOWA CAUCUS LOCATIONS: Usually, voters huddle in local schools, churches or other government buildings. But some state parties took some creative liberties with choosing polling locations. ABC’s ANDREA GONZALES, RYAN STRUYK, PAOLA CHAVEZ and JEFF NAFT look at a few of the most interesting caucus locations of 2016.

--WHY FIRST-TIME CAUCUS-GOERS WILL DECIDE THE WINNER. They say the only poll that matters is on Election Day -- and that may be especially true in 2016. Brand new caucus-goers are usually energized and motivated to get to the polls because of the candidate they support. It can take some substantial excitement too -- caucusing can take up a person’s whole night and it’s a complicated process. ABC’s RYAN STRUYK notes what you should be watching from home this year.

--HOW THE IOWA CAUCUSES WORK: The Iowa caucuses are significant because of their first-in-the-nation timing and their historic tradition. A good showing in Iowa is vital. No candidate that has finished worse than third has ever gone on to win the presidency. But the Iowa contest isn't just your typical ballot-box election. Iowa, unlike other early-voting states New Hampshire and South Carolina, does not operate as a traditional primary because they will not immediately award any delegates to a specific candidate. ABC’s JEFF NAFT explains:



DONALD TRUMP SURPRISED BY HIS LEAD. Asked by ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, “Did you ever imagine then that on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, you'd be leading -- leading pretty big in every state?” Trump responded, “The truth is, no, I didn't.” "I'm somebody that knows how to win. I close the deal," Trump added. "But I never thought I'd have 24 point leads in different states.” ABC’s EMILY SHAPIRO has more.

HILLARY CLINTON EQUATES ‘TOP SECRET’ EMAILS CONTROVERSY TOP REPUBLICANS ATTACKS OVER BENGHAZI. Hillary Clinton compared the recent controversy over her emails deemed to contain "top secret" information by the State Department to Republican attacks over Benghazi. The State Department on Friday refused to release 22 of the former Secretary of State’s emails, deeming they contained “top secret” information, ABC’s NICKI ROSSOLL reports. It’s unclear what information was in those emails, but it was the first time the State Department acknowledged Clinton’s email correspondence contained “top secret” information, pushing the issue back into the spotlight just days before the first votes of the 2016 election are cast. “This is very much like Benghazi,” Clinton said Sunday on “This Week." “Republicans are going to continue to use it, beat up on me. I understand that. That's the way they are.”

SANDERS: CLINTON ‘GETTING SLAPPED’ BY EMAIL CONTROVERSY. Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declined to attack rival Hillary Clinton over the use of her private email server on ABC's "This Week”" Sunday, but did warn the issue could hand her Republican opponents leverage. Asked whether he might get "slapped" with a "socialist" label in the general election, the self-described Democratic socialist countered that Clinton had her own vulnerabilities, saying, "look at the front pages in terms of what Secretary Clinton is getting slapped with." Sanders denied he was raising Clinton's emails as an attack, according to ABC’s EVAN MCMURRAY.

BILL CLINTON SAYS HE’S LEAVING IT ‘ALL ON THE FLOOR’ IOWA. "You just want to know you left it all on the floor, and I think we did," former president Bill Clinton told ABC News. "We've had a chance to get her message out. I feel good about it but you don't know what's going to happen," Clinton said, noting Iowa's history of unpredictability when it comes to choosing who wins the state's caucuses. ABC’s MATTHEW CLAIBORNE, SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and ALANA ABRAMSON has more.

IOWA POLITICAL PARTIES ACKNOWLEDGE MAJOR GAP IN ONLINE CAUCUS TOOL. New online tools launched by both the state Democratic and Republican parties designed to inform people where to go tonight were built with one major hole, the parties confirmed to ABC News. The systems were only built off the list of registered voters' addresses. As a result, for new voters who have never registered in the state and who live at addresses where no one else has registered, the online feature does not work, ABC’s MARYALICE PARKS and MADELAINE PISANI report. Instead, when an address is not found in the system, users are confronted with a complicated set of instructions.

IOWA ACTIVISTS ENCOURAGE LATINOS TO CAUCUS. Christian Ucles has been working hard to get out the vote in Iowa -- but not just any vote. Ucles is a part of LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens. And from door-knocking to mock caucus trainings, this year the organization is doing everything it can to get Latinos to caucus, ABC’s INES DE LA CUETARA writes. "People may understand the importance of voting but they may not know how to vote, they may not know the caucus process," Ucles said. Latinos make up just 6 percent of the total population in Iowa, but LULAC estimates that accounts for about 70,000 potential caucus-goers.


GET READY FOR THE GRANITE STATE --THESE GOP CANDIDATES CAN’T LEAVE IOWA QUICKLY ENOUGH. After more than a year of prognostication and punditry, the Iowa caucuses will finally get underway Monday night. But don’t expect Republican candidates Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or John Kasich to linger over the results. They’ll already be in New Hampshire. The three governors, locked in a fierce fight for moderate voters in the race for the GOP nomination, have all but given up hope on a strong finish in the Hawkeye State, ABC’s BRAD MIELKE reports. According to Saturday’s Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, they’re stuck in the low single digits, trailing favorites Donald Trump and Ted Cruz by more than 20 points. In the smaller, more moderate state of New Hampshire, each candidate sees stronger support and a clearer path to the nomination.



@JenniferJJacobs: How Iowa caucuses got so angry, ripe for outsiders, by @kylemunson …

@J_Baird: Great podcast on history & culture of #IowaCaucus: @ThreeTicketsDMR by @jasonnobleDMR. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

@russellberman: No Jewish candidate has ever won a major party primary—a Sanders victory in Iowa or NH would be the first …

@JHoganGidley: WATCH: @GovMikeHuckabee explain to @TheBrodyFile how he would constitutionally STOP abortion AND win the PR battle. 

@PhilipRucker: Christie needs a big NH finish to move more donors to give, but camp confident it's got enough moolah to get thru SC