Less than 100 days out from the 2020 caucuses, Democratic presidential hopefuls flock to Iowa

PHOTO: The Grand Concourse is crowded with visitors at the Iowa State Fair, on Aug. 18, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa.PlayChristian Science Monitor via Getty Images, FILE
WATCH The race for 2020 running through Iowa

Presidential candidates are flocking to Iowa this weekend in the hopes of improving in some cases and solidifying in others the trajectory of their campaigns.

With the Feb. 3 caucuses less than 100 days away, this weekend could be a make or break moment for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, especially the lower and middle tier candidates.

“If you’re in the lower tier it’s especially important because you get to advertise yourself on equal terms with everybody else no matter where you stand in rank,” Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, told ABC News.

All in all there have been over 1,500 campaign events in Iowa this presidential cycle.

The candidates will converge at the Liberty & Justice Celebration, the Iowa Democratic Party’s largest fundraiser event of the year. Organizers expect 13,000 guests. The dinner is political pageantry at its finest; celebrities like John Legend and Katy Perry have performed in past years and thousands of supporters chant and wave signs as confetti falls from the ceiling.

The fall fundraiser provides a unique opportunity for the candidates to show off the strength of their organization on the ground in Iowa.

"This is the last time before the caucus that candidates will be in front of this many caucus-goers. Iowans take their responsibility seriously and are ready to hear every candidate's visions for our country," said Jonah Hermann, the spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

This year 11 candidates are holding “pre-rallies” before the Friday night fundraiser, notable efforts to rally supporters include Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders whose campaign will have 18 buses bringing supporters from all over Iowa to attend the event and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s “Yangapalooza” rally which will include performances from rock band Weezer and comedians John Nguyen and Nick Guerra. In addition to the dinner, there are also two forums, two fundraisers, and nearly 50 individual campaign stops planned for this weekend.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry on Sept. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Polk County Democrats' Steak Fry on Sept. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Where candidates become nominees

In the past, the dinner has helped clarify the front-runners in Iowa.

In 2007, Obama marched through downtown Des Moines with musician John Legend and thousands of supporters and was introduced by Nancy Pelosi as “the next President of the United States.” He went on to win Iowa and the Democratic nomination and make history as the nation's first black president.

Earlier this week in a fundraising email, Buttigieg’s senior messaging adviser and former Obama staffer, Larry Grisolano compared Obama’s 2007 breakout moment to Buttigieg’s current campaign: “It was the moment that changed everything for the Obama campaign and, ultimately, for the country. That same moment for Pete, and for America, is this Friday night,” Grisolano wrote.

But only twice has the Democratic winner of the Iowa caucuses gone on to the White House: Barack Obama in 2008 and Jimmy Carter in 1976. Only once has the Republican winner of the Iowa caucuses won the general election: George W. Bush in 2000.

So, how does a caucus work exactly?

In a couple months, the 613,000 registered Democrats in Iowa will mostly likely trek through snow to one of the 1,678 caucus precinct locations to cast their vote.

For those who don’t live in one of the 10 states that have caucuses, the process can seem a bit bewildering. For volunteers working the caucus, there’s a lot of math involved. But for voters, they show up and divide up according to who they want to vote for, their presidential preference.

PHOTO: The Grand Concourse is crowded with visitors at the Iowa State Fair, on Aug. 18, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa. Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images, FILE
The Grand Concourse is crowded with visitors at the Iowa State Fair, on Aug. 18, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa.

If their preferred candidate is not a viable option, there must be at least 15% of caucus attendees in a group to be considered viable, then the voter must choose a different candidate who is considered viable.

Then there’s the tie-breaker. Famously in 2016 a coin toss was used, but pursuant to section 50.44 of the 2018 Election Laws of Iowa, if there’s a tie, the winner will now be decided by drawing a name out of a hat/bin/box/receptacle.

In it to win it

In September, Buttigieg opened 20 field offices in Iowa in 20 days, three of which are in Polk County. Sen. Kamala Harris was overheard saying, “I’m f------ moving to Iowa,” joining fellow presidential candidate Marianne Williamson who actually moved to Iowa in June.

Harris’ campaign is also implementing an “organizational realignment to go all-in on Iowa” which includes a seven-figure media buy and relocating staffers from New Hampshire, Nevada and California to Iowa.

There are over 500 campaign staffers and more than 100 Democratic presidential campaign offices in Iowa, according to ABC News' estimates, and the large field of Democratic candidates are constantly adding to their ground game in the Hawkeye state.

Both Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden have bought ads to air in the month running up to the caucus in 2020. Biden, for example, on Friday launched two new ads focused on his pitch to working class voters ahead of the Liberty and Justice Celebration.

Iowa's shifting demographic a factor

As the candidates cross the state and talk one-on-one with voters about such issues ranging from farm assistance to health care, increasingly those conversations are taking place against the backdrop of a rapidly shifting demographic.

PHOTO: America Zaragroa poses for a portrait inside Zamora Fresh Market in Marshalltown, Iowa, Aug. 7, 2019, which has a growning Hispanic and Latino community. Sergio Flores for ABC News
America Zaragroa poses for a portrait inside Zamora Fresh Market in Marshalltown, Iowa, Aug. 7, 2019, which has a growning Hispanic and Latino community.

The 1990s marked the beginning of a rapid demographic shift: Iowa’s Latino population would increase by 480% between 1990 and 2018, according to the Iowa Data Center. Currently, the Latino population makes up 6% of Iowa’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and by 2050 that number is projected to double to 12%, according to Woods & Poole Economics, a firm that specializes in long-term demographics projection.

Joe Henry, a LULAC special advisor in Iowa, says that he expects the Latino voting bloc to make up a quarter of caucus-goers in the state next year. And as that electorate expands, Henry says he's looking for candidates to ensure they are invested in addressing issues important to Latino communities.

"We need a clearer discussion on the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. It needs to be a message that is clear that being an immigrant in the United States should not be considered a crime," Henry said. "We have a lot of mixed-status families here in Iowa... young people want to hear where their family members stand."

"Even just making sure that candidates reach out to our community. Biden wasn't at our town hall, Warren was not there, Buttigieg was not there. We need more attention on our community. We will make our voices heard and we will bring up these issues in our community," Henry told ABC News.