At his final rally before the Iowa caucuses, a resolute and wistful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) sounded one last call for a “political revolution.”
“There is a lot of work to be done, and this country faces a lot of very, very serious problems,” he said Sunday night in Des Moines. “But I believe that, as Americans, when we come together, when we are prepared to stand up to the powers that be, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.”
With a touch of nostalgia, Sanders thanked the 1,700 supporters, volunteers and staffers who filled a Grand View University gymnasium — and “the people of Iowa for welcoming us into their beautiful state.”
“Iowa has shown my family and my staff incredible hospitality and warmness, and we appreciate it very much,” he said. “This is a beautiful, beautiful state — and it’s been an honor to campaign in it.”
On Monday night, the efficacy of all that campaigning will be put to the test when Iowans trudge to 1,681 precinct caucuses in more than 1,100 schools, libraries, community centers and fire stations. There, they will deliver impassioned speeches to their neighbors and then sort themselves by candidate.
Following byzantine rules established by the Iowa Democratic Party, they will elect delegates to county conventions, who will elect delegates to the state convention, who will elect delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
But the only thing that will matter Monday night is whether Sanders can pull off a feat that, mere months ago, not even his most confident advisers thought was possible: an Iowa upset over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Sanders supporters Sunday in Des Moines
“When we started this, we were 50 points down in the polls,” Sanders' Iowa campaign coordinator, Pete D’Alessandro, reminded the Des Moines crowd Sunday night as he introduced his boss. “And, because of you, we ain’t 50 points down anymore. Are we?”
Indeed, Sanders is not. A final Des Moines Register poll released Saturday showed him trailing Clinton by just 3 percentage points — within the survey’s 4-point margin of error.
For days, the senator from Vermont has been telling audiences around eastern Iowa that if turnout exceeds expectations, he will win. If it does not, he has predicted, he will lose.
“I think the turnout is gonna be pretty high,” senior Sanders adviser Tad Devine said Sunday as he prepared to watch the candidate deliver his final Iowa address. “But I think, for us, it’s not just aggregate turnout numbers. We’re interested in the composition of the electorate.”
If Sanders can attract young people and newcomers to the caucuses, Devine said, “I think the Democratic establishment will take a step back and will begin to wonder whether or not it is in their interest to have Bernie Sanders as the nominee.”
So? Does Devine divine a political revolution sweeping across the snow-covered fields of Iowa?
“I feel good,” he said. “I think we have a real shot of, you know, closing this thing at the end and maybe getting by her.”
Mark Foster and Mark Pontius of Foster the People
Win or lose, Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told Sanders’ supporters, their efforts have not been in vain.
“Bernie has now fundamentally shaped the way and changed the way we look at what progress should be in this nation,” said Grijalva, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “It’s not incremental to the point that you do nothing. It is bold.”
Sanders spent his penultimate day in the Hawkeye State working his way west from Iowa City to Waterloo to Marshalltown, Ames and, finally, Des Moines.
At a convention center in Waterloo, Sanders pushed back against the barrage of criticism he’s faced in recent weeks from Clinton and her allies.
“You know, I’ve seen ads on television that suggest that Bernie Sanders is trying to dismantle health care in America,” he told more than 650 people gathered in a drab event room. “Dismantle health care? I’ve spent my life fighting for universal health care for every man, woman and child!”
Sanders’ voice grew louder and louder.
“There is an ad out there saying I’m attacking Planned Parenthood. I have a 100 percent lifetime voting record for Planned Parenthood,” he shouted. “I want to expand Planned Parenthood funding. We’re not attacking Planned Parenthood. We’re gonna make them stronger.”
Reporters at a Sanders rally in Des Moines
In Ames, Sanders sounded a defiant note, telling NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview that he was “in this until the end.” Whether or not he fell short in Iowa, he said, he would keep on keepin' on.
"What we are doing is running a national campaign,” he said. “We're going to run until the convention.”
"I hope we win, but if we lose by two points, so what! We're going to go to New Hampshire, then we're going to go to South Carolina, then we're going to go to Nevada," he said. "We are in this to the end."