More than 13 months of campaigning, thousands of town halls, and tens of thousands of selfies later, the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses will finally take place Monday night.
The general state of the play is clear. Four candidates have a chance to win. The front-runner in polls is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg closely following. Two other candidates ― Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang ― could surge to surprisingly strong finishes, and will at least play some role in the results.
But the ultimate outcome is still up in the air, and there are plenty of variables that could impact the final result and the ability of candidates to claim a boost to their campaign.
Here are eight things to watch on Iowa Caucus Day:
Not every caucus is actually in Iowa.
For the first time, Iowans will be able to caucus somewhere other than their local precinct. In an effort to make the time-intensive process more accessible, the party added 87 satellite caucus locations. While most of them are in Iowa, there are also sites in California, New York, Pennsylvania ― and even as far away as Georgia (the country, not the state). Several of the sites are meant to reach out to underserved communities, with Spanish-language caucuses, sites at Muslim community centers and a caucus held at a facility that cares for people with disabilities. Watch to see if some of these caucuses have notably different results than the local precincts.
Second choices matter.
There’s an element of “Survivor” on Iowa caucus night. Candidates have to prove they are viable — by gaining the support of at least 15% of voters present at a precinct — in order to be eligible to win any delegates. If candidates’ don’t have enough support in any given precinct, they essentially get voted out of the precinct.
That leaves their supporters with some options: They can just remain uncommitted to a candidate, or they can caucus for their second choice. And that’s where things can get interesting on caucus night. There’s a chance a number of candidates won’t be viable in all the precincts; so far only four candidates have been consistently polling above 15% in the state.
It’s up to the leading campaigns to effectively train their volunteers and precinct captains to make the case for their candidate in the room and convince the uncommitted caucusers to join their team. This process will give an interesting window not only into which campaign is most effective at organizing, but also how candidates’ bases might overlap.
There are some predictions of what might happen. In places where Warren or Yang fail to achieve viability, it could benefit Sanders. Klobuchar or Buttigieg failing to meet viability is expected to help Biden, who shares their relative moderation. But the math may not be that simple. Almost every candidate will miss viability in at least some places, and Buttigieg or Warren could easily benefit if the other isn’t viable. Or women who backed Klobuchar could shift to Warren if the Minnesotan fails to reach 15% of the vote in some places.
Moral victories are more than possible.
At the end of the day, every presidential candidate’s goal is to leave the Iowa with as many pledged delegates as possible. The Iowa caucuses are like a mini-Electoral College system. And until this year, the state’s Democratic Party declared the winner based on who won the most “state delegate equivalents” ― the share of delegates to the state party convention won by an individual candidate — which then translates into pledged delegates.
But this year, the Iowa Democratic Party will also be releasing raw vote totals. It’s possible the candidate with the most state delegates didn’t necessarily have the popular vote. If that happens, we should expect a lot of messaging around the popular vote, and what that means for a candidate’s momentum going into the other 2020 contests.
Sanders and Biden’s generation gap.
The Sanders campaign has been blunt: If they don’t get record turnout from college students, they’re unlikely to win the caucus. To that end, Sanders has held rally after rally in the state’s major college towns, hoping to build an insurmountable edge there. But he’s struggled to put a dent into Biden’s advantage with older voters, even after hammering him over his past support for Social Security cuts. Biden will root for low turnout from college students, and hope his steady support from reliable older voters will help him perform well in rural parts of the state.
Iowa’s own Electoral College.
The caucus system, like the Electoral College, ends up giving additional voting power to rural areas. That means a candidate could run up the score in urban areas and college towns, win the popular vote, but ultimately receive fewer delegates than a candidate whose performance is more evenly distributed across the state. Klobuchar and Buttigieg, who have both campaigned extensively in the state’s smaller counties – Klobuchar managed to visit all 99 – could benefit.
John Deeth, a veteran Iowa Democrat, calculated that in 2016 it took just 45 caucus attendees to earn a state delegate equivalent from Fremont County, population 6,993. In Story County, the home to Iowa State University, it took about 212 attendees to earn a state delegate equivalent.
Sanders has made extensive outreach to Latinos.
Iowa has a small but growing Latino population, which now makes up about 6% of the state. Sanders has worked to aggressively organize these voters, hosting “Unidos Con Bernie” events and futsal tournaments in Des Moines, hoping to persuade a significant number of them to show up to the time-intensive caucuses. So far, according to the Sanders’ campaign estimates, only about 4,000 Latinos in the state have caucused out of 68,000 who are eligible. If Sanders pulls off a narrow victory, his Latino outreach strategy could be key.
Biden’s Dubuque advantage.
Biden’s campaign hopes to run up the score in Dubuque, a city of 56,000 and longtime manufacturing hub in the state’s northeast. The city and its surrounding areas are a hub of Iowa’s Catholic population, and the Biden campaign is exploiting that by having nuns send handwritten letters to voters in the area. Biden, who is Irish Catholic himself, started Sunday by attending Mass in Dubuque. He also has the endorsement of the city’s popular House member, Rep. Abby Finkenauer.
The gloves could come off soon after.
The Democratic Primary, so far, has been historically free of negative advertising. Only one directly negative ad has aired: A Democratic Majority for Israel ad attacking Sanders that started running this week. Part of the reason? A crowded field and the desire to be some voters’ second choices has meant candidates have been reluctant to alienate voters.
But those incentives could quickly disappear. The number of viable candidates ― if not the number of actual candidates ― could decline quickly following the results in Iowa, and there are only eight remaining caucus states. That could make candidates and campaigns much more willing to attack their rivals.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.