DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Pulling out all the stops, Hillary Rodham Clinton was bringing her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and pop singer Katy Perry to Iowa on Saturday in a show of force before a pivotal dinner with thousands of Iowa Democrats.
Her chief rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, planned to rally his supporters before marching across a bridge spanning the Des Moines River. One hundred days remain before the state’s leadoff presidential caucuses, and the afternoon events were designed to generate enthusiasm before the state Democratic party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser. More than 6,000 activists are expected to attend the event, which traditionally serves as a kickoff to the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.
“If we win here in Iowa, and I think we’ve got a good chance to do it, and if we win in New Hampshire, and I think we have a good chance to do that, we have a road to victory,” Sanders said Friday night at a “#RockinTheBern” concert in Davenport, Iowa.
Clinton and Sanders sit atop a Democratic presidential field that has effectively pared down to a two-person race for the nomination after Vice President Joe Biden announced this week he would not seek the White House.
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is hoping for a breakout performance at the dinner, which catapulted President Barack Obama in the fall of 2007 and led to his surprising victory in the caucuses.
In the hours before the dinner, Iowa’s capitol city was full of pageantry as supporters of the three campaigns poured into Des Moines wearing T-shirts and waving signs. Some Clinton enthusiasts painted their cars to show support for the former secretary of state, and her team dispatched young loyalists along street corners to wave signs at passing cars.
Bill Clinton was headlining his first campaign rally at the pre-dinner concert featuring Perry, a Clinton backer whose hit song, “Roar,” is an anthem at Hillary Clinton events. The former president has raised money for his wife’s campaign, but the rally is his first big splash during the race.
“He’s an enormous asset,” said Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri.
The dinner caps a key stretch for Hillary Clinton, who received a boost from Biden’s decision not to run on Wednesday and then put together a grinding, competent appearance on Thursday before a Republican-led congressional committee probing the deadly 2012 attacks on diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, Libya.
Two lesser-known rivals, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, abandoned the race following Clinton’s strong performance on Oct. 13 in the first primary debate.
The dinner, called the “J-J,” is an important showcase for Sanders, a Vermont independent who has drawn large crowds with his calls for a “political revolution” to address the gap between the wealthy and the poor.
Clinton placed third in Iowa in 2008 and has since vowed to build a formidable organization to power her to victory here. She has sought to present herself as the heir to Obama’s legacy, while Sanders offers a more anti-establishment approach and often notes the large numbers of Democrats who stayed home in the 2014 midterm elections.
O’Malley, who has trailed Clinton and Sanders in polls by wide margins, is a member of a Celtic Irish band and plans to break out his guitar at pre-dinner events on Saturday. The ex-governor has campaigned extensively in Iowa and knows the process firsthand: He got his start here as a young field organizer for Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1984.
A recent Iowa poll by Bloomberg Politics and The Des Moines Register found Clinton with a slight lead in the state over Sanders, with the two candidates the choice of 9 in 10 voters. O’Malley was at 2 percent.
“Bernie Sanders is still a threat,” said Mo Elleithee, a former Clinton campaign aide who now leads the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service. “He can still mobilize a significant portion of the Democratic base.”
But he said Clinton is getting stronger and “more and more people who were nervous are feeling more comfortable with her.”
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