Fighting in Iowa, Hillary Clinton fears repeat of 2008 loss

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — When Bernie Sanders rolled into Decorah, nearly 2,300 people were waiting for him. Chants of "Feel the Bern" filled the spirited hall from a crowd roughly equivalent to a quarter of the town's population. "If we have the kind of turnout that I hope we can," Sanders told the rally, "then we're going to win here in Iowa."

Two days later, on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton received a far less raucous greeting in the same northeastern Iowa college town. A largely elderly crowd of 450 listened quietly, clapping politely at her applause lines.

Next Monday, Iowa residents will gather in schools, churches and even private homes to choose among the Republican and Democratic candidates battling to be their party's 2016 presidential nominee — the first in a series of state-by-state contests to choose delegates to each party's presidential nominating convention.

It's all beginning to resemble a bad flashback for Clinton, the second-time Democratic presidential candidate who once again finds herself barnstorming through the frozen stretches of Iowa with a diminished lead in the polls and an underdog rival on the rise. Then-Sen. Barack Obama upset Clinton in Iowa, jump-starting his successful campaign for the nomination.

"If you go to caucus on Monday night and stand up for me there, I will work my heart out for you as your president," Clinton said, urging her supporters to turn out for the Iowa gatherings in schools, churches and even private homes that open voting in the 2016 presidential campaign. "The stakes in this election are so high. "

"None of this is easy," said Clinton, talking about President Barack Obama's work on health care but also alluding to the sweeping political changes being promised by Sanders. "This is really hard, slow, painful political work to get through the thicket of objections, of special interests and powerful forces."

Her final days in Iowa are a sprint through Iowa's biggest cities and — more notably — small towns — as Clinton tries to stave off Sanders' effort to turn his late boost of enthusiasm into a strong showing at the caucuses.

With stronger backing in college towns and urban centers, Sanders is hoping to expand his reach and undercut her appeal in more rural areas of the state.

That leaves Clinton trying to reinforce her support in places like Decorah, a town of about 8,000. Obama easily bested Clinton in the county to win the most delegates in 2008.

This year, the county has 11 state delegates up for grabs, out of 1,401 statewide — far fewer than the bigger population areas.

Nevertheless, Obama showed that Iowa is won not by concentrating support but by picking-off a winning share of delegates in a broad swath of counties. Sanders aides know their prospects in the state depend on turning those screaming fans into caucus-goers, willing to sit through an hours-long process.

Sanders tried to lower expectations Tuesday, telling AP that the notion he must win the caucuses is "mythology."

"If I lose Iowa by two votes and end up with virtually the same number of delegates ... is that a tragedy? No," Sanders said aboard a charter flight to a rally in Duluth, Minnesota. "We are running a campaign that will take us to the convention and I'm very proud of the kinds of enormous gains we have made."