Turnout is key factor in Monday's Iowa caucuses

MANCHESTER, Iowa (AP) — Sen. Bernie Sanders says he's ready to stun the political world if his supporters turn out for Monday's Democratic presidential caucuses in Iowa. Real estate mogul Donald Trump says he doesn't have to capture the first contest on the 2016 election calendar, but gives himself a good chance and sees a solid path ahead to the Republican nomination.

The caucuses will provide a big test of whether the large enthusiastic crowds turning out at rallies for Trump and Sanders will turn into actual votes when Iowans gather on a wintry night for meetings at schools, libraries and even private homes in the first in a series of state-by-state nominating contests.

Iowa offers only a small contingent of the delegates who will determine the nominees at each party's national nominating convention in July. But those candidates exceeding expectations will gain a burst of momentum heading into New Hampshire with its Feb. 9 primary and other early voting states. The caucus results should also help winnow the crowded Republican field of nearly a dozen candidates.

In the last major preference poll before the caucuses, Trump had the support of 28 percent of likely caucus-goers, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 23 percent and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 15 percent. The Iowa Poll, published by The Des Moines Register and Bloomberg, also found Hillary Clinton with 45 percent support to Sanders' 42 percent. The poll of 602 likely Republican caucus-goers and 602 likely Democratic caucus-goers was taken Tuesday to Friday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Cruz, who describes himself as a "consistent conservative," is relying on a strong get-out-the-vote operation, particularly among the key bloc of evangelical voters who reliably turn out for Republican caucuses. Trump is hoping his star power will encourage a large turnout of first-time caucus-goers.

A similar dynamic is playing out on the Democratic side where Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is depending on enthusiastic young voters to turn up in greater numbers at the Democratic caucuses. Clinton has more support among older voters who regularly show up for the caucuses.

A snowfall forecast to start Monday night appeared more likely to hinder the presidential contenders in their rush out of Iowa — and on to New Hampshire — than the voters.

"People are really enthusiastic and if people come out to vote, I think you're going to look at one of the biggest political upsets in the modern history of our country," Sanders told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.

The Vermont senator, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and Clinton, the former Secretary of State and first lady, are in a tight race.

"I think I've been subjected ... to years of scrutiny and I'm still standing," Clinton said on ABC's "This Week."

"I feel vetted. I feel ready. I feel strong and I think I'm the best person to be the nominee and to defeat whoever they nominate in November."

On the Republican side, Trump said "I don't have to win" in Iowa, before adding that he believes he has "a good chance" of victory.

He said he was confident of taking New Hampshire and many other contests down the road. "One of the reasons that I'll win and, I think, none of the other guys will win is because I'm going to get states that they'll never get," he told CBS' "Face the Nation," citing Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, along with strong hopes for New York and Virginia.

Cruz directed much of his final advertising against Rubio as the feud between the first-term senators grew even more bitter ahead of the first nominating contests. Cruz challenged Rubio's conservative credentials. One ad said of Rubio: "Tax hikes. Amnesty. The Republican Obama."

"The desperation kicks in," Rubio said in response. "From my experience, when people start attacking you it's because you're doing something right."

Rubio strategist Todd Harris said the Iowa goal is to end up third behind the flamboyant Trump and the highly organized Cruz. A strong third-place finish would give him an edge in the competition to emerge as the favorite of the party's establishment wing, where he faces competition from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

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Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Scott Bauer, Steve Peoples, Lisa Lerer, Tom Beaumont and Catherine Lucey in Iowa and Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.

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