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Sanders pins his Iowa hopes on fickle voting bloc

Mark Niquette
Bloomberg News

When the history of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid is written for Iowa, one factor looms large: Did young people caucus for him, and where?

With polls showing Sanders locked in a tight race with Hillary Clinton, the Vermont senator expects he’ll win the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Monday if there’s a high turnout. If not, “we’re going to be struggling,” he said after a campaign stop this week in Des Moines.

That’s why Sanders’s campaign has focused so intently on mobilizing students and other young people who overwhelmingly support him in polls over Clinton, the former secretary of state and Democratic front-runner. The Sanders campaign is even arranging to drive students to their home precincts, where their backing of Sanders can be more valuable than at their campuses.

“The youth vote is critical,” said Tad Devine, a senior advisor for Sanders, the Vermont senator. “Without overwhelming support and strong turnout from young voters, we really don’t have a clear path to victory.”

Only 4 percent of eligible voters under age 30 participated in the 2012 presidential caucuses in Iowa, compared with 13 percent in 2008, when Barack Obama targeted young people and at least 30,000 supported him, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a research group at Tufts University.

Sanders is counting on more enthusiasm from his youthful supporters. A Quinnipiac University poll of likely Democratic caucus participants released Wednesday showed that respondents between the ages of 18 and 44 backed Sanders by almost a 4-to-1 margin, 78 percent to 21 percent. Overall, Sanders led Clinton 49 percent to 45 percent, with O’Malley at 4 percent, the poll found.

Like it or not, the long-running drama of Clinton’s marriage — her husband’s infidelity and how she dealt with it — is back as a subtext in this year’s presidential race.

The issue has a new, sharper edge this time: Voters are processing old events in an era of heightened concern about sexual assault and after Republican Donald Trump characterized candidate Clinton as an “enabler” of her husband’s indiscretions and alleged that she had helped to discredit his accusers.

Allegations of womanizing, extramarital affairs and abuse have trickled out over the course of Bill Clinton’s political life, including a wave of what his campaign referred to as “bimbo eruptions” when he first ran for president in 1992 and still more allegations of misbehavior after investigators in 1997 started looking into Clinton’s sexual encounters with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Both Clintons have tried not to engage, each uttering the identical “I have no response” when questioned separately about the matter.

But Hillary Clinton has plopped the question squarely in Americans’ laps. “I’m going to let the American voters decide what’s relevant and what’s not relevant,” she said when asked about Trump’s accusations during a recent Democratic debate.

Interviews with dozens of potential voters around the country reveal strong and opposing views about how — and whether — Clinton should be measured by how she dealt with her husband’s behavior.

“The personal stuff is irrelevant,” pronounces Brian Brown, a 56-year-old former professor and Democrat from Antrim, New Hampshire.

“Hillary was an accomplice,” said Amy Stricker, a 57-year-old conservative from Rochester Hills while eating a sandwich in Denver, Colorado, on her way to visit family in the state.

Associated Press contributed.

Campaign update

Hillary Clinton pressed the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday to add a presidential debate before next month’s New Hampshire primary, seeking another high-profile exchange with rival Bernie Sanders.

Sanders’ campaign has said it has no plans to participate because the DNC hasn’t sanctioned the proposed debate. The Vermont senator’s campaign has warned it could jeopardize their ability to participate in upcoming debates scheduled in Wisconsin and Florida.

Carson: Top 3 finish a marker of success

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said he’d consider a top-three finish in next week’s Iowa caucuses a success, as current polls show him running fourth behind leaders Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, as well as Marco Rubio.

Carson suggested he would reassess his campaign if he falls out of the top three in Iowa, as polls in New Hampshire, another early-voting state, also show him trailing.

Detroit News wire reports