The high stakes nomination fight to choose a Democratic candidate who can topple US President Donald Trump hurtles into its first big stop in early-voting Iowa on February 3 at a time when polling averages for Trump versus his potential rivals are tied neck and neck for this November's presidential election.
The fight to snap up an Iowa lead rages against the backdrop of Trump's impeachment trial in Washington DC where explosive revelations by Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton have complicated the Trump defence and plunged Republican senators into a fresh round of political kimchi.
In an average of Iowa state polls, at least four Democratic candidates are locked in what pollsters are calling an "unusual" race with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren all within 8 percentage points of each other.
Sanders and Biden are at 22 percent, Buttigieg at 17 percent and Warren at 14 percent on Five Thirty Eight's average of Iowa polls. Real Clear Politics' Iowa polls average has Biden leading the charts at 25, Sanders at 22, Buttigieg at 17 and Warren at 13.5 percent.A
Explaining why Iowa is such a big deal, Simon Conway, an Iowa local and talk show host on the WHO Newsradio 1040 show, says the state "is within a point usually of the national result".
Speaking to Iowa's domination of early trends, the Trump campaign is rolling out its "strongest, best funded, and most organised presidential campaign in history" here in the midst of ever present political peril.
Yet, Iowa's small size allows even candidates without massive cash inflows the chance to create breakthrough moments.
"I truly believe that if it wasn't for the fact that Iowa was first in the nation, you might never have heard of President Barack Obama", says Conway. Obama won Iowa in 2008.
The knowledge of how Iowa launched Obama's candidacy in 2008 is also a defining part of why 2020 Democratic candidates are investing so much time in this state.
The Iowa caucuses are now a key part of the US national political spectacle and offer the first peek into how real voters assess candidates. What that also means is that the road ends quite soon after Iowa for candidates who don't make the cut in Super Tuesday's states 29 days later.
The ongoing impeachment trial against Trump may not "play into the results", Conway told IANS.
"Would you watch a race that you knew the outcome of in advance?A We all know the outcome.AI think we're pretty bored with the whole thing."
Even among those like Maryland voter Nicole Livesey who thinks impeachment news is "pure, addictive poison", the contest against Trump remains front and centre when it comes to the final bend.
Since Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump in 2016 and now closer to the 2020 election, the single question that blots out all the details is this: Who can beat Trump?
At this point in the game, at least four of the Democratic candidates are matching Trump or beating him by razor thin margins in head to head polling.
Fifty percent of registered voters favour former vice president Joe Biden while 46 per cent support Trump if the election was held today, according to an ABC-Washington Post poll.
Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg has 49Apercent support to Trump's 46 per cent but the poll's four-point sampling error margin virtually levels off the field.
"Who would I vote for? In the general election, probably Bloomberg. But in the primary, any Democrat because we need the president out of the White House and Washington. The man is an embarrassment", John, from Westfield, New Jersey, told IANS.
"I like Mike Bloomberg. But truthfully I don't think this country will elect a Jewish man", he adds.
Bloomberg, though, is betting on nobody among the current pack getting the momentum. Bloomberg is running a parallel race, travelling to states where others aren't going and hoping to disrupt all calculations when the time comes for settling on a front-runner.
Bloomberg's financial firepower is at the soul of his campaign. He had spent more than $225 million on television and digital advertisements, and run television ads in at least 27 states which totals more than 10 times what each of the other leading candidates has spent.
If he doesn't win the nomination, Bloomberg has already pledged continue spending millions just to oust Trump.
( can be contacted on @byniknat on Twitter)
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