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Iowans adjust to ‘weird’ days

DES MOINES (AP) — In normal years, Iowa is the center of the political universe during the final stretch before its famed caucuses.

Top candidates rumble across the state on multi-city bus tours and hold giant rallies every night. Images of the state’s snowy landscape flood television screens.

2020, it turns out, is not a normal year.

The frenetic battle to win the Iowa caucuses has morphed into a steady — some might even say boring — affair.

Many of the leading candidates are stuck in Washington sitting through President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. In their place are surrogates of varying degrees of fame whose job is to keep the energy high enough to convince them to still head to their precinct on Feb. 3 to participate in the caucus.

“This is a little bit weird,” said Kent Crawford, a retired middle school band director who attended a rally in Dubuque last week for Pete Buttigieg, one of the few events in the state that day. “I can feel it.”

Robert Johnson, a Des Moines community activist who has worked for more than a year to register African American voters, is understanding of the competing demands on some candidates — but is growing a bit impatient.

“We are in the fourth quarter of this game and we need all hands on deck. It’s all or nothing at this point,” he said. “And at this point the star players have to go to the locker room.”

Briefly freed from the Senate trial, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren returned to Iowa over the weekend to hold major events.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, aren’t tied to the Senate trial. They have been a steady presence in the state and are expected to step up their campaigning in the days ahead.

Candidates are planning a final blast of activity this weekend even as it’s unclear whether the impeachment trial will allow senators to return.

The absent senators might be most missed by the crush of media professionals who have set up shop in Iowa to report on the last days of the caucus campaign. The Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates more than 2,000 members of the media will work at times out of a caucus headquarters in Des Moines, about triple the number in 2012.

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