Guess who’s com­ing to din­ner in Demo­cratic bat­tle­ground?

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY KAREN TU­MULTY AND PHILIP RUCKER karen.tu­multy@wash­post.com philip.rucker@wash­post.com Dan Balz con­trib­uted to this re­port.

DES MOINES — The two lead­ing Demo­cratic con­tenders, hav­ing met once on a de­bate stage, were pre­par­ing for a dif­fer­ent kind of show­down here Satur­day night — a rit­ual that has come to be seen as an early in­di­ca­tor of who has the edge for the Iowa cau­cuses, which are less than 100 days away.

In re­marks pre­pared for an im­por­tant Demo­cratic din­ner here, Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) echoed a line that Barack Obama had used at the same event against Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton in 2007. San­ders promised that he would gov­ern on prin­ci­ple, not polls.

Mean­while, Clin­ton aides said, her speech would stress that she would be a fighter who would de­liver re­sults.

As the hours ticked down be­fore the din­ner, Clin­ton and San­ders held duel­ing ral­lies for their sup­port­ers out­side the HyVee Hall, where the event was to be held.

Clin­ton’s fea­tured a per­for­mance by pop me­gas­tar Katy Perry, who wore an Amer­i­can flag as a cape from her white se­quined gown, and a warm-up speech by former pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, who was mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance of the cam­paign in Iowa on his wife’s be­half. Her cam­paign said it drew more than 4,000 peo­ple.

Bill Clin­ton made a jok­ing ref­er­ence to his wife’s ef­fort to make his­tory as the first woman to be elected pres­i­dent.

“There’s been a lot of talk about break­ing the glass ceil­ing,” the 42nd pres­i­dent said. “I am tired of the stran­gle­hold that women have had on the job of pres­i­den­tial spouse.”

Over­head, how­ever, a cir­cling plane towed a ban­ner that read: “REV­O­LU­TION STARTS NOW! FEEL THE BERN!”

Across the Des Moines River, sup­port­ers of San­ders gath­ered for a pre-din­ner en­thu­si­asm booster of their own. The San­ders event lacked the glitz of Perry and a former pres­i­dent, but it dis­played the pro­gres­sive grass­roots en­ergy that has fu­eled the Ver­mont sen­a­tor’s cam­paign.

As they waited for the can­di­date to ar­rive, San­ders sup­port­ers passed a mi­cro­phone among them­selves to of­fer the many rea­sons they are back­ing his can­di­dacy, from re­duc­ing in­come in­equal­ity to com­bat­ing cli­mate change.

The lat­est poll by the Des Moines Reg­is­ter and Bloomberg Pol­i­tics found that Clin­ton and San­ders are locked in a rel­a­tively tight race in this state, where the first con­test of the 2016 pri­mary sea­son is sched­uled to be held Feb. 1. She led him by seven per­cent­age points, 48 per­cent to 41 per­cent.

Mean­while, the third con­tender whose name was tested, former Mary­land gover­nor Martin O’Mal­ley, barely made a show­ing in the sur­vey, get­ting 2 per­cent.

The Iowa Demo­cratic Party gath­er­ing — known as the Jefferson-Jack­son Din­ner, or JJ — has been an im­por­tant mo­ment on the cam­paign cal­en­dar since 1975.

The state’s quirky cau­cuses first as­sumed an out­size role in the nom­i­nat­ing process dur­ing the pre­vi­ous pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, in 1972. At the 1975 din­ner, seven White House hope­fuls showed up, and a lit­tle-known former gover­nor of Georgia named Jimmy Carter made a big im­pres­sion. He also won a straw poll or­ga­nized by the Des Moines Reg­is­ter, nab­bing 256 votes.

From there, the JJ Din­ner grew into an ex­trav­a­ganza that com­bined the el­e­ments of a po­lit­i­cal rally and a beauty pageant.

Never, how­ever, did it loom more sig­nif­i­cant than eight years ago, when Obama, a first-term sen­a­tor from Illi­nois, showed up with hordes of young, ex­u­ber­ant sup­port­ers and gave a speech that is con­sid­ered to be one of the best of his ca­reer.

Clin­ton, pre­sumed un­til then to be the 2008 front-run­ner, seemed flat by com­par­i­son. It was a har­bin­ger of what was ahead for Clin­ton: She came in third at the Iowa cau­cuses, and her cam­paign never re­ally re­cov­ered.

This time, Clin­ton ar­rived in Des Moines at a mo­ment of resur­gence, af­ter a sea­son of set­backs.

Her poll num­bers took a hit over the sum­mer, as she strug­gled with a con­tro­versy over her use of a pri­vate e-mail ac­count and server, rather than a gov­ern­ment one, while she was sec­re­tary of state. Mean­while, San­ders has tapped into the pas­sions of the Demo­cratic left; he was nar­row­ing the gap, and in some early-state polls, even over­tak­ing Clin­ton.

But the month of Oc­to­ber may be turn­ing out to be a piv­otal one for her. She dom­i­nated the first Demo­cratic de­bate in Las Ve­gas, which took place Oct. 13; on Thurs­day, she en­dured an 11hour grilling by the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Beng­hazi, in which the Repub­li­cans who led the panel flailed in their ef­forts to pin on her the blame for the Septem­ber 2012 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Libya that cost the lives of four Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing U.S. Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens.

In his re­marks to her sup­port­ers, Bill Clin­ton said that the de­bate and her tes­ti­mony at the hear­ing gave vot­ers a chance to see his wife un­fil­tered, “with­out all the bar­na­cles.”

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple in the last six weeks have seen a lot of Hil­lary, what she’s for, and why she’s run­ning and what kind of pres­i­dent she would be,” he said.

She also got good news Wed­nes­day, when Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den an­nounced that he would not run for pres­i­dent. Al­though he would have been a long shot against Clin­ton, he could have cut into her sup­port with the Demo­cratic Party es­tab­lish­ment and its fundrais­ing base, as well as chal­leng­ing her claim to hav­ing the most ex­pe­ri­ence at the top lev­els of gov­ern­ment and on for­eign pol­icy.

CHAR­LIE NEIBERGALL/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.), who is seek­ing the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, walks with sup­port­ers dur­ing a rally be­fore the Iowa Demo­cratic Party’s Jefferson-Jack­son Din­ner in Des Moines.

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