IOWA (FOX 32 News) -- Fewer than 10% of Iowa's eligible voters usually bother to participate in the state's eccentric caucus system of balloting. That means any candidate able to bring out new voters could reap a rich reward, which is why presidential candidates are spending tens of millions of dollars in the Hawkeye State to do exactly that.
Democrat Bernie Sanders, in addition to raising huge amounts online, got a boost from a group of Chicago volunteers who drive to Iowa to work for him.
The man who ran for mayor against Rahm Emanuel last year, Cook County Comr. Jesus Chuy Garcia, served as a surrogate and as a warmup speaker for Sanders in Iowa. Two of Garcia's allies, 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz and 10th Ward Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, were among 16 Chicagoans who traveled to the state on the final weekend prior to Monday night's 7 pm caucuses.
The group canvassed door to door in Ottumwa on Saturday and in Marshalltown on Sunday. They were startled to learn that relatively few Iowans actually participate in the caucus process, despite its huge impact every four years as the opening event in America's presidential election process.
"A 67-year old lady said, "What's a caucus? I've never been to one,"' reported Marshalltown canvasser Carol Zwiazek, an activist in the Chicago Teachers Union.
"And I haven't either, but I think it's interesting that many people didn't know and they've never attended one in their life."
Sanders himself stopped in Marshalltown Sunday evening to thank the volunteers.
Afterwards Melrose Park's Tony Favela, treasurer of Garcia's political fund, said, "The People who were there for Bernie were excited and pumped up about going to the caucus."
For her part, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has seen this movie before. After once holding a huge lead in 2008, her organization fell short in Iowa, losing to newcomer Barack Obama. She's determined it won't happen again, despite a grim weather forecast of a possible blizzard.
"Please go out and caucus tomorrow night!" Clinton urged a crowd on Sunday night. "The storm is not coming until after midnight. Plenty of time to caucus. We'll get all the votes counted."
There's a close race on the Republican side, too. Some voter opinion surveys show Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a distant third place, but he hopes to get a boost by exceeding those expectations.
Addressing his final pre-caucus town hall meeting at the University of Northern Iowa, Rubio said, "Iowa will be the first state in the country. The people of this state will be the first people in America that get to answer a fundamental question: What kind of country are we going to be after Barack Obama?"
Rubio is certainly enjoying an increasingly angry battle between the two GOP front runners. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said it's beyond hypocritical for Donald Trump to attack the Cruz family's financial transactions.
"Donald's declared bankruptcy four times!" Cruz added. "And so for him to sit there owing hundreds of millions or billions or who knows, and to criticize Heidi and me for putting our entire net worth into the campaign is astonishing!"
Trump, in his turn, is angry about a new Cruz mailing to voters.
"Cruz issued a statement. Put it in people's houses: 'Voter violation!' It looks like a government voter violation. Like 'ooh!' And it's a social thing. You're not allowed to do it"