After months of campaigning, the first caucus of the 2016 presidential race may be decided by a snowstorm.
Dense fog has already socked in the eastern part of the state, and the weather should deteriorate throughout the day. The latest short range, high-resolution weather models show snow could be setting in earlier than previous forecasts anticipated, starting as early as 3 p.m. CT in southwest Iowa, and spreading over much of the western half of the state, including Des Moines, by 6 to 9 p.m., the time period when most of the caucusing will take place.
The snow will be light at first, but since it’s the initial push of a major blizzard, some caucusgoers might decide not to take their chances. As much as 10 to 12 inches is expected across western Iowa by Tuesday, more than a month’s worth of snow in a typical January. Whiteout conditions and strong winds will shut down travel for the hardest hit areas once the storm fully gets underway.
The conventional wisdom on this snowstorm is that lower turnout may hurt Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders (though as my colleague Josh Voorhees told me, that’s “tough to say for certain, especially given how little we understand the mind of a Trump supporter”). On the other hand, if the storm’s impact remains confined to the relatively more rural and conservative northwestern corner of the state, as is currently forecast, it may actually help Trump and Sanders: The more conservative candidates in their respective parties, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton have more support in that part of the state.
Trump himself acknowledged the forecast’s impact on the caucus at a rally in Dubuque over the weekend. “If a lot of people come, Trump wins by lot. If they don’t come, I don’t win. And if I don’t win, maybe bad things happen,” he said, before pleading with his supporters to turn out in spite of the weather: “So you go through some snow, OK? You’re from Iowa. Are you afraid of snow? Are you afraid of snow?”
We’ll soon find out.