Organization becomes critical in final week before Iowa vote

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Supporters of democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hold up signs as Portugal. The Man performs at a campaign rally Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Sioux City, Iowa. (AP Photo/John Locher)

ANKENY, Iowa – At nearly nine p.m. on Saturday, Samy Amkieh was about to head back to his office after braving 20 degree temperatures to knock on doors for three hours in East Des Moines. But the 20-year-old field organizer knocked on one more door and was rewarded by convincing the resident to be a team leader for Bernie Sanders at a nearby caucus location.

“When you think you can’t go any more — that house is too far away, it looks really icy down the street — just remember that every single person you’ve talked to, the odds are they haven’t been pulled in by us or by anyone,” he told a crowd of nearly 100 Sanders volunteers Sunday, aiming to rally them to head out into the cold yet again to knock doors for the Vermont senator.

One week before the Iowa caucuses, Amkieh is one of hundreds of campaign staffers and volunteers fanning out across the state doing the behind-the-scenes work that can lead a candidate to victory. A White House hopeful's ground game is always important, but perhaps never more so than this year when Sanders and three other leading contenders are feverishly working to break free from a clustered top tier in Iowa.

Adding to the urgency is the Senate's impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, which will remove several candidates from the trail this week, forcing them to rely more than ever on a passionate group of staffers and volunteers to carry them through to the Feb. 3 caucuses.

Paul Tewes, who was Barack Obama's 2008 Iowa state director, said at this point in the campaign, the organization is “everything.”

“There’s an old saying in campaigns: People come to the campaigns because of the candidate they stay because of the organization,” he said.

For Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a sophisticated organization could counter signals from some polls that her late-summer strength in Iowa has waned. She reportedly has 150 staffers on the ground and has been organizing since last spring, with staffers hosting weekly coffee shop get-togethers and movie nights across Iowa to get voters engaged with her campaign. An endorsement this weekend from the state's largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register, could also provide a boost.

Others have spent much of the past month training their most committed volunteers on how to win over skeptics in the room on caucus night.