January 27, 2016 at 11:22 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Races tight as Iowa caucuses near
Election 2016, gay news, Washington Blade, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio

From left, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) (Washington Blade photos of Sanders, Rubio and Cruz by Michael Key; Blade photo of Clinton by Damien Salas; Blade photo of Trump by Lee Whitman)

Editor’s Note: The Washington Blade will have a reporter on the ground in Iowa for the caucuses. Check washingtonblade.com for updates.

With the first contest in the 2016 presidential election days away in Iowa, Democratic and Republican candidates continue to rack up endorsements, but the outcome will likely remain a nail-biter to the end.

The Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the presidential primary, will take place on Monday at 7 p.m. Instead of a primary in which voters cast their ballot in private, they’ll gather at caucus sites to make their voices heard.

Sam Lau, a spokesperson for the Iowa Democratic Party, said caucus attendance is difficult to predict, but “we have seen passionate, fired up Democrats in all corners of the state.”

“Iowans know that being first-in-the-nation is an honor, and they take their responsibility as the first voices in the primary process seriously,” Lau said. “For the past year, Democrats have been meeting our candidates up close, asking them thoughtful questions, and learning more about their visions for our state and our country. We are confident that the enthusiasm and energy we see from Democrats on caucus night will help lead us to victories up and down the ballot in November.”

The Iowa Republican Party didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on expectations for turnout in the GOP caucuses.

Polls show a tight race between Hillary Clinton and Bernard Sanders on the Democratic side and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on the Republican side.

One poll published by Quinnipiac University on Tuesday found among likely Republican caucus participants Trump has a narrow lead over Cruz, 31 percent to 29 percent, followed by Marco Rubio at 15 percent.

The Republican candidates will have their last chance on national TV to make their case to Iowa caucus-goers during a debate set for Thursday. On Wednesday, Trump ignited a firestorm when he announced he was boycotting the debate because he doesn’t think he’ll be treated fairly by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, with whom he tangled after the first debate.

Another poll from Quinnipiac on Wednesday found on the Democratic side Sanders holds a slight lead of 49 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers, followed by Hillary Clinton at 45 percent and Martin O’Malley at 4 percent.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, noted the similarities in the challenge Clinton faces in Iowa to what she faced eight years ago in the primary against Barack Obama, who would go on to win the state.

“Is this deja vu all over again?” Brown said. “Who would have thunk it when the campaign began? Secretary Hillary Clinton struggling to keep up with Sen. Bernie Sanders in the final week before the Iowa caucus. It must make her think of eight years ago when her failure in Iowa cost her the presidency.”

The poll found Sanders has strong support among men, who support him over Clinton 63 to 32 percent; and likely caucus participants ages 18 to 44, who back him over Clinton 78 to 21 percent.

In an attempt to nudge voters one way or the other, endorsements continued to roll in for the candidates.

Cruz, who’s the darling of social conservatives and has received endorsements from the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage and Bob Vander Plaats of the Family Leader, scored additional support on Wednesday from Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council.

On Twitter, Perkins declared he’s personally endorsing Cruz because the Texas Republican is “the leader to pull America out of the political and cultural tailspin that President Obama’s policies have put us in.”

Also endorsing Cruz this week was former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who ran against against him for the Republican nomination, but dropped out of the race.

“You’ll have with Ted Cruz that same result of, senators and others in the Washington establishment that are mad at him, find him to be hard to work with, they will find a way to work with him because they know he means what he says he means,” Perry told Politico.

But Trump bolstered his social conservative bonafides by receiving the endorsement of Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, an evangelical school with an anti-LGBT reputation.

On Twitter, Trump bragged about the endorsement, calling him “one of the most respected religious leaders in our nation.” As ThinkProgress points out, the real estate magnate also refers to Falwell as a reverend, but Falwell doesn’t hold that title, unlike his late father who founded Liberty University.

Trump also chided Cruz for being endorsed by the Vander Plaats, accusing the social conservative of asking for $100,000 “for himself” at a joint event with both him and Trump. Vander Plaats tweeted back that was not true and Trump was responsible for charging $100,000.

“This plays to Trump’s judgment and temperament,” Vander Plaats told The Des Moines Register in response. “He will burn anybody.”

Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register issued two endorsements in the presidential race. One on the Republican side and one on the Democratic side. For the Republican caucuses, the newspaper endorsed Rubio, but nonetheless took a dig at him for holding anti-LGBT views.

“He wants to fight the battles of the past, such as the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling,” the Register writes. “We hope Marco Rubio and his party take a different path, one that can lead to the opportunity and optimism he so eloquently articulates.”

On the Democratic side, the Des Moines Register endorsed Clinton, saying “no other candidate can match the depth or breadth of her knowledge and experience.” The candidate also received the endorsement from the Boston Globe over the weekend.

One high-profile Democrat who hasn’t yet made an endorsement in the presidential race is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Although every other Democratic woman in the U.S. Senate publicly backs Clinton, Warren gave a speech on money and politics on the Senate floor last week hinting she may support Sanders.

“A new presidential election is upon us,” Warren said. “The first votes will be cast in Iowa in just 11 days. Anyone who shrugs and claims it is too hard has crawled into bed with the billionaires who want to run this country like some private club.”

On Tuesday, 10 gay and lesbian members of the New York State Legislature and the New York City Council endorsed Clinton: State Sen. Brad Hoylman; Assembly members Harry Bronson, Deborah Glick, Daniel O’Donnell, Matthew Titone; and Council members Daniel Dromm, Corey Johnson, Rosie Mendez, James Vacca and Jimmy Van Bramer. (Vacca came out as gay just last week on Twitter.)

“Secretary Clinton is going to be an amazing president and I’m extremely honored to be a delegate to the convention that will nominate her for the position,” Vacca said. “As a proud gay man, I’m especially enamored with Secretary Clinton’s long record of support for the LGBTQ community. She has been fighting for civil rights for all communities her entire life. I look forward to her continued advocacy from the Oval Office.”

On Monday, Clinton officially received the endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT group, at an event in Des Moines, with the organization’s president, Chad Griffin, as well as staff and supporters.

JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said in a statement to the Washington Blade the organization has staff and volunteers in Iowa organizing members and educating the state “about what’s at stake in 2016.”

“In the last few days we’ve seen incredible enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton among the HRC community in Iowa, and it’s clear that a vast majority of people who support LGBT equality understand what’s at stake this year,” Winterhof said. “The LGBT community and those who support LGBT equality have have a chance to play a decisive role in this election and we have to do everything in our power to seize that opportunity and continue moving equality forward.”

After Iowa, the next contest in the presidential election is the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 9. Both Trump and Sanders have significant leads in the polls in their respective parties in that state.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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