DES MOINES, IOWA (MEDIA GENERAL) – The “Heart-Bern” in downtown Des Moines is palpable — and audible.
“Feel the Bern,” one man hollered outside of a coffee shop, to no one in particular.
His enthusiasm isn’t singular in Iowa’s capital city, but the question is whether it will translate into tangible electoral success come Monday night’s caucuses.
Much has been made of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) recent jump in the polls, giving him a shot at knocking front-runner Hillary Clinton off the winner’s podium.
Residents frequently use the words “honest” and “authentic” when describing the Vermont senator whose 2016 message has largely focused on bloated banks and campaign finance rules.
“He’s not the status quo,” asserted a first-time caucus goer.
But is the Sanders surge sufficiently intense to motivate eligible voters to leave their homes Monday evening in frigid temperatures, drive to caucus sites, deliver stump speeches, and hold firm to their candidate?
Sanders supporters say nothing will stand in their way.
“I do see his message resonating with every population segment in Iowa,” said Max Knauf, a longtime Democratic precinct chair in Des Moines. He predicts a big Bernie crowd on Monday.
Knauf stands out in a crowd, wearing a t-shirt smothered in pictures of Sanders’s smiling face and wild hair.
With so much local support, Knauf feels certain of a Sanders win, concluding, “I see this happening” – at least in his hometown.
Des Moines is one of the lonely liberal havens in the middle of the mostly moderate Hawkeye State.
Despite the big numbers posted by Sanders recently, some experts remain doubtful. The New York Times reports that Democrats’ left-leaners might not have the numbers necessary to pull off an upset:
The pace of new voter registration in the Iowa caucuses is reason to question whether a huge turnout is really in the offing.
Most striking is the relatively slow increase in the number of voters registered as Democrats, far slower than it was ahead of the 2008 caucus. The increase for Democrats this year looks much more like the increase for Republicans ahead of the 2012 contest.
The increase in registration among Republicans in recent months looks much healthier in comparison, and could be consistent with a higher turnout than in recent cycles.
If the Sanders team can’t gin up enough support by appealing to — and registering — new voters who are drawn to his outsider message, it could lead to electoral victory for Clinton.
Beyond the turnout issue, one other question mark remains for Clinton.
Just three days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, the State Department admitted for the first time that 22 emails found on Clinton’s private email server from her time as secretary of state do contain top secret information.
In response, Clinton’s press secretary called on authorities to be more transparent and release emails in question.
The email development doesn’t play well with crowds already distrustful of the former secretary of state, which could further animate them.
Additionally, the reaction of undecided voters remains to be seen.
Iowa holds the first-in-nation caucuses on February 1.
Additional reporting by Alex Schuman
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales