Controversy and close calls have defined past Iowa caucuses

    Happening this Wednesday: We’re five days out from the Iowa caucuses… Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley participate in a CNN debate in Des Moines at 9:00 pm ET… Donald Trump holds a competing town hall with Fox News at the same time… President Biden heads to Nevada and Michigan later this month, NBC’s Mike Memoli reports… And NBC’s Chuck Todd writes about Liz Cheney and the debate over a post-Trump Republican Party.

    But FIRST… As we head into next week’s Iowa caucuses, it’s worth remembering that the last three election cycles in Iowa have resulted in controversy on Caucus Night. 

    On the Republican side in 2012, Mitt Romney was named the early winner, but a closer — and later — examination revealed that Rick Santorum had won by a mere 34 votes. 

    On the Democratic side in 2016, Hillary Clinton edged Bernie Sanders by just 0.3 percentage points, with Sanders supporters citing counting and reporting irregularities. 

    And in 2020, the Democratic infrastructure that counted the caucus votes crumbled, leading to complete uncertainty on Caucus Night, a delay in the eventual projection that Pete Buttigieg narrowly edged out Sanders and the resignation of the state party chairman. The misstep was the nail in the coffin for the caucus’ place at the top of the Democratic Party nominating calendar.

    This cycle, former President Donald Trump holds a substantial lead in the Iowa polls, even topping 50% in a multi-candidate field. 

    Still, that previous Iowa history should give us pause: Controversy and close calls have defined the Iowa caucuses over the last 12 years.

    Headline of the day

    The number of the day is … 20

    That’s the number of senators who have endorsed former President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., endorsing the former president on Tuesday night. Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Republican conference, is the highest-ranking GOP senator to back Trump.

    Trump holds a solid lead in congressional endorsements over his GOP presidential rivals, none of whom have endorsements from senators. Just 10 House lawmakers have endorsed a candidate other than Trump, according to an NBC News analysis of endorsements.

    The only other presidential candidates who received endorsements from senators were North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who was endorsed by North Dakota GOP Sens. Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven, and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who had support from South Dakota’s John Thune and Mike Rounds. Both Burgum and Scott have since dropped out of the presidential race.

    Hoeven and Cramer subsequently endorsed Trump. 

    Eyes on November: Welcome to winter in Iowa

    Iowa’s weather is having a chilling effect on GOP candidates’ last-ditch efforts to win over caucusgoers — literally. 

    Winter weather caused some candidates to cancel events in Iowa in recent days, and cold temperatures are ahead. NBC’s Jillian Frankel reports that the temperatures on caucus night could hover around zero degrees, making Monday’s caucus the coldest in modern history. 

    Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffmann dismissed concerns that the cold alone could significantly dampen turnout, suggesting Republicans could see “great turnout” instead of record-breaking turnout due to winter weather. 

    Frankel reports that GOP candidates are not worried that frigid temperatures will keep their supporters home, each arguing that their supporters are motivated to turn out. 

    Trump said over the weekend that “one of our people” told him that cold weather would benefit his campaign, noting that other candidates’ supporters might not be as enthusiastic but “my people will walk on glass.”

    But former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s campaign, as well as businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also each said that their supporters are highly motivated to turn out. Some Iowa voters told NBC News that the cold won’t stop them, noting they’re used to tough winters. 

    In other campaign news … 

    Biden hits the road: President Joe Biden is expected to make campaign stops in Nevada and Michigan this month, NBC’s Mike Memoli reports, writing that campaign advisers say it is a “new phase” of the campaign focused on prioritizing crucial base voters. 

    Dusting off the old playbook: Trump elevated a conspiracy theory that Haley cannot be president because her parents were not American citizens when she was born, even though she was born in the U.S. The episode was reminiscent of Trump’s similar claims about former President Barack Obama and Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and Amanda Terkel. 

    Inside the pro-DeSantis push: The Des Moines Register details the grassroots efforts to turn out pro-DeSantis caucusgoers, led by the super PAC Never Back Down. 

    Debatable: DeSantis and Haley will face off in a CNN debate on Wednesday night, while Trump will hold a counterprogramming event with a Fox News town hall. Ramaswamy, who did not qualify for the debate, is participating in a podcast recording and will be airing this TV ad during the debate. 

    ‘I’m still running’: The Washington Post details former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s presidential campaign, and his push to remind Iowa voters that he is still in the race. 

    Dean’s take: Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips ramped up his criticism of the Democratic National Committee amid the party’s standoff over New Hampshire’s primary, calling it “one of the most egregious affronts to democracy I’ve ever seen in my entire lifetime as an American, period,” per NBC’s Emma Barnett. Politico also reports that Phillips’ campaign raised $1 million from October through December, but his campaign would not say how much of his own money Phillips spent on his campaign. 

    Denying new allegations: In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez pushed back on calls by his colleagues for him to resign amid multiple federal indictments against him. Afterwards, he told reporters that he has not decided whether to run for re-election this year.

    Retiring: Indiana GOP Rep. Greg Pence, former Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, announced Tuesday that he won’t seek another term in Congress. 

    Battling Trump: NBC’s Chuck Todd examines why so few Republicans, especially those running for president, find it hard to attack Trump.

    ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s surgery in late December, which led to complications, was related to his recent prostrate cancer diagnosis. 

    Following two days of military talks in Washington, China said it would “not make any concession or compromise” on Taiwan.

    Two of Biden’s judicial nominees withdrew themselves from consideration for the federal bench after their initial nominations expired at the end of last year.

    Violent threats to politicians are on the rise as the U.S. embarks on another presidential election year, the Washington Post reports.