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Pete Buttigieg in Waterloo, Iowa. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

DES MOINES, Iowa — Pete Buttigieg's campaign has done 50 town halls in the last five weeks statewide and he's visited 25 of the 31 counties that went from Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016 — but aides say he doesn’t have to win the caucuses to become the nominee.

What they're saying: “In the first four states — but especially in Iowa and New Hampshire — we need to demonstrate that we are viable for Super Tuesday and for the larger primary," senior advisor Michael Halle told reporters at a Bloomberg News roundtable.

Why it matters: Democratic campaigns are already trying to redefine what will constitute a win in Iowa in what looks like a four-way fight coming Monday.

  • This year is the first time we will get raw vote totals for each candidate in Iowa — not just delegate count.
  • That means there could be multiple "winners" coming out of Monday and different ways for campaigns to tout their momentum heading into New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
  • "It depends on the spread [of votes] here and in New Hampshire,” said Hari Sevugan, deputy campaign manager. “We're going to have to do well, there's no question about that. But that does not necessarily mean we have to win" in Iowa.
  • “This is a contest about delegates, ultimately," said Sevugan. "We see it not as a series of state contests, but as a series of district-level contests to accumulate delegates because ultimately that is what is going to matter."

The latest: Polls show a close race between Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.

  • Buttigieg's closing argument to Iowans has focused on contrasting himself with Sanders and Biden, and reminding voters that he is a Washington outsider.
  • "The data that we see is literally every poll showing Washington experience becoming less and less popular," said Lis Smith, senior advisor to the campaign. "Washington is a symptom of everything that’s wrong."

The bottom line: Winning begets more winning, but watch for the campaigns to highlight a message of momentum and enthusiasm after the caucuses.

Go deeper

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Sources say Beto plans Texas comeback in governor’s race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Texas, in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post on Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.

Mike Allen, author of AM
6 hours ago - Technology

Axios interview: Facebook to try for more transparency

Nick Clegg last year. Photo: Matthew Sobocinski/USA Today via Reuters

Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, tells me the company will try to provide more data to outside researchers to scrutinize the health of activity on Facebook and Instagram, following The Wall Street Journal's brutal look at internal documents.

Driving the news: Clegg didn't say that in his public response to the series. So I called him to push for what Facebook will actually do differently given the new dangers raised by The Journal.