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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

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Why it matters: If there's a currency in this town, it's power, so we've asked several former Washington power brokers to share their best advice as a new administration and new Congress settle in.

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GOP holdouts press on with plans to crush Cheney

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Pro-Trump holdouts in the House are forging ahead with an uphill campaign to oust Rep. Liz Cheney as head of the chamber's Republican caucus even though Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told them to back down.

Why it matters: What happens next will be a test of McCarthy's party control and the sincerity of his opposition to the movement. Cheney (R-Wyo.) is seen as a potential leadership rival to the California Republican.

Democrats aim to punish House GOP for Capitol riot

Speaker Nancy Pelosi passes through a newly installed metal detector at the House floor entrance Thursday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats plan to take advantage of corporate efforts to cut funding for Republicans who opposed certifying the 2020 election results, with a plan to target vulnerable members in the pivotal 2022 midterms for their role in the Jan. 6 violence.

Why it matters: It's unclear whether the Democrats' strategy will manifest itself in ads or earned media in the targeted races or just be a stunt to raise money for themselves. But the Capitol violence will be central to the party's messaging as it seeks to maintain its narrow majorities in Congress.