The snow forecast and 4 other things to watch for in the Iowa caucuses

Volunteers Fergus Wilson, left, and Bob Swope canvass for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Des Moines on Sunday.

Volunteers Fergus Wilson, left, and Bob Swope canvass for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Des Moines on Sunday.

(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

The choices that Iowa voters make in Monday’s caucus will set the tone for the rest of the 2016 presidential race. As Hillary Clinton learned after her finishing third here in 2008, underperforming in Iowa can doom a campaign. Alternatively, as President Obama proved that year, a win can create serious momentum.

This year, as Clinton pursues the Democratic nomination once again and Donald Trump seeks to upend the Republican Party, voter turnout will be essential on both sides. And as always with Iowa in the winter, keep an eye on the weather. Here are five things to watch as the results come in Monday night:

1) Will it snow?

A blizzard is bearing down on the upper Midwest, with at least some snow expected in parts of Iowa during Monday evening’s caucuses. Current predictions show the heaviest snow arriving Tuesday, but if the storm comes early, that could keep Iowans from turning out to caucus.

Depending on where the snow hits, it could hurt some candidates more than others.

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2) Will first-time voters show up?

First-time caucus-goers were key to President Obama's victory in Iowa in 2008, and they will be crucial for Bernie Sanders and for Trump, two outsider candidates who poll well among new and independent voters.

Reports have shown that there hasn’t been a big uptick in Democratic voter registration, which is bad news for Sanders.

There has been a reported increase in registered Republicans — a promising sign for Trump. But nobody knows how effective his campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort will be, or whether that even matters with a celebrity candidate.

3) The Trump effect.

Iowa’s Latino population is small, and Latino turnout is usually lower than other groups. But campaigns from both parties have been working to change that this year with unprecedented registration and outreach efforts. They think Trump might help.

Will his disparaging comments about immigrants and Mexicans push this chronically underperforming electorate to the polls? Latinos now make up at least 10% of eligible voters in 11 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

4) Is Clinton’s ground game as good as she hopes?

Acknowledging Clinton’s disappointing third-place finish in Iowa in 2008, her campaign has vowed that 2016 will be different.

Campaign manager Robby Mook, who won Nevada for Clinton in 2008, sent staff to Iowa early to try to master the caucus process, and Clinton opted for small events in intimate environments rather than rock-star rallies.

5) How much will the also-ran candidates fade?

Under caucus rules, voters have more opportunities to make strategic choices. If they think their first-choice candidate is going nowhere, they might switch in a crowded race.

If Republican voters desert low-ranked candidates on caucus day, that could help Marco Rubio, who, polls show, is the second-choice pick for many voters. But it depends on who fades most. If voters abandon Ben Carson in large numbers, Ted Cruz might inherit those voters, since he is the second choice for the largest number of Carson backers.

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