Welcome to Trail Guide, your host through the wilds of the 2016 presidential campaign. It's Saturday, Jan. 30, and here's what we're talking about:

How California expats are living the Iowa caucuses

The Searles family. (Seema Mehta / Los Angeles Times)
The Searles family. (Seema Mehta / Los Angeles Times)

When they lived in California, Gabe and Jaime Searles never had a chance to see a parade of presidential candidates up close. But they moved to Iowa nearly four years ago and are taking full advantage of the attention that White House hopefuls lavish on this state.

On Saturday, the couple and their three children attended rallies for Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina. They’ve seen Dr. Ben Carson, businessman-turned-reality television star Donald Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. On Monday, they plan to take in a rally with Sen. Rand Paul.

“In California, we never had this opportunity at all,” said Gabe Searles, 36, a guitar teacher and graphics designer, after seeing Cruz speak at a hotel in this college town about 30 miles north of Des Moines. “It’s crazy. It’s a little overwhelming, but at the same time, that’s what’s made us get out here with the family. This is sort of once-in-a-lifetime – every four years.

“It has reignited my interest in politics," he added. "Just being able to hear it from the person instead of getting the media spin is really huge."

The couple, who moved to Ames from Folsom, prioritize such issues as strict adherence to the Constitution, smaller government, local control of schools and veterans’ care. They plan to caucus on the Republican side and were impressed by Cruz’s fiery speech.

“What I like so much about Ted Cruz is that most of Washington doesn’t like him and for good reason,” said Jaime Searles, 39.

Gabe Searles interjected, “You got to figure he’s doing something right!”

But they felt it was important to see Democratic candidates as well, given the opportunity and proximity.

“Anyone who votes should be fully informed,” Jaime Searles said.

Hillary Clinton preserves narrow lead in final poll before Iowa caucus

 (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton is holding on to her slim lead over Bernie Sanders in Iowa, according a new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll released just two days before the Iowa caucus.

Clinton has the support of 45% of likely Democratic caucusgoers in the survey, up from 42% in the last poll, conducted two weeks ago.

Sanders was the top choice of 42% of likely voters. Martin O'Malley, who was the top choice for just 3% of voters, came in third.

The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Pollster J. Ann Selzer said Clinton was beating Sanders among older voters, especially older women. Sanders' coalition was made up of large numbers of young voters and first-time caucusgoers, demographic groups that helped propel Barack Obama into the lead in the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

The poll asked other questions about what voters think of the candidates.

It found 80% of respondents said it’s time for a woman to be president.

It also found 68% of respondents said it’s OK for a democratic socialist to be president. Some have suggested that Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, espouses economic views that make him unelectable.

The poll found Sanders did better than Clinton on the question of whether the candidates care about people like them, with 51% saying he does, compared to 37% who said Clinton does.

Trump leads Iowa GOP race, state's leading poll finds

Donald Trump leads the Republican field as the candidates move into the home stretch for Monday's Iowa caucuses, according to the state's most authoritative poll.

The Iowa Poll, sponsored by the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg, finds Trump ahead with 28% of the vote, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz at 23%. Sen. Marco Rubio sits in third place, at 15%.

Although many polls try to survey Iowa's voters in advance of the caucuses, which kick off the nomination process, the Iowa Poll, directed by Ann Selzer, has attained preeminence because of its history of accurately forecasting many of the results in recent election cycles.

As a result, the poll can influence the results, particularly in a multi-candidate race, where voters may move from one candidate to another based on their perception of which one has momentum and whose chances are fading.

The poll results were unveiled at an event in Des Moines this evening.

Poll respondents said by 35% to 24% that Trump was more likely than Cruz to win a general election. Those Republican voters also said that Trump was most likely to bring change to Washington and cause fear among U.S. enemies. Cruz won the matchup on who had the best experience to be president.

Rubio: Cruz is 'not reacting very well' to campaign stress

GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio blasted rival Ted Cruz on Saturday, saying that his fellow senator was distorting Rubio's own words in an act of “desperation” and appeared to be wilting under the stress of campaigning.

“It sounds like he’s under a lot of pressure and maybe not reacting very well to it, which is problematic because presidents are under pressure every day,” Rubio told reporters on a balcony overlooking the football stadium at Iowa State University.

Rubio was responding to a mailer Cruz sent to Iowans that appeared intended to shame them into caucusing. It listed voters' names alongside a poor voting record, as well as the names and purported voting records of their neighbors. The mailer urges them to caucus on Monday and threatens to send a follow-up notice with an updated voting grade.

“It’s kind of an unusual way to end your campaign in this state,” Rubio said.

Cruz also launched a new ad Saturday that labeled Rubio “a Republican Obama.” It includes interview footage of Rubio that implies that he supports cap-and-trade pollution regulations, which have become a sign of government overreach to many conservatives. Rubio’s campaign countered that the footage was short on context and that the next statement he uttered, which Cruz did not include, was, “but I do not support cap-and-trade.”

Rubio told hundreds of voters gathered in a university commons that he expected to be under attack in the final days of the campaign.

“The desperation kicks in,” he said. “I mean, Ted Cruz is running an ad that literally edits a video. It cuts my words in half … to distort what I am saying.”

Cruz has led Rubio in Iowa polling, but growing tensions between the campaigns suggest that there may be some narrowing in the race. 

Clinton and Sanders campaigns escalate disagreement over additional debates

 (Timothy A. Clary / AFP)
(Timothy A. Clary / AFP)

The campaigns of the Democratic front-runners waged a public back-and-forth Saturday over the possibility of additional debates well into the spring as both seek to gain an edge just two days before the Iowa caucuses.

Hillary Clinton and her chief rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have agreed in principle to work out details of three spring debates, including a May date in California, Sanders' campaign said. Clinton's campaign would only say that discussions were underway.

The debate over the debates themselves has been an ongoing subplot during the Democratic race, with the slim schedule of six sanctioned debates widely seen initially as a way to protect Clinton from needlessly stumbling before the general election. But as Sanders gained in the polls and Clinton acquitted herself well during the debates, that calculation appeared to have shifted.

This week, Clinton said she wanted the Democratic National Committee to sanction an MSNBC debate Thursday -- five days ahead of New Hampshire's Feb. 9 primary.

Sanders' campaign countered that Clinton, the former secretary of State, would have to agree to three more debates throughout the spring before it would agree to the New Hampshire forum.

On Saturday, Clinton's campaign upped the ante, releasing a statement calling for one of the forums to be held in Flint, Mich., which is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis over tainted water. Clinton, as she noted during the Democrats' last debate, has dispatched a top aide to Flint to investigate, and she has claimed credit for bringing national attention to the situation.

"We are prepared to show up for a debate next Thursday and for three additional debates in the months ahead, which we can all work together to schedule," John Podesta, chairman of Clinton's campaign, said in a statement. 

Sanders' campaign noted in response that it's proposed three additional debates: March 3 in Michigan, April 14 in New York and May 24 in California.

So far, the DNC has agreed to six debates, with the next set for Feb.11 in Milwaukee. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the DNC, said additional debate schedules can be worked out, but not until after the New Hampshire primary.

5:24 p.m. - This post was updated with a comment from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. 

Donald Trump shows off private jet as he opens final stretch of his Iowa campaign

Private jet travel is the last thing any candidate would highlight in a normal presidential campaign.

This one is not normal.

Republican Donald Trump swooped back into Iowa on Saturday with a dramatic fly-by to show off his 757 to cheering supporters awaiting him in a chilly airplane hangar on the outskirts of this small city on the Mississippi River.

After he landed, the majestic theme from the Hollywood thriller “Air Force One” blasted from loudspeakers as Trump's jet rolled into place behind his makeshift stage. The Manhattan billionaire waved from the top of the staircase, walked down to the microphone and started cracking jokes about the government overpaying for the new Air Force One.

“Do you think I could have made a better deal than that?” he asked.

The cheering crowd of perhaps a few hundred occupied less than half the hangar, a tepid turnout by Trump standards.

Trump used the plane as the main prop for his remarks, inviting kids in the audience to come aboard after the rally.

“We’ll let them run through the plane, does that sound good?” he asked. “I don’t want the parents running through, because the parents will damage it, right?”

Trump went on to complain that Iran was using frozen assets that were released as part of its recent nuclear deal to buy airplanes in Europe.

“They didn’t order beautiful Boeings like that,” Trump said, gesturing toward his jet. “They could have it for the right price, too, I tell you.”

Trump also wedged his plane into a critique of Ted Cruz, his chief rival in Monday's Iowa caucuses. He cast the Texas senator as beholden to Goldman Sachs, mocking Cruz for an undisclosed loan to his 2012 Senate campaign from the Wall Street bank.

“When I fly on that big plane, I’m paying for it – I’m not having Goldman Sachs pay for it,” he said.

Trump said he’d come to love Iowa and was thinking about buying a farm here. “Is your farm for sale?” he asked someone in the crowd.

Trump urged supporters to brave potentially stormy weather moving in as the caucuses approach. “You’re from Iowa – are you afraid of snow?” he asked.

As Trump’s motorcade prepared to leave for more rallies in towns along the Mississippi, a cluster of children bounded up the stairs and boarded his plane to look around.

I'll  be the greatest jobs producer God ever created.

Donald Trump in Clinton, Iowa, on Saturday. Trump is locked in a tight race with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Monday's Iowa caucuses.

Trump Force One in Iowa?

Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, had quite the arrival into Dubuque, Iowa, on Saturday. 

Ted Cruz to Iowa: I'm the only candidate who will fix Washington

 (Larry W. Smith / EPA)
(Larry W. Smith / EPA)

Sen. Ted Cruz argued Saturday that he was the sole candidate in the GOP field who could fundamentally change the dysfunction in the nation’s capital, making  his closing argument to Iowa voters ahead of Monday's caucuses.

“If you think things are going great in Washington, that we need to keep headed in the same basic direction, just kind of fiddle around the edges, than I ain't you’re guy,” Cruz told hundreds of people overflowing out of a hotel event room. 

He charged that career politicians, lobbyists and special interests run Washington, with little care for ordinary Americans.

“We need to take power out of Washington, and back to we the people -- that is what this campaign is all about!”

Cruz noted that just 53 hours remained till Monday night’s caucuses and reflected on the campaign.

“It has been a crazy year. It’s been an entertaining year. Next cycle, I’m told Lady Gaga is going to run,” he said, a nod at front-runner Donald Trump’s candidacy. “You’ve seen millions in attack ads. … The time for all that media noise has passed. This is your time. This is the men and women of Iowa’s time to make a decision.”

Cruz did not mention that he released a new television ad Saturday labeling rival Sen. Marco Rubio “the Republican Obama,” and painting the Florida senator as a supporter of amnesty for people in the U.S. illegally and cap-and-trade emissions rules, both anathema to GOP voters. The ad is the latest sign of growing tension between the two men in recent days.

Rubio supporter Paul Gregorie of Iowa's Assn. of Business and Industry said the ad was a “lie.”

“This is a deliberate attempt by Ted Cruz to deceive Iowa voters ahead of the caucus,” Gregorie said in a statement.

Appearing with Gabrielle Giffords, Hillary Clinton calls for an end to gun violence

Hillary Clinton was joined Saturday by Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was grievously wounded in a mass shooting five years ago, as Clinton touted her support for stronger gun control measures.

"The facts cry out for action," Clinton told the crowd at Iowa State University in Ames, just two days before the Iowa caucuses kick off the presidential nominating contests.

Clinton, the former secretary of State, has criticized her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as insufficiently tough on guns. Sanders hails from a state with a strong rural hunting culture and has a record of supporting some gun laws, though he also frequently notes that he has a D-minus rating from the National Rifle Assn.

Giffords has spent years trying to recover from her wounds and noted while onstage to introduce Clinton that she still struggles to speak.

"Speaking is hard for me," Giffords said, "but come January, I want to say these two words: Madam President."

Three things you need to understand about the Iowa caucuses

Drake University professor Dennis Goldford (Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)
Drake University professor Dennis Goldford (Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

Dennis Goldford is an institution in Iowa politics, a professor at Drake University in Des Moines, a political commentator on local television and the co-author of a history of the Iowa caucuses.

Over breakfast Saturday at the Drake Diner, another local institution, he offered three things everyone should know and understand about Monday night's caucuses:

  1. No delegates to the party's nominating conventions are elected.
    "The Iowa caucuses do not elect delegates to the national convention. The Iowa caucuses are the private business meetings of the political parties."

  2. Caucus-goers simply state their preference.
    "In different ways, the activists at each party's caucus are asked, 'Whom do you prefer as the party's nominee?' That's what everybody outside of Iowa focuses on. ... So all the caucuses do is sort of stick a thermometer in the body politic of each party and take their temperature."

  3. Presidential candidates and the media pull each other here every four years.
    "There's a symbiotic relationship. ... As long as the press thinks Iowa's important, the candidates will think Iowa's important. And as long as the candidates think Iowa's important, the press will think Iowa's important."

Snapshot from Ames, Iowa: Hillary Clinton and Gabby Giffords

Days before Iowa caucuses, GOP hopefuls continue to spar on immigration

 (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Republican candidates for president hammered one another on illegal immigration Friday in a messy free-for-all as each sought to undercut key rivals in the final stretch to Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

Donald Trump was 1,400 miles away in New Hampshire, but the issue he put atop the GOP campaign agenda last summer dominated the race as opponents Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and others dashed across Iowa.

A final flurry of new attack ads on television heightened the unpredictability of the contest, with volleys among multiple candidates risking all manner of unintended consequences.

Cruz, the Texas senator who is battling Trump for the lead in Iowa polls, opened rhetorical fire on Rubio, who has gained ground behind them. Cruz also started running a TV spot portraying the Florida senator as untrustworthy on illegal immigration.

Cruz, whose four stops in small towns put him close to visiting all of the state’s 99 counties, said Rubio broke his promise to fight illegal immigration. Cruz accused him of “leading the fight” for “amnesty.”

The Iowa caucuses are almost here: Read about the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls

 (Scott Olson / Getty)
(Scott Olson / Getty)

The Iowa caucuses kick off the 2016 nominating contest on Monday. Haven't been following much of the presidential campaign? This Los Angeles Times graphic of the Democratic and Republican candidates has you covered. 

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