Built to Last?

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Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton chat during a break at a New Hampshire debate in December.

Monday, with the Iowa caucuses, voters get their first chance to weigh in on the 2016 presidential candidates. Here's what to watch for in the Republican and Democratic fields, from Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney, who will be analyzing the campaign for Currents through November.

Alan Novak

is a former chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania

T.J. Rooney

is a former chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party

Novak: Candidates are campaigning in a way that hasn't been attempted before. In Iowa it's a battle between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Trump is doing everything big - big events and big endorsements. Cruz has gone at Iowa the conventional way, meeting with caucuses, town halls, and just traveling the state. The question I hear asked often is, "How is Trump going to get people to come out to these caucuses?" People come out to see Trump at his events, but he is not in all of these rooms. And yet, the biggest endorsement Trump has in Iowa right now is Gov. Terry Branstad. He has been governor forever and that's where Trump is going to get his ground game.

Rooney: Going into the caucuses I have far more questions than I have answers. The rise of the disenfranchised, alienated, and angry voter has propelled candidates in both parties. In the case of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the antiestablishment wing of the Democratic Party has put wind in his sails, money in his bank, people in the seats at rallies. On the other side of the aisle, Trump drives crowds.

The question is: What does that mean today? In the past, those kinds of crowds have not translated into people willing to brave the elements to go to a high school somewhere in Iowa and wait for hours on behalf of a candidate. So for me, I'll be watching whether or not the energy and enthusiasm we see for Sanders and Trump turns into actual votes.

Novak: There are the big events and the big endorsements, but there is another big E we've left out: Big Ethanol. Iowa is the number-one corn-producing state in the country. Ethanol is a big deal and it is the fault line between Cruz and Trump. Trump is all in and Cruz has had the audacity to say he is going to end the ethanol subsidy. Politically, that might not be smart, but it is brave. Ethanol is an issue that matters more in Iowa than anywhere else.

Rooney: As a Democrat who is very concerned about holding on to the White House, I am interested in who will be the "establishment" candidate to emerge in the Republican Party. I believe Hillary Clinton will be our nominee and I am one of the few people who still thinks Jeb Bush would be the biggest challenge she could face.

The caucuses begin to winnow down the field. For this Democrat, it's a dream that the Republicans would actually nominate a Trump or Cruz. I still don't believe that's going to happen. But in order for that not to happen, somebody is going to need to emerge as the Rockefeller Republican - the electable one.

Novak: Iowa is a battle of survival. For candidates like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Carly Fiorina, if they are just a blip in Iowa and blip in New Hampshire, the blip disappears from the radar. New Hampshire is shaping up as Trump's to lose. Whoever comes in second is that emerging establishment candidate.

One of the governors - whether it's Bush, Ohio's John Kasich, or New Jersey's Chris Christie - is going to come out of New Hampshire in good shape. Or maybe it's Marco Rubio. Whoever it is, they will go full-scale against Trump and Cruz. In that case, Trump may want Cruz to stay in this because Cruz is the guy he thinks he can beat when all the primaries start happening in March.

Rooney: Sanders has a similar issue. He certainly could win Iowa and New Hampshire, and that certainly could propel him on. But it would be propelling him from a very different place than Clinton as we move on to Nevada and Super Tuesday. The campaigns of Clinton, Bush, Cruz, and, arguably, Trump, are all built to go on. I think Sanders has done the party good and will continue to serve the left of center well, but it's hard to go on if your campaign isn't built to go on structurally and, really, financially, too. Hillary is going on and one of these establishment Republicans will go on. I am just dying to know which one.

I have to be honest. I wish we could do it differently. Iowa and New Hampshire should not count disproportionately in national electoral politics as they do. There has got to be a more reflective way - a responsible and cost-effective way - to build this mousetrap we call democracy.

Novak: I've heard Iowans complain about only meeting a candidate two or three times. Pennsylvania voters don't get the chance to talk to any of these people! Frankly, there is a lot more of us then there are of them! Voters in some of the biggest states are lucky if they see presidential candidates at a rally. The next few weeks won't make a president, but they sure can eliminate them.

Rooney: The days of Iowa and New Hampshire will hopefully be in the rearview mirror come 2020.

Alan Novak (alan@rooneynovak.com) and T.J. Rooney (tjrooney@rooneynovak.com) are principals of RooneyNovak Group Bipartisan Solutions and appear together regularly to discuss political issues and policy debates.