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Tales from the trail: It's the final countdown in Iowa

Hours before the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz visited his 99th county in the Hawkeye State, and the Clinton and Rubio families kept campaigning.
Supports wait to attend a Hillary Clinton rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 29, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Supports wait to attend a Hillary Clinton rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 29, 2016.

Want to know what the NBC News Embeds saw? Follow their daily journey to the inside of the 2016 presidential campaign here:

Cruz completes the 'Full Grassley'

JEFFERSON, Iowa -- Hours before the Iowa caucuses, Ted Cruz visited his 99th county in the Hawkeye State and completed the "Full Grassley" -- the name coming from longtime U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who continues to visit all of the state's counties every year.

Cruz said that this was his "final" time to stand in front of the people of Iowa and ask them for their support.

Iowa Caucus: Click here for complete coverage and live updates

Cruz is expected to visit a caucus location before returning to Des Moines for his caucus night watch party at the state fairgrounds tonight.

-- Vaughn Hillyard covering the Iowa caucuses

Skipping school for the campaign trail

ANKENY, Iowa -- What's it like having your dad run for president?

"I think it's really cool," Amanda Rubio, 16, the eldest daughter of Sen. Marco Rubio, told NBC's Hallie Jackson this morning at his headquarters in Ankeny.

She and the rest of the Rubio family joined their dad in Iowa late last night to show their support on Caucus Day. They spent the morning with him at a Cracker Barrel in Clive, Iowa, where the senator bought one of his kids a lightsaber after chatting with patrons at the diner, and then tagged along with him on a visit to his headquarters in Ankeny.

Amanda said it was "really extraordinary" to see her dad campaigning, and that she was "so proud" to see him out with supporters because it was a different side of him from what she normally sees.

"My dad, he is a great dad. And I don't know, when I see him out there, I get so proud of him, because…It's really different to be able to see him go and do all that stuff," she said.

But the real advantage to being on the trail with her dad?

"It's less stressful than school," she said, "so I prefer it."

For the Clintons, campaigning is a family business

DES MOINES, Iowa - When it comes to the Clintons, campaigning is a family business.

Hillary's top surrogates, her husband and daughter, canvassed the state in a final push before the caucuses, culminating in two rallies this weekend that featured the three of them together for the first time since she announced her campaign in April.

After the events, each Clinton worked the rope line with ease, taking hundreds of selfies and shaking even more hands. Over 2,600 folks attended Sunday's rally here, making it the largest crowd Clinton has seen in Iowa this cycle.

Bill had a permanent smile on his face, often lingering with voters (and even reporters) so long that staffers had to push him along.

His wife often conducts mini town halls after rallies, taking voters' questions and often asking her Iowa state director, Matt Paul, to come over and exchange information so the campaign can follow up with them.

Hillary has become so accustomed to selfies that she sometimes just grabs cell phones instinctively and takes the photos herself. (All those tips from Kim Kardashian paid off, I guess?)

And Chelsea, pregnant with her second child, worked the rope line as her husband, Mark Mezvinsky, looked on from backstage.

Their 16-month-old daughter Charlotte made the trip out to Iowa but was "asleep back at the hotel," according to her mom. Hillary mentions Charlotte in almost every speech and said that having her granddaughter with her for the caucuses was "extra special."

Tonight, the Clintons will again be on stage together for what the campaign is already dubbing a "victory party." But, aides cautioned, the race is so close that two speeches have already been written for either outcome.

-- Monica Alba covering the Clinton campaign

'Polls change, integrity doesn't'

Tucked in the slew of campaign mail shipped to some voters this weekend was this postcard.

It read in red block-letters: "Polls Change, Integrity Doesn't." Underneath, a picture of a smiling Dr. Ben Carson, with more words: "Carson for President."

While the postcards weren't from the official campaign, they were from the pro-Carson super PAC, best known as "Win Ben Win" (previously "Run Ben Run"). This is a group that has been on the ground supporting Carson since April 2014 — well before the former neurosurgeon announced his candidacy. It's also the group that is promising to deliver a surprise finish for the candidate they helped push into the race.

"Do I think we'll win it? Probably not," John Philip Souza IV, the chairman of the group told NBC News. Souza continued, "But do I think we have a hell of a shot at second or third? Yes!" The latest Real Clear Politics polling average has Carson in fourth place in Iowa — a position he's held since December after falling from losing his first place spot a month before.

Last week, with just days to go before the caucus, the group purchased $50,000 in online advertising. Armed with a 40-person full-time staff in the state, a "couple hundred" volunteers, and a digital system that allows supporters to make calls from their home nationally, "Win Ben Win" said they are working around the clock to pull off the upset.

Among the operations, was a letter-writing program where people from around the country wrote handwritten pro-Carson letters that were delivered to Iowa voters. The state coordinator says over 10,000 letters were vetted and delivered.

"Our main goal is just to do as well as we can and to get as many of our supporters and the undecided out to vote for Dr. Carson," Goff said, recalling Rick Santorum's unexpected victory four years ago. "We just do anything we can do, and then we give it to the voters and to God on caucus day."

-- Shaquille Brewster following the Carson campaign

Lackluster crowd for Trump at pre-caucus rally

WATERLOO, Iowa — Absent were the usual frenzied Donald Trump fans clamoring to get in to a packed event hall. Instead, Trump's rally on caucus day morning was unusually lackluster, attended by a crowd far less raucous than his usual steadfast supporters. Combined with a cavernous, beige-walled room, the air felt a little dead for Trump's first rally of caucus day.

Applause was sporadic, the loudest among them came when Trump mentioned getting rid of gun free zones on military bases, when he told them "Christianity is under siege" and when he touted the recent endorsement by Arizona's controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

-- Ali Vitali covering the Trump campaignThis article originally appeared on