By JACK COLWELL

SOUTH BEND - On this Ground Hog Day, whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow means nothing in weather forecasting. But whether the Iowa caucuses cast a shadow tomorrow over some Democratic presidential candidate will mean a lot: Whether that candidate has six more weeks of viability or is left in a hole.

Where does South Bend’s Pete Buttigieg need to finish in Iowa to move on with bright prospects rather than heading to New Hampshire under a cloud? If Buttigieg wins - unlikely in most projections - it would be a big upset, a big boost, putting him clearly in the top tier of contenders for weeks to come.

Because there may well be no clear, undisputed winner in the complicated tabulating of caucus results, a consensus second would also be a plus. Third leaves him at least viable, especially with funds to carry on through Super Tuesday. Fourth place? Kind of cloudy, with little realistic chance to win the nomination.

Expectations loom large in projecting winners and losers in Iowa.

A poll showing Buttigieg with a big lead in Iowa in November, if it had come out last week instead, would have made him the front-runner, and anything but first would have been viewed as a defeat. But more recent polls, as other campaigns hit with all-out campaigning and funding, show Bernie Sanders as the likely winner and Joe Biden, once written off in Iowa, with momentum.

So, with a look at expectations, what are prospects of the other contenders?

Bernie Sanders?
Sanders has shot to the lead in some Iowa polls and had momentum as well in national polls. As the front-runner, he has to win in Iowa to retain momentum. If he wins and goes on with momentum to victory in New Hampshire, Sanders would be hard to beat for the Democratic nomination, even with analysis that he would be the nominee most likely to lose to President Trump. Second place for Sanders, especially if he could argue that he really won, wouldn’t cast much of a shadow over Sanders. Third place would be a loss; fourth place a disaster.

Joe Biden? A win would bring the word “unbeatable” into speculation about his chances for the nomination. In terms of expectations, they were low for Biden in Iowa. But he has come on strong. Finishing second also would be a boost. Third? Not too bad. Fourth? Bad.

Elizabeth Warren? A win would be huge, reversing her plummeting in polls in Iowa and nationally. Expectations had been high earlier, with her extensive organizing in the state and high standing in the polls. She needs to finish ahead of Sanders to claim the lead among progressive voters. But second or third could leave her viable. Fourth place would mean the shadow of defeat.

Amy Klobuchar?
Fourth place for her would be a win. Why? Expectations. She has been in a distant fifth in most Iowa polls. There are indications that she finally is gaining more attention, more support as the moderate challenger to Sanders.

If she moves into the top-four tier, she will be a factor. If she languishes in a low-percentage fifth, there will be little chance for her candidacy.

With polls showing the race so close - different leaders in different polls - and with the complicated tabulating of caucus results, the night could end with multiple claims of victory and no clear winner.

The caucuses aren’t like traditional elections. There will be three tabulations: Number of delegates claimed, vote totals in the initial caucusing and the final vote count after all the caucus rounds of negotiating and elimination of candidates not meeting the 15% threshold in a round.

Phil, the famous ground hog, isn’t really afraid of a shadow. Iowa caucus candidates, however, all know that a frightening shadow could be cast over their campaigns.

Colwell has covered politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.