Last week I wrote after Hillary Clinton’s attack on Bernie Sanders that the former secretary of state was so unpopular within the Democratic Party that her criticism of Sanders might just galvanize his support. This week polling shows that the New Hampshire senator is the frontrunner in Iowa and the Bernie Bros are probably thinking, “Well done, Hillary.”
The poll that is getting the most attention is an Emerson survey that shows Sanders at 30 percent followed by Joe Biden at 21. No other candidates in the poll reach the 15 percent level that would be required to earn delegates in the caucuses, although Amy Klobuchar is within striking distance at 13 percent.
Many outlets would stop right there and say that Bernie Sanders is the clear frontrunner and that Joe Biden is toast. The truth is not so clear, however.
Another poll released the same day, this one from USA Today/Suffolk, shows Biden with a six-point lead over Sanders. Biden led that poll with 25 percent, followed by Sanders at 19. The survey showed Buttigieg with enough support to win delegates at 18 percent. Elizabeth Warren trailed at 13. Those two candidates garnered 10 and 11 percent respectively in the Emerson poll. Klobuchar dropped all the way to six percent in the USA Today poll.
The bottom line is that, with the caucuses less than a week away, the race is very muddled. Biden and Sanders are the frontrunners with the polling average showing a slight edge for Sanders. Both candidates are likely to earn delegates. Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren could potentially win delegates as well. The caucus contest of Iowa is unpredictable in the best of times but tends to favor candidates with engaged supporters. Candidates like Bernie Sanders.
Biden’s campaign has long downplayed the Iowa caucuses and has focused instead on South Carolina and Super Tuesday. A few months ago, the former vice president was running a distant fourth in the Hawkeye State and there was some doubt that he would even meet the 15-percent threshold to win delegates. There seems to be little question now that Biden will at least be among the top two finishers in what could amount to a statistical tie in the end.
But Bernie’s surge from also-ran to frontrunner is sending shocks through the Democratic Party where he was always assumed to be a fringe candidate.
"Suddenly, we have the Democratic establishment very nervous about this campaign. We got Wall Street nervous," Sanders told supporters in Sioux City on NBC News. "They're starting to think, could this really happen?"
"We are their worst nightmare," he added.
The Democratic establishment’s worst nightmare is Donald Trump’s dream. While the president has attacked Joe Biden and was impeached over a scheme to get Ukraine to announce an investigation of the candidate’s son, Mr. Trump has recently defended Sanders from the allegation that told Warren that a woman could not win, telling a crowd, “I don’t believe that Bernie said that. I really don’t. It’s not the kind of thing he would say.”
Many Republicans believe that Sanders cannot win the general election campaign even though the Democrat-in-name-only currently leads President Trump in head-to-head polling. Much can change in 10 months but unelectable candidates, including both Trump and Obama, seem to win the presidency more often than not these days. For the record, I wrote in August 2018 that Trump’s wild behavior and scandals could put Bernie Sanders in the White House.
But first, Bernie has to win the nomination. After Iowa, the favorite son is poised to easily win New Hampshire, but Joe Biden holds comfortable leads in Nevada and South Carolina. The former vice president is also expected to do well in the Super Tuesday states, thanks to his strong support among black Democrats, who tend to be more moderate.
Once Biden starts to pull away on Super Tuesday, there will be little opportunity for Sanders to make up lost ground. Without winner-take-all states, the Democratic primary makes it difficult for candidates to score heavily in one state to make up losses elsewhere. Even if Sanders wins the delegate-rich state of California, current polls show him leading Biden by an average of only one point. That means that they would earn almost the same number of delegates.
If I had to bet on the outcome of the Democratic primary, I would bet on Joe Biden, even if Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire. It looks as though the race for the Democratic nomination will be a long, slow slog to the finish line, however.
Originally published on The Resurgent