Clinton’s Headaches Mount as Sanders Surges in Iowa
Election 2016

Clinton’s Headaches Mount as Sanders Surges in Iowa

Lucy Nicholson

Hillary Clinton’s once inevitable march to the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination just became far less inevitable, as a new Iowa poll shows the former secretary of state rapidly losing ground to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the self-described Democratic socialist who has railed against the “billionaire class” and Wall Street.

Echoing similar problems for Clinton in New Hampshire -- another early battleground state-- Clinton’s once seemingly insurmountable lead in Iowa has dropped to just seven points, according to a new Des Moines Register-Bloomberg Politics poll published Saturday night.

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Clinton once led in Iowa with the support of more than 50 percent of Democrats, but she garnered just 37 percent of likely Democratic caucus goers in the latest poll, followed by Sanders with 30 percent. Vice President Joseph Biden, who is weighing a decision on whether to enter the race next month, placed third with 14 percent, while former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley turned in another underwhelming performance with just 3 percent.

Sanders startled the political world in mid-August by topping Clinton in New Hampshire with 44 percent of the vote compared to just 37 percent for Clinton among  likely Democratic primary voters, according to a Boston Herald poll.

The typically dour, stern faced Sanders cracked a smile and seemed to struggle to contain his glee during back-to-back interviews on Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper and ABC’s This Week,  which was hosted by Martha Raddatz.

Asked by Raddatz whether Clinton’s campaign was in big trouble because of the ongoing controversy over her mishandling of emails during her four years at the State Department and growing distrust of her among voters, Sanders replied, “I don’t know if her campaign is in trouble, but our campaign is doing great.”

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“You know, it’s not just in Iowa, it’s in New Hampshire, it’s all across this country, Martha,” Sanders said. “People are just responding to our message that something is wrong when the middle class of this country continues to disappear. People are working longer hours for lower wages, and almost all of the new wealth and income is going to the top one percent. That is not the type of country, not the type of economy that the American people want or deserve.”

While polls have documented a steady and impressive rise in support for Sanders brand of populism and “tax-the-rich” rhetoric, he may be bumping up against a glass ceiling before too long. If Biden ultimately decided against entering the race, it would work to Clinton’s benefit, according to the new poll. Without Biden in the running, Clinton leads Sanders 43 percent to 35 percent in the Des Moines Register-Bloomberg Politics poll.

Moreover, while Sanders has found a ready audience among white liberals, college students and other young people, he has yet to make any appreciable inroads with blacks or Hispanics – two incredibly important Democratic constituencies. Moreover, with so much of his attention focused on domestic issues – including Social Security, soaring college tuition costs, environmental concerns and income inequality – Sanders has yet to be tested on national security and foreign policy questions that have dominated the Republican presidential campaign.

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Indeed, Raddatz, an authority on defense and the war in the Middle East, forced Sanders to concede that he needed to do far more to demonstrate his bonifides to become the next commander in chief.  “Absolutely, Martha, and we will,” Sanders responded. “In all fairness, we’ve only been in this race for three and a half months, and we have been focusing . . .on the economy, on the collapse of the American middle class, on massive income inequality. But you’re absolutely right--foreign policy is a huge issue.”

Media reports out of Minneapolis over the weekend indicated that members of the Democratic National Committee were uneasy about Clinton’s weakened stand, especially polling showing that a majority of Americans believe Clinton is dishonest or even a “liar” regarding the e-mail debacle that has drawn the attention of the FBI.

Clinton responded at the DNC gathering last Friday with a “red-meat” speech denouncing Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and his GOP rivals. She and her campaign organizers also made a show of strength by locking up the support of more than 400 party officials who will be super-delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, or roughly 20 percent of the total delegates she will need to claim the nomination next summer.

But as the Washington Post reported yesterday, Clinton’s team has acknowledged that the email scandal has been handled badly – and allowed to fester for more than six months – and “has given rise to broader worries about her trustworthiness and sense of entitlement.”

Related: Where Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley Stand on the Issues

This backstage Democratic drama is playing out while Trump continues to dominate the news cycle with his bombastic rhetoric about illegal immigrants, China’s threat to the U.S. economy, jobs, now street gangs, and the need to unshackle local police departments to go after thugs.

Sanders, a political independent who has caucused with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, told DNC members last week that the party needed to energize its base to avoid another low-turnout like the one in 2014 that handed control of the Senate to the Republicans.

In his first speech ever to the DNC, Sanders warned the party leaders that they risked another debacle in 2016 if they hitch their wagon to another establishment candidate – presumably meaning Clinton. “The same-old same-old will not work,” he declared.