But no one seems to be getting behind him as a first choice, either. This morning's Quinnipiac poll is the strongest indication yet that the Iowa Democratic caucuses have become a two horse race, with Bernie Sanders close to locking in as the alternative to Hillary Clinton.
The top line of the poll shows Clinton at 52 to Sanders at 33. O'Malley isn't even in third place at 3%. He's fourth, with non-declared Joe Biden at 7 points. Jim Webb is at just 2, and Lincoln Chafee fails to register.
It's a drop of 8 points for Clinton, who led Sanders 60-15 in Quinnipiac's May poll of Iowa. And doing the math, it looks like much of Sander's gain has come directly from Clinton, with small chunks coming from undecided and Biden. (Quinnipiac stopped polling Elizabeth Warren, who was at 19 in February, by May, and most of that shifted to Sanders.)
My gut feeling is Sanders has, without directly attacking Clinton has peeled off a lot of the soft Hillary support.
The big question is, how much soft Hillary support is left? Because there were/are a lot of folks who are not Ready For Hillary as much as they're Resigned To Hillary support. But there are also a lot of fierce solid Walk On Hot Coals For Hillary supporters. Does the Sanders spike represents a trend, or a plateau?
A lost opportunity: Sanders trails Clinton just 46-37 with men, but Hillary has a massive 56-29 lead with women. Elizabeth Warren could have run on the Sanders platform (more effectively, in my opinion) AND taken gender out of the equation. I think she'd be running even with Clinton had she run. Disclaimer: I am neutral because I'm working on caucus arrangements, but I would have endorsed Warren had she run.
To many caucus goers, especially here in the People's Republic, the caucus choice is about Direction Of The Party as much as it's about Who Should Be President. People who were loosely tied to Clinton on inevitability are now feeling free to Make A Statement.
But one of my bigger fears is eased a little bit. What happens to all the folks showing up for Sanders rallies who think he's actually going to BE president once Hillary Clinton is nominated? Quinnipiac's Would Not Support numbers are low for all six Democrats, especially compared to the Hell No percentages on the other side for Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. (Who, remarkably, seems to be staking out the Steve King-Tom Tancredo anti-immigrant niche.)
The Big Rally strategy is an old leftie tactic that dates back to at least Henry Wallace and includes Ralph Nader. Often these events had low dollar admission and were a big part of the fundraising.
But no less a source than:
Bernie's huge crowds recall Howard Dean's in '04 when he rallied "Democratic wing of Democratic Party." Dean was impactful, but Kerry won.— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 2, 2015
Vermont makes the Dean-Sanders comparisons too easy. There are a LOT of dynamic differences between 2004 and 2016. Dean peaked about a month early but was still a frontrunner on January 19, albiet a very narrow one. One of the last pre-caucus polls showed a four way dead heat.
Old-time Deaniacs like me will remember a coordinated Screw Dean effort by the other campaigns to take him out in Iowa. Even Dennis Kucinich played along, with a bizarre caucus morning semi-endorsement of John Edwards as a second choice in the many, many precincts where he was non-viable. In my precinct, before we could even herd all our Dean cats, the just short of viable Dick Gephardt group marched en masse to Kerry. Same thing all over the state: Realignment strategies designed to help Anyone But Dean.
The Scream, which never gets old, was the least of Dean's caucus night problems. It was AFTER the Much More Important Third Place.
In a two way race, like Bradley-Gore in 2000, you don't get those kinds of strategic moves. It's a zero sum game. Every marginal, last delegate in the precinct is coming directly out of Clinton and going to Sanders or vice versa. And at these levels, even an O'Malley-Webb-Chafee-Not Sure coalition is short of an Uncommitted delegate.
(undecided ≠ "Uncommitted." Uncommitted is, paradoxically, a commitment. undecided, not capitalized, is a decision yet to be made, And Neutral ≠ Uncommitted. It is a commitment NOT to make a committment, at least not till the Magic Moment of Alignment.)
Our county's one Uncommitted in that 2000 caucus was a labor guy whose union was for Gore but he supported Bradley. He couldn't bring himself to go directly against his union, so he got an Uncommitted group together.
In that light, and in this bipolar dynamic, this may be the most important and most under-reported news of the cycle:
Whoa if true: Tells me that AFL-CIO intends to make TPP a litmus test of Labor Solidarity. If labor gets all the way behind Sanders, and that moves X% of caucus goers, in a well-organized high-turnout demographic..@politicomahoney obtains memo from AFL-CIO President Trumka urging state leaders not to endorse. @BernieSanders not mentioned, but implied— Jonathan Topaz (@JonathanTopaz) July 1, 2015
But are they already included in that Sanders 33%? The ideology facet of the poll shows the left of the party pro-Sanders and the mainstream slash center pro-Clinton. This means a counter-intuitive take on turnout. In low turnout years, the ideological wings of both parties show up. The higher the turnout, the more moderates. So low turnout actually helps Sanders. But here I give Clinton, miles ahead of Sanders on organization and field staff, to have an edge.
The most interesting number to me in the whole Quinnipiac poll is that 7% for Joe Biden, despite any clear indication that he's serious about getting in. The Biden loyalists are really, REALLY loyal, and have only increased in number and loyalty during his vice presidency. He's also riding a public sympathy wave following his son's death.
I always say it: Joe Biden's only real fault is an excess of heart. Not a bad flaw to have. The man is brilliant and God forbid something happened to Barack Obama, Joe Biden cound step into the job immediately ready and up to it.
But at some point Joe Biden will reluctantly, because in his big, big heart he really does want to be president, make a definitive Not Running statement. And right now his 7 points makes the different between a narrow Clinton majority, or even plurality, win, and the 60%, near-Gore level bar that I've set for her (despite Team Hillary's efforts to sell 50% as the expectation).
Not sure what if anything Hillary Clinton can do to sell herself as more progressive than Bernie Sanders. My pet theory since Sanders got started has been that Clinton is coming up with the right policy ideas, but the lefty base wants blame. And Clinton's "system favors the rich" line is too mild for people who want blame and eat up Sanders' "billionaire class," "top 1%," etc.
At some point Clinton may need to have a closed door chat with her donor class and play the MLK vs. Malcolm X card. Or, more in keeping with her New Deal launch and Sanders' socialist persona, the FDR vs. Norman Thomas card. "Look, guys, I need to kick up the rhetoric a notch, because if I don't, you get the torches and pitchforks. Don't take it personal."