Around kickoff time yesterday I noticed a split screen battle in the Democratic race going on in my backyard.
Bernie Sanders was in Mt. Vernon, where he drew a crowd officially body-counted at 1100 people, with an intro by Linn County supervisor Brent Oleson (when he converted, he REALLY converted.)
Meanwhile in Iowa City, a Hilalry Clinton event had a full, if smaller, room, but no candidate.Bernie Sanders Meets with Veterans, College Students at Cornell College Visit via /r/Sande… https://t.co/pcVLNNtb17 pic.twitter.com/f1Cxvqa6Ic— Sanders Will Win (@sanderswillwin) December 14, 2015
(Not that Team H is neglecting the area, as Herself is in town Wednesday, and Howard Dean is here for Clinton tomorrow.)Packed house at our @HillaryforIA precinct leadership training in Iowa City! #HillYes pic.twitter.com/ZvxozbbOqV— Juliana Amin (@jules_amin) December 13, 2015
This crowd was for a LONG precinct captain training, going over the nuts and bolts of caucus night.
So which crowd is a better indicator of strength, seven weeks out from caucus night?
Today's Register poll shows Clinton with a 48-39 lead over Sanders, with Clinton up 6 and Sanders up 2 since the last poll in October which included Joe Biden. Martin O'Malley, God bless him, is stuck at 4. (Those O'Malley second choices could matter: a delegate here, a delegate there...)
(Also, for the record, dead Register, I REALLY hate having to read a .pdf document in an embedded Scribd window.)
So is Sanders nearing the ceiling that lots of folks think he has? Hard to say - but nine points is close enough that late events and variable turnout can make a difference, and the Register poll indicates that Sanders has a strong edge among caucus rookies.
That's the challenge for Team Bernie. To get them counted, you have to get them there.
Here's a shot from a Sanders caucus training, also yesterday, reportedly in Davenport. This may not be indicative of the whole day - Team Hillary was social media-ing their events a lot more aggressively, though not as aggressively as Clay Matthews who sacked Cowboys backup quarterback Matt Cassell twice..@BernieSanders Precinct Captain Training, larger crowd than expected #BernieProblems #iacaucus #FeelTheBern #bernie pic.twitter.com/KFxQHGFdnY— Iowa for Bernie (@Iowa4Bernie) December 13, 2015
And of course a lot of Team Bernie's energy was soaked up by the candidate event.
But there's been some grumbling from Team Bernie about the complexity of the caucus process for newcomers. That's one of the reasons I neutraled myself out. Somebody always walks into the caucuses feeling like they're gonna get screwed and not treated fairly. I know that - I was a Bill Bradley guy. So I'm keeeping all three teams in the loop in the process stuff. (Also: Neutrality means I can write frank assessments like this without people filtering it through who I endorsed.)
That said, grumbling about the rules is never a sign of caucus confidence. Hillary could tell you that, and did, a lot, in 2007. And I'm betting that at least some Bernie backers balk at checking that D on the voter registration form so they can caucus with the Democrats.
There's also a track record of difficulty getting Sanders supporters to show up at events OTHER than a personal candidate appearance. They can fill a big hall for him... but can they fill school gyms without him?
Here's an indicator that Team Bernie thinks their chances are better in next door New Hampshire, where independents can simply pick either party's primary.P2016: Per MSNBC, Bernie Sanders' campaign acknowledges New Hampshire is "must win " if his campaign is to continue beyond February 9.— Politics1.com (@Politics1com) December 13, 2015
It's ironic that the best bet for saving First In The Nation may be: Hillary wins Iowa, rival wins New Hampshire, Hillary wins nomination, the reverse of how things played out in 2008.
In many other ways, Clinton is running from the Obama playbook of 2008. It wasn't just the fresh outsider energy that led Obama to his historic and crucial Iowa win - it was lots and lots and lots of field work. Sanders is doing that work, of course, but Clinton is doing it harder, bigger, and better.
At this point, caucus weeks are like dog years, and seven caucus weeks is a lifetime. But for THIS weekend, I'm guessing the organizer crowds are a better indicator than the candidate crowds.