In politics, the unthinkable must be thought about.
Not all that long ago, it was unthinkable that Hillary Clinton could lose Iowa, the first of the 2016 presidential contests.
True, she had lost the Iowa caucuses in 2008, coming in a shocking third after both Barack Obama and John Edwards.
And she’d had everything going for her. She had the money, the endorsements, the name recognition and the demographics — i.e., there are virtually no black people in Iowa — so how was Obama supposed to beat her there?
Obama’s people were astonished at how lightly Clinton’s people were taking Obama.
And it was his Iowa victory that made Obama credible and real.
“If I win the Iowa caucuses,” Obama told his top aides early in 2007, “I can get the nomination.”
Could an Iowa victory catapult Bernie Sanders to the same kind of credibility and stature that Obama received from his victory there? And could Sanders possibly beat Clinton in Iowa?
The Clinton campaign doesn’t think so.
Bernie Sanders? Please. It is to laugh. This guy is no Barack Obama.
Sanders is a 73-year-old “democratic socialist,” whatever that is, born in Brooklyn and registered as an independent in his home state of Vermont. This is the first time he has run in a Democratic primary. He is also Jewish, another group a little scarce in Iowa, which has a grand total of about 6,170 Jews, constituting about 0.2 percent of the state’s total population.
By way of contrast, Clinton likes to say whenever she comes to Iowa: “I grew up in a middle-class family in the middle of America.” She is mainline Protestant (United Methodist) in a state where mainline Protestants are a 25 percent plurality of voters.
She also has the invaluable experience of having organized Iowa once before, whereas Sanders has never run in Iowa.
Iowa should be a walkover for Clinton, a breeze, especially because her campaign has rolled out the new Hillary 2.0, which repairs the minor imperfections she sometimes showed while campaigning in the past.
Like how she doesn’t really like campaigning.
As Katie Glueck of Politico wrote Aug. 16 during Clinton’s visit to the Iowa State Fair, “while Clinton is notorious for avoiding big crowds, she walked around the fairgrounds talking to anyone who approached her or asked to snap a picture.”
Stop the presses! Hillary talks to people! Read all about it!
I would say a presidential candidate who is “notorious for avoiding big crowds” is a presidential candidate who is in the wrong business. Running for president is often about talking to, meeting with and winning over big crowds — the bigger the better, in fact.
But who is attracting the big crowds this time around? You guessed it: Bernie Sanders.
He draws very, very big crowds. In Los Angeles in mid-August, Sanders drew a crowd of 27,500 people, which The Washington Post pointed out was “about five times as large as any crowd that has turned out for Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.”
This was not good news for Clinton, but the real body blow came this weekend. The highly respected Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll came out, and for Clinton, the news ran from bad to worse. The poll said:
“Clinton has lost a third of her supporters since May, a trajectory that if sustained puts her at risk of losing again in Iowa.”
Clinton is below the 50 percent mark for the first time, while “Bernie Sanders, riding an updraft of insurgent passion in Iowa, has closed to within 7 points” of Clinton.
“This feels like 2008 all over again,” said pollster J. Ann Selzer.
Only 8 percent of likely caucusgoers have a negative view of Sanders, while 19 percent have a negative view of Clinton.
Steve McMahon, an experienced Democratic strategist, said: “These numbers would suggest that she can be beaten. But it’s still early, and Hillary Clinton’s done this before. She knows what it takes to win.”
Perhaps. But if she were to lose Iowa, so what? She still would have New Hampshire coming up next.
Where the latest poll shows Sanders beating her by 7 percentage points.
Could Clinton lose the first two contests for the Democratic nomination? Unthinkable.
Which means her campaign should be thinking about it every hour of every day.
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