With one month and some change left until the Iowa caucuses on February 3, the Democratic primary has crystallized in some aspects and remained frustratingly opaque in others. The obvious: The top four candidates are still Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Vice President Joe Biden, with the latter still leading the pack. The less obvious: Who is going to come out on top in Iowa, and whether or not they’ll be able to translate it into momentum to shake up the race on a national level?
The narrative last month was that Pete Buttigieg was leading in both Iowa and New Hampshire, though ultimately, I’m not convinced that Buttigieg will be able to gain momentum out of winning one or both of those two states. While they just so happen to be the first two states voting in the Democratic primaries, they’re also lily-white states that don’t reflect the diversity of the Democratic party — and much has been reported about Buttigieg’s lack of support among African-American voters in particular. While he may be something of a media darling at the moment, I struggle to see how he has a path to the nomination.
The December 19 debate marked the first time he was seriously challenged on stage, and we have yet to see how that impacts how voters perceive him. In my view, the two true front runners (at this very moment) are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Both have a seemingly locked-in base of supporters that haven’t shifted away from either one of them, regardless of gaffes or temporary gains other candidates experience.
Yet, there is a scarcity of polling in Iowa lately. According to CNN, the last poll that used the most accurate methods (either live interviews or calling respondents via cell phone) was done in November, and the average of that polling has the top four jumbled closely. Buttigieg came in at 21 percent with Biden and Sanders each taking 19 percent support, and Warren with 15 percent. Taking into account margin of error or late surges among any of these four, the state is essentially a toss-up
Notably, only five candidates have qualified for the January 14 debate: Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren, and Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Klobuchar is an interesting case, as she’s staking her entire candidacy on Iowa; she’s already visited all 99 of Iowa’s counties, yet has struggled because the lion’s share of support for moderate candidates has largely gone to Biden or Buttigieg. She’s banking on Biden stumbling, but most people still don’t know who she is. She was generally seen as the winner of the December 19 debate, receiving far more speaking time than usual due to the low number of candidates on stage — just seven. She may have a chance to break out yet again with even fewer candidates to compete with, but should she perform poorly in Iowa, it’s hard to envision how she could carry on in the race. I personally find it disappointing that she’s been overlooked, as she bridges a lot of worries people have about the candidates. She’s more experienced than Buttigieg, doesn’t have nearly as much time in the public eye as Biden, and has shown that she’s competitive in red and purple districts in her home state of Minnesota — something that would be an asset in taking on Trump next year
A wrench that may hinder the prospects of the Senators running for President is that we may very well have an impeachment trial taking place in the Senate, which would divide their time between Washington, D.C. and the campaign trail. Yet, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has withheld the two articles of impeachment that were approved by the House of Representatives on December 18 from reaching Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, saying that she wants the guarantee of a fair and impartial trial before doing so.
It’s hard not to see this as a strategic move. If the Senate trial never starts, President Trump can never say that he was acquitted. National reporting on impeachment has arguably distracted from the campaign trail, so despite a field slowly narrowing each month when it comes to the debate stage, it’s hard to gauge at the moment who, if anyone, is generating real momentum.
As it stands, it still looks like Biden’s nomination to lose, but candidates have peaked later in the campaign season than the point we’re at — most notably, former President Barack Obama turning his victory in Iowa in 2008 into a national surge that helped him capture the nomination.