Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders first passed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire polls back in late August, according to RealClearPolitics.com. In Iowa he pulled even in mid-September before falling back, but in recent days he has begun to close the gap again.
Throughout the rise of Sanders’ candidacy, Clinton has maintained a large lead nationally over her rival. But according to an Investor’s Business Daily article, that lead has shrunk to the point of being a statistical dead heat:
With just 21 days until the presidential primaries officially begin in Iowa, Hillary Clinton's support among Democrats nationally has taken a serious tumble, falling eight points to 43%, according to the latest IBD/TIPP Poll. Support for her chief rival, Bernie Sanders, rose six points to 39%.
As a result, Clinton's lead over Sanders, which had been 18 points, is now just four points.
Other polls have shown the race tightening in Iowa, which holds its caucuses on Feb. 1, and New Hampshire, which has its primary eight days later. Two recent New Hampshire surveys have Sanders in the lead, and the latest NBC poll in Iowa has Sanders just three points behind Clinton….
The IBD/TIPP Poll shows that regionally, Clinton saw her support drop most in the Northeast (where it fell to 36% from 50%) and the West (37% down from 49%). Sanders now holds the lead in both places. Clinton support also tumbled among suburban voters, dropping to 39% from last month's 50%. And she has lost backing among moderate Democrats, falling to 44% from 58%. Sanders picked up 10 points among moderates, to 37%.
The shrinking lead for Clinton isn’t the only bad news for the frontrunner. The New York Times reports that her campaign is battling an “enthusiasm gap” in Iowa:
Iowa Democrats are displaying far less passion for Hillary Clinton than for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont three weeks before the presidential caucuses, creating anxiety inside the Clinton campaign as she scrambles to energize supporters and to court wavering voters.
The enthusiasm gap spilled abundantly into view in recent days, from the cheering crowds and emotional outpourings that greeted Mr. Sanders, and in interviews with more than 50 Iowans at campaign stops for both candidates.
Voters have mobbed Mr. Sanders at events since Friday, some jumping over chairs to shake his hand, snap a selfie or thank him for speaking about the middle class. “Did you get to touch him?” asked one woman who could not get close enough after an event here on Saturday….
Audiences for Mrs. Clinton have yet to grow to consistently match those for Mr. Sanders, and the typical reception for her was evident on Monday in Waterloo. About 300 people welcomed Mrs. Clinton enthusiastically and listened to her diligently, but many of them, still unsure, rebuffed Clinton aides trying to get them to sign “commitment cards” to caucus for her.
The article says the Clinton campaign is well aware of her precarious situation in the first caucus state and is working to restore the commanding lead she once enjoyed:
Clinton advisers said they believed Iowa was a single-digit race and have been warning supporters against complacency, admitting that Mr. Sanders’s operation in the state was better financed and organized than they had expected. On Saturday, they began trying to undercut his electability with a television ad casting Mrs. Clinton as the strongest possible Democratic nominee, even though some polls show Mr. Sanders would perform well in matchups against Republicans like Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
A Sanders victory in Iowa would be a shock given the institutional advantages held by Mrs. Clinton, a former secretary of state and a favorite of the Iowa Democratic establishment. It would also set off significant momentum for Mr. Sanders heading into the Feb. 9 primary in New Hampshire, where he is well known as a senator from neighboring Vermont and holds a slight lead in the polls.
Several of Mrs. Clinton’s advisers, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the race candidly, said that they were anxious but not panicking about Iowa, saying that they believed she would still deliver a victory here.
Still, some advisers said they were torn about whether the campaign would ultimately regret purposely holding small events in Iowa — a strategy Mrs. Clinton preferred — given Mr. Sanders’s ability to continue to turn out and energize huge crowds, which they had not anticipated.
The last bit is curious – Sanders has demonstrated for months now that he is capable of generating large crowds at events. If Clinton’s team is indeed surprised their main rival is still drawing large, enthusiastic audiences, it’s a sign they either haven’t been paying attention or are repeating mistakes of the 2008 campaign by not treating Sanders as a serious challenger.
Sanders’ status as a significant candidate got a boost this morning as well, after it was announced he had received the endorsement of the left-wing activist group MoveOn.org, as reported by the Associated Press:
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Tuesday received the endorsement of MoveOn.org, a grassroots organization that has been at the forefront of liberal causes.
MoveOn says the Vermont senator was supported by 78.6 percent of its membership in an online vote of more than 340,000 members. Hillary Clinton received 14.6 percent and Martin O'Malley received 0.9 percent with the remaining members urging no endorsement….
The group lists 8 million members and says it will mobilize nearly 75,000 of its members in Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the campaign's first two contests.
The Democratic nomination contest began with Clinton holding a substantial lead over all her rivals, only to see Sanders cut into that lead during the summer. She had what most observers thought to be a good fall, solidifying her position and limiting Sanders’ momentum to Iowa and New Hampshire. But recent events suggest Sanders is enjoying a second surge, this time close to the beginning of the actual voting.
If the Investor’s Business Daily poll is accurate, however, and Sanders’ support is growing beyond just the first two states, Clinton could be forced to endure a long, drawn-out nomination fight in which she may or may not prevail. Which makes the Iowa caucus that much more important for her – a win puts her back on track, while a loss probably ensures a Sanders victory in New Hampshire as well, and renewed momentum for Clinton’s rival.