The importance of Iowa

The challenger has an uphill struggle against the presumptive nominee but he can win if he pulls off a strong opening

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In the run up to the first State in the Democratic Primaries, nobody could have predicted the complete change in fortunes of the Democratic front-runner. Although Clinton still leads 48 to Sanders’ 41 nationally among Democratic primary voters, she was 20 points ahead only last month. Worse still, Sanders is polling higher in matchups against GOP Primary candidates completely demolishing the argument that her high profile name is the best bet against the Republicans this November.

The candidate from Brooklyn has had a string of good luck in the past 72 hours. Iowa polls are now showing him either ahead of the Democratic front-runner or within a whisker’s distance of her. The latest Qunnipiac poll puts Sanders at 49 to 44 with a separate survey from Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register released Thursday showing Clinton at 42 to Sanders’ 40. Additionally, he has received endorsements from MoveOn.org, The Nation, Paul Kirk and cryptically encouraging words from Vice President Joe Biden.

Attacks on Sanders’ proposed universal healthcare reforms have hit a few glitches and seem to have backfired. His campaign said they raised $1.4 million in the 24 hours after Hillary changed tack and went on the attack after spending most of the last year pretending he didn’t exist. It isn’t helpful to Clinton that Sanders keeps reminding people that Hillary once praised his support for her attempts at healthcare reform in 1993 including a letter signed by Hillary thanking him for his support.

In spite of this, Clinton is still the favourite to win the nomination.

In order to pull off an upset, Sanders still has to win in all three opening States: Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. While the first of these only looked possible for Sanders to win in the last few days, he has increased his lead in New Hampshire. Clinton leads by quite a margin in pretty much every other state. But a hat-trick in the opening three states could do huge psychological damage to Clinton’s campaign, feeding into Sanders’ claim that he is leading a revolution in American politics. It would give Sanders some much needed name recognition, bring in more money and perhaps win him some all-important endorsements which he is notably lacking right now. More importantly, winning elections can increase your poll numbers and Bernie sorely needs this in the South and Western states where Clinton is strong.

Of course Nevada was Clinton’s “firewall” against an insurgent candidate with a funny name back in 2008. Hillary is strong there and Sanders’ weakness is one of a lack of support among ethnic minority voters. But that firewall did not hold against Obama in 2008. The difference now is that Hillary’s challenger is a 74-year-old Jewish guy from Brooklyn not a young, charismatic black Senator from Illinois. Sanders’ campaign has been pouring resources into what has been called Hillary’s stronghold. He is spending $767,539 on TV and radio ads in both Spanish and English to compared to Clinton’s recent $162,490. Additionally, he has opened nine field offices compared to Hillary’s seven. His campaign understands the importance of winning in States with high numbers of non-white voters like Nevada in order to change the course of the election.

But all of this will mean nothing if the Senator from Vermont cannot win the previous two States. While he will almost certainly win in New Hampshire, he is weaker in Iowa. And whoever wins there will set the narrative. If Bernie wins: The insurgent candidate continues his game changing momentum. If Hillary wins: The campaign favourite asserts her rightful place over the paper tiger outsider. A win in Iowa will be damaging enough but a further two will put Hillary on the back foot and may change the fortunes of the race completely.

If winning a state can increase your poll numbers, it can affect whether or not you can win the remaining states. Bernie must maintain the momentum but the biggest blow to his campaign would be a loss in the first State of the race. Make no mistake: for Sanders to even have a chance at the nomination, he must win the opening three states and that begins with Iowa. The fourth Democratic debate tomorrow will be important in showing whether Bernie has what it takes to be a serious contender for the nomination or if he is simply biding his time till he is taken out of the race.

We have a race ladies and gentlemen.