Early primary states matter. Winning them sends a clear message to the media, to the national party, and to voters that a candidate has a chance. These relatively small states have the power to cement frontrunners, but also to shine a spotlight on relatively unknown upstarts. These states are the trendsetters and they’re courted and fought over unlike any other state.
Now, to the surprise of everyone, Hillary Clinton appears to be on the verge of losing two of the three earliest primary states, raising further questions about her ability to win the White House.
Among the early states Clinton’s path was always the most difficult in New Hampshire. It was a state that was not only geographically close to Vermont Bernie Sanders, but ideologically close as well. But people often forget just how much of a favorite Clinton was at one point. For instance, a Bloomberg poll from November 2014 shows her with a 62 to 6 point lead among primary voters in New Hampshire. Even two months after Sanders jumped in the race, Clinton was consistently polling twelve points ahead Sanders, who was her closest rival.
But recently the lead has evaporated. Since early August Sanders has polled an average of 7 points ahead of Clinton, the product of his unlikely cult status among the leftist elements of the party and Clinton’s ever-more-tarnished reputation. John Wagner reports on Clinton’s Granite State troubles in the Washington Post:
Independent analysts cite several reasons for the Clinton camp to be concerned, including that many New Hampshire voters feel they have not benefited from the nation’s economic recovery. A sizable chunk of those who cast Democratic ballots here tend to be drawn to anti-establishment candidates, and New Hampshire has a history of embracing contenders from neighboring states.
“Clinton has some serious problems,” said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “Maybe Bernie Sanders isn’t the ideal candidate to run against her, but the anti-Clinton vote is where the energy is.”
Although Clinton was sure to struggle in New Hampshire, her camp had good reason to be optimistic about Iowa, the nation’s first primary. After all, as recently as early August Clinton was polling 34 points ahead of Sanders, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Clinton has been laser focused on winning Iowa since her last attempt at winning the White House in 2008. That year, she pushed a “shock and awe” campaign that was meant to target big donors and big states in an effort to squeeze lesser known competitors out of the race early. That strategy famously sat very poorly with Iowa’s blue collar, low key voting base, resulting in an out-of-nowhere win for the little known candidate named Barack Obama. We all know how that turned out – Obama built on the Iowa momentum to become an instant phenomena and Clinton–the onetime surefire candidate–fell off the map.
The results of her newfound focus on the Hawkeye State have been impressive, but there is only so much scandal Iowans can stand before they have to look at other options. A new poll shows they may be doing just that. Jennifer Jacobs reports for the Des Moines Register:
Liberal revolutionary Bernie Sanders, riding an updraft of insurgent passion in Iowa, has closed to within 7 points of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential race.
She’s the first choice of 37 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers; he’s the pick for 30 percent, according to a new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll.
But Clinton has lost a third of her supporters since May, a trajectory that if sustained puts her at risk of losing again in Iowa, the initial crucible in the presidential nominating contest.
This is the first time Clinton, the former secretary of state and longtime presumptive front-runner, has dropped below the 50 percent mark in four polls conducted by the Register and Bloomberg Politics this year.
“It looks like what people call the era of invincibility is over,” pollster J. Ann Selzer, told Bloomberg. “She has lost a third of the support that she had in May, so any time you lose that much that quickly, it’s a wake-up call.”
A wake-up call indeed, and it’s tone is reminiscent of 2008, when a sleepwalking Clinton suddenly found herself losing to an out-of-nowhere upstart. The difference is that this year Clinton’s problem isn’t a surprise candidate, it’s her own unelectability.
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