Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton celebrates at her caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
SAN FRANCISCO – Sober was the morning after Iowa’s caucuses in 2008 at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign headquarters where, that year, she finished third, and several factors in the race appeared to be breaking against her.
Clinton lost that round to then-senator Barack Obama of Illinois in a state with a population that is almost entirely white. She lost big among young women and men alike, in cities and their suburbs.
Obama – the first African-American seriously considered for the presidency – was hailed by Democratic party elders as viable in a general election. Several forces thus conspired against a Clinton nomination: a broad, diverse and enthusiastic Democratic coalition backing her rival; unassigned “super delegates” to the Democratic National Convention flocking to his cause, considering him a winning candidate against the Republicans; significant endorsements from the Democratic Party establishment; and the continued presence of several other candidates in the primary race – former North Carolina senator John Edwards chief among them – who were earning roughly 15 percent of the total vote in early voting states.
At the end of the day, after competing in all 50 states, Clinton nevertheless won 48% of all pledged delegates to the Democratic convention that year. Obama won 47%. She won the popular vote, but Obama took the nomination with a majority of super delegate support from the party establishment.
Despite facing a formidable Obama coalition backed by significant donors and establishment support, Clinton’s support was also broad and competitive – and is even more so today as she enters a contest far less contentious with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
All the factors that broke against Clinton in 2008 are breaking for her in 2016. Clinton’s support in Iowa’s cities and suburbs on Monday night proved robust; voters from minority groups that in 2008 supported Obama are now firmly in her camp; and she maintains virtually absolute support of the party establishment, with Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, earning no endorsements from his colleagues.
Should Clinton perform merely as well as she did in 2008, she is on track to win both the popular vote and the pledged delegate count – plus the requisite number of super delegates to clinch the nomination.
And her leads, according to polls, in key delegate-rich states such as Florida, Texas, California, New York and Illinois suggest that won’t be necessary.
Sanders’ surge in Iowa reflects a flirtation with socialism within the Democratic Party – a flirtation with a specific brand of liberalism that has ebbed and flowed for decades.
That is a significant story, but different from one that suggests Sanders has a considerable shot at winning the Democratic nomination.
What concerns leadership in the Democratic Party is not those who voted for Sanders in Iowa, or those who will vote enthusiastically for him in New Hampshire next week.
Their concern is with voters who voted against Clinton.
Iowa provided the party with its first batch of hard data, and the numbers confirm that Clinton has a credibility problem.
According to exit polls, fully one quarter of Democratic caucus-goers voted based on which candidate they deemed most honest and trustworthy – Clinton earned 10% of those voters to Sanders’s 83%.
Those numbers in Iowa are reflected in national polls, and they will affect her performance in New Hampshire, and the states to come immediately following: South Carolina and Nevada. But, perhaps more significantly, the question is a top consideration for independent voters in all general elections.
Whether or not Bernie Sanders is a realistic alternative, Democrats may begin to concern themselves with Clinton’s own electability in November, with numbers suggesting that the base of their own party views the front-runner with skeptical eyes.