Swing State Pres

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Eight Days To Iowa

Now that we are into the 2016 primary/caucus season, no more “monthly updates,”… BTRTN will be posting at a feverish pitch, matching or exceeding the pace of the primary/caucus schedule.

It is now eight days until Iowa and there have been a flurry of new polls.  You may have heard that both the Democratic and GOP races are “dead heats” but as of this minute, that is not quite true.  Bottom line:  Donald Trump has a five-point lead over Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton has a four-point lead over Bernie Sanders.  Lots can change in the last week as voters finalize their choices, and add on top of that the dilemma posed by polling for a caucus, which is even harder than polling for a primary.  So the final outcomes may not resemble the current polling status.

A QUICK PRIMARY PRIMER

Here is the primary/caucus schedule through Super Tuesday on March 1, what I would call “Phase I” of the season.  After Super Tuesday we should know whether any candidate in either party has delivered a knockout blow or, conversely, we are in for a long slog.  And we should also have a pretty good sense of whether Michael Bloomberg is going to enter the race as an Independent.  But more on that later.

Date
State
Party
Primary/Caucus
Primary Type
February 1
Iowa
Both
Caucus
Closed
February 9
New Hampshire
Both
Primary
Mixed
February 20
Nevada
Democratic
Caucus
Closed
February 20
South Carolina
Republican
Primary
Open
February 23
Nevada
Republican
Caucus
Closed
February 27
South Carolina
Democratic
Primary
Open
March 1
Alabama
Both
Primary
Open
March 1
Alaska
Republican
Caucus
Closed
March 1
American Samoa
Democratic
Caucus
Open
March 1
Arkansas
Both
Primary
Open
March 1
Colorado
Both
Caucus
Closed
March 1
Georgia
Both
Primary
Open
March 1
Massachusetts
Both
Primary
Mixed
March 1
Minnesota
Both
Caucus
Open
March 1
North Dakota
Republican
Caucus
Closed
March 1
Oklahoma
Both
Primary
Closed
March 1
Tennessee
Both
Primary
Open
March 1
Texas
Both
Primary
Open
March 1
Vermont
Both
Primary
Open
March 1
Virginia
Both
Primary
Open
March 1
Wyoming
Republican
Caucus
Closed

Let’s get to Iowa now.

THE GOP

Let’s review the stakes.  If Donald Trump wins Iowa, he has a superb chance of winning the GOP nomination, full stop.  He is leading in New Hampshire handily, 31% to 12%-13% for Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Ted Cruz.  Trump has led in every single New Hampshire poll since mid-July -- that would be 42 straight polls.  Barring an unlikely and abrupt about-face, Trump is a sure thing in New Hampshire.

To give some perspective, no GOP candidate has EVER swept both Iowa and New Hampshire, apart from incumbents.  It’s never been done!  You could cede the nomination to Trump based on that alone, if he pulls it off.

Trump is also strong where the action moves next in “Phase 1”, largely to the South and the West.  In South Carolina, next up after New Hampshire, Trump is up 32% to 18% over Cruz in the one recent poll.  After that, Nevada – Trump was ahead in the last poll there (in December), 33% to 20% over Cruz.  That would take us to Super Tuesday on March 1, with its heavy southern bent (hence the nickname, “SEC Tuesday” after college football’s Southeastern Conference whose states are well-represented in primaries that day).  Trump appears to be strong in the polls there as well.  Wins in Iowa and New Hampshire would only accentuate Trump’s momentum and build his lead there.  It would pretty much be over.

What could stop him?  Realistically, two paths.  The first is for Cruz to come back and win in Iowa.  Let’s look at the numbers:

IOWA
Dec '15
Jan 1-12
Jan 13-21
Trump
27
27
31
Cruz
28
27
25
Rubio
12
12
12
Carson
11
9
8
Bush
5
4
5
Christie
2
4
3
Paul
3
4
3
Huckabee
2
2
3
Kasich
2
2
3
Fiorina
3
2
2
Santorum
1
1
1
Other/NA
4
3
2

Cruz is certainly a strong contender in Iowa.  The widening gap between Trump and Cruz over the last week could be ephemeral and, of course, I will trot out the caveats of polling for caucuses once again.  Cruz has a strong Iowa organization, he has money, and he knows the stakes.  

After months of playing nice, Trump and Cruz are trading heavy blows, but Trump, with his birther issue and his spirited defense of New York City, seems to be winning that battle.  Who would have ever thought that the soundtrack for his Iowa run would include “Born in the USA” (literally, he’s been pulling a Reagan and playing that song at his rallies to echo the Cruz birther issue) and “New York, New York” (figuratively).  Cruz thought he was playing his “Trump Card” when he assailed Trump for having “New York values,” but Trump proved to be a more than effective counterpuncher with a passionate defense of the city in the face of the 9/11 attacks.

If Cruz wins in Iowa, it opens up an ongoing mano-a-mano between him and Trump down the primary path, and also opens up room for the mainstream candidates. 

If Cruz does not beat Trump in Iowa, I can’t see Cruz overtaking him anywhere else.  So the second path?  That would be the mainstream wing of the GOP making its last stand.  And the man leading that charge could be John Kasich.  His numbers are on the rise in New Hampshire, where a “sub-race” is underway within the overall primary, among the mainstream candidates Kasich, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.  Here’s a look at recent polling in New Hampshire.

NH
Dec '15
Jan 1-21
Trump
26
31
Rubio
13
13
Cruz
11
12
Kasich
8
12
Christie
10
8
Bush
7
8
Fiorina
4
4
Paul
4
4
Carson
6
3
Huckabee
1
1
Other/NA
10
4

In January thus far, Trump’s formidable lead has only expanded, and Cruz is in the mix, but what the GOP Establishment is pointing to is that 41% of the voters are for one of those four mainstream candidates..  And the one drawing the most recent attention is Kasich, who has made headway in January (up four points versus December) and is basically tied with Rubio, and ahead of Christie and Bush.

Whoever wins the “sub-race” will certainly immediately call for the other three mainstreamers to drop out, perhaps with the support of the Republican National Committee.  I’m not sure Rubio or Bush would drop out before Super Tuesday, but Christie might (or Kasich if he dropped back).  If a mainstream candidate could prevail in New Hampshire and ultimately consolidate that wing of the party, then we could have a prolonged fight on our hands as that one candidate duked it out with Trump and/or Cruz.

THE DEMOCRATS

Of course the Democrats have a two-person field (sorry, Martin O’Malley), Hillary Clinton versus wildly surprising Bernie Sanders.  Here is a summary of the most recent Iowa polls:

IOWA
Dec '15
Jan 1-21
Clinton
52
48
Sanders
36
42
O'Malley
6
5
Other/NA
6
5

There have been 11 polls in January, and Clinton has led in seven, and, as the chart shows, is on average up by four points.  The polls have been all over the map.  For instance, there have been five new polls in the last week, and the margins (Clinton versus Sanders) have been +29, +9, -8, +9 and -1.  While the race is certainly tightening up (Clinton had a 16-point lead in December), Hillary maintains a statistically significant lead. 

What does it mean if Hillary wins Iowa?  Sanders’ task becomes Herculean.  He should win New Hampshire, where he leads by ten points, but that win will be discounted by the fact that New Hampshire is his neighboring state.  And then it is off to Nevada (Clinton +23 in the last poll, in late December) and South Carolina (Clinton +22 in a poll last week), and then Super Tuesday where there has been little polling but few would argue that Clinton’s South and West strength likely mirrors that shown in Nevada and South Carolina.  So, if Hillary wins Iowa, stays close in New Hampshire, and then takes South Carolina, Nevada and Super Tuesday, it could be over.

And if Sanders wins Iowa?  He would surely win New Hampshire, thus following the path of Jimmy Carter in 1980 and John Kerry in 2004 in sweeping both of the initial two contests.  But that would hardly settle it.  Hillary’s strength in the South, particularly among African-Americans, will be very hard to turn, and I doubt Sanders can win there, much less knock her out with a boffo Super Tuesday.

But even if Sanders is solidly ahead after Super Tuesday, the plot thickens.

THE WILD CARD

The blogosphere was lighting up Saturday night as snowbound political junkies began tweeting and emailing the New York Times story that Michael Bloomberg was indeed exploring the possibility of an independent run at the Presidency.  Bloomberg had long said that he had no interest in running unless he had a realistic chance of winning, and with the Trump/Cruz and Sanders strength, such a path was suddenly at least possible.

Should Trump and/or Cruz, as well as Sanders, emerge as strong frontrunners after Super Tuesday, Bloomberg may very well conclude that that opening exists.  The middle of the electorate would suddenly be both huge (comprising moderate Republicans, pragmatic Democrats and, of course, Independents) and presumably wide open, dissatisfied with major party extremist frontrunners.  Bloomberg has the independent wealth to mount his own campaign, an attractive mix of social liberalism and economic conservatism, a business success story to rival Trump’s (and completely self-made, unlike Trump), and a strong three-term track record as Mayor of New York City.

Bloomberg must declare in early March if he wants to be on the ballot in all 50 states.  He will almost surely wait to see where the dust settles on Super Tuesday before making an announcement.  And if Hillary is weak and Trump/Cruz are strong, he will likely jump in.

I eagerly await the three-way polls to see from which party he draws his support.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting.
    I see Trump and Cruz battling it out and Hillary taking Iowa while Sanders takes New Hampshire.
    I think Cruz will snag Iowa and Trump New Hampshire, and then there will be blood.

    ReplyDelete

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