Welcome to 2020! Now that the Iowa caucuses have arrived, the 2020 election is officially upon us. Every Sunday, I outline the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. This week, I lay out my predictions for 5 possible “winners” from Iowa – with No. 1 being my best guess on the most likely outcome.
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5. Amy Klobuchar goes top three: There have been small signs here and there that the Minnesota senator’s Iowa-focused campaign has been picking up steam of late. One recent poll had her in third place – ahead of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
If Klobuchar finished top three – or higher – it would be a MAJOR victory for her as she has labored for months (and months) for a moment to catapult herself into the top tier.
How would it happen? Voters like her Midwestern roots, her record of accomplishment and think Biden is too old and Buttigieg is too young to bet on. (Klobuchar isn’t really fishing in the same voter waters as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Warren.)
If Klobuchar finishes out of the top three, it’s hard to see her lasting much beyond Monday night – particularly if the two moderate alternatives (Buttigieg and Biden) finish above her.
4. Warren wins (or finishes a strong second): The Massachusetts senator has been flagging for months now as Sanders appears to have emerged as the top choice for liberals in Iowa and beyond.
But no one questions the strength of Warren’s Iowa organization. It is big, effective and has been up and running at full strength longer than anyone else in the field.
The question for Warren is, how much is her organizational superiority worth? A point or two? Five? We don’t know the answer to that question. But if it’s 1 or 2 points, Warren likely finishes third or lower. If it’s 5+ then we could be looking at a real surprise.
Given Warren’s somewhat-low expectations heading into the vote, she could probably declare a victory even if she finished a strong second. And given where her poll numbers are at the moment, she would be thrilled with either of the two top spots.
3. Buttigieg wins (or finishes second or close third): To his credit, Buttigieg isn’t trying to undersell the importance of Iowa to his campaign.
“Let’s face it,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “I need to have a good finish here in Iowa.”
What does “good” look like? To my mind, it’s top two or – maybe – a top three if the second- and third-place votes are very close.
Buttigieg seems to me to be in a similar spot to where Barack Obama was in 2008 going into Iowa. He’s shown massive promise as a candidate and already exceeded expectations, but Democratic voters still seem to be in a bit of “wait and see” mode. Obama’s win in Iowa erased those doubts. Buttigieg needs Iowa to do the same.
2. Biden wins: When you are the former vice president of the United States and a national front-runner, you have to win everywhere. No excuses.
And despite a number of pundits predicting he might not even make it this far, Biden is now, 24 hours before the Iowa caucuses, in a place where his campaign had hoped: With a legitimate chance to win.
He isn’t the favorite. (See below for that). But he is, judging by polling, right there. How does Biden win? Iowa Democrats go pragmatic – choosing the candidate they believe is best-positioned to beat Trump rather than the one that makes their hearts go pitty-pat.
And if Biden wins Iowa, there’s a totally plausible scenario that he has the nomination wrapped up (or close to it) by the end of the month – as voters follow Iowa’s lead and focus on the common enemy: Trump.
Here’s the problem if Biden comes up short in Iowa: He’s unlikely to win New Hampshire, with Warren and Sanders as quasi-home-staters. Or Nevada, where Sanders looks strong. And even in South Carolina, which votes on February 29, a new poll out Sunday suggests his once-massive lead is fading somewhat.
1. Sanders wins: All signs – energy, polling etc. – point to a victory Monday night by the Vermont senator.
The Iowa Democratic Party tends to favor liberals over moderates – most other factors being equal – and Sanders has never really stopped running for president since he lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Sanders, knowing how important winning in Iowa is to his chances, has gone all-out in the state – bringing in a slew of surrogates and the likes of Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver to rally his supporters.
If Sanders wins Iowa, it’s hard to see him losing New Hampshire eight days later, given that polling already shows him ahead there. And if he wins the first two states with Nevada next, where he is running strong, we could be talking about South Carolina as the last hope for the establishment to keep Sanders from the nomination.
If, on the other hand, Sanders loses in Iowa to Biden, Warren or Buttigieg, it will drive a narrative that voters might love him and his ideas, but when the rubber meets the road, they think he is too risky a pick.