Oct. 5, 2015 — Now, just four months from the first presidential votes being cast in Iowa, developments are occurring in the Democratic race that suggest we are headed for an interesting ride. Though it is unlikely the Dems will go to a brokered convention -– the nomination rules are written to avoid such a conclusion — three points will play a major role in shaping the early outcome of their presidential contest.
As we consistently see in national polling, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to lead, but her margin is smaller than in earlier days. Though holding between 15- and 20-point national leads over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT), she now consistently polls below majority support among likely Democratic primary or caucus participants. When the national campaign began last year, Clinton steadily placed in the 60s against the group of potential candidates, including Vice President Joe Biden. Now, she routinely registers only in the low to mid-40s.
The confirmed data also tells us that the former First Lady is finding political trouble in the first two nomination states, Iowa and New Hampshire. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) has taken discernible leads in both places. The effect upon her losing both contests could be major. Her third-place showing in Iowa back in 2008 did not initially kill her campaign, but it certainly put her on the road to defeat. She was commonly viewed as the “inevitable” nominee before the Hawkeye State caucus vote, but not after, as then-Sen. Barack Obama began to steal the spotlight from her.
Vice President Biden still remains a viable potential candidate, but his national polling position is only equivalent to Sen. Sanders. Because of his office, stature, and history of previous runs, the VP has a campaign operation-in-waiting, so he can afford to wait maybe as long as early November before making a final decision about running.
The first determinative point soon to be realized will be Clinton’s performance before the House Benghazi investigative committee, beginning Oct. 22. The more her email controversy is publicized, the worse the former Secretary of State and US senator fares. She will need a strong public performance before the committee to repair much of the damage the email problem has caused. Failure to score a positive media hit at the hearings could doom her campaign.
Secondly, new financial data proves that Sen. Sanders is an undeniably serious presidential candidate. Releasing his Sept. 30 financial disclosure report at the deadline, the Sanders campaign reports raising an impressive $26 million during the last quarter. In comparison, the Clinton campaign obtained only a slightly larger $28 million figure. The Sanders take is almost exclusively in small donations, while the Clinton campaign is, unsurprisingly, attracting large donors. This performance adds to the early success he has enjoyed, and points to him having the staying power necessary to propel him to the campaign’s latter stages.
The third point concerns Vice President Biden’s impending decision whether to enter the campaign. There are as many signs suggesting he will as there are predicting he won’t. His spokesperson announced yesterday the Biden will not participate in the Oct. 13 Democratic presidential candidates debate in Las Vegas.
His decision to bypass the first candidate’s forum is a smart one. Little would be gained from him participating, and a poor performance could realistically end his presidential effort just as it is beginning. Him passing on the debate should not be taken as a sign that he has decided against running. The Biden spokespeople are saying that the vice president will make a decision in the latter part of October.
Should he enter the race, Biden will not necessarily immediately jump to the forefront of Democratic polling, but he will begin with enough of a base from which to launch a serious effort. If Clinton implodes to the point of no longer being viable, then Biden could well be the chief beneficiary of her decline.
The resolution of these three points could point us toward a conclusion surrounding how the Democratic nomination campaign will ultimately culminate.