Hillary Clinton is losing big in New Hampshire, a fact that has made it even more critical for her to try and bring home a win in Iowa on February 1.
This development, underscored by a CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday that showed Sanders leading Clinton by 27 percentage points in New Hampshire, has many in Clinton’s campaign now feeling an Iowa victory is needed to thwart Sanders’ unexpected rise from a self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont to credible presidential challenger.
Less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Clinton is now facing the possibility that Sanders could win the first two states in the nominating contest, something that would have been considered outrageous months ago.
The possibility of her falling behind Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire is now raising the specter of a protracted nomination fight between the two rivals, meaning Clinton-aligned Democrats, who had long hoped their candidate could save money while Republicans spent millions bludgeoning each other with negative ads, now expect the race to bleed into the spring and possibly longer.
The urgency was clear in Clinton’s voice, as she implored Iowa voters Monday night to follow their heads – not their hearts – and to remember how difficult the presidency is.
“I have the front-row seat as to what it takes to be in that cauldron,” Clinton said, listing experience from first lady to the Senate to the State Department. “There is a complicated job waiting for the next president that we have to make sure we get right.”
Clinton’s campaign is confident in its state-by-state modeling and the amount of money it has raised to implement it. After banking over $110 million in 2015, they are hoping to raise $50 million by March. But many in Clinton’s world had hoped earlier in the campaign that much of that money could go towards defeating Republicans, not fighting back a Democratic challenger.
Democrats don’t expect Clinton’s super PAC – Priorities USA – to start spending to take down Sanders, either. The group, according to spokesman Justin Barasky, said Tuesday that they remain “very focused on the general election” and “confident about the position that Hillary is in.”
Clinton’s Iowa operation has looked to court undecided voters by blanketing the state with every member of the Clinton family and a host of surrogates for the last two weeks. Clinton herself will spend five days this week in Iowa and is expected to spend much of the week before the caucuses in the Hawkeye State, as well.
Clinton’s campaign declines to disclose how many paid staffers they have in that state, but in September they disclosed their had 78 organizers in the state. That number has grown since then.
Many of these staffers attend Clinton events and ask attendees to sign “Commit to Caucus” cards, placards that ask voters for details that ensure they can get in touch with them throughout the campaign. To make sure they turn them back in, Clinton staffers have been known to visit houses to pick up the small blue cards.
The enthusiasm gap
One issue Clinton and her aides have yet to address is the palpable gap in enthusiasm between Clinton and Sanders’ die-hard supporters. Though Clinton’s core voters are excited about her campaign – and have worked hard to solidify her support – conversations with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire revealed undecided voters are drawn to the Vermont senator’s fiery rhetoric and the passion of his supporters.
John Beisner, 75, and his daughter, Dawn Beisner, 51, decided to attend Clinton’s event earlier this month in Ames, Iowa, to get a sense of Clinton’s closing caucus argument. Both caucused for Clinton in 2008, but both are currently undecided.
“The rallies themselves are very high energy and that part is exciting to us,” Dawn said about Sanders’ events. “It makes me feel like I am really with likeminded people.”
Her father agreed, but said that while he is also excited for Clinton, he hopes to see more passion from her, especially on Wall Street.
“I am afraid of another meltdown like The Big Short,” John said, referencing a recent movie about the 2008 market crash. “Berne is talking about a pretty aggressive plan and I would like to see what plan she has.”
Asked what has changed between 2008 and today, Dawn simply responded, “Bernie.”
Voters like the Beisners said these feelings could be because Clinton – a pragmatic candidate willing to compromise with the opposing party – may be out of step with the mood of the electorate. While she is preaching “love and kindness” at events across the country, her Democratic opponent – and Donald Trump, the bombastic and combative Republican frontrunner - are feeding off a palpable anger in the electorate.
“I don’t represent the billionaire class, never have,” Sanders said Tuesday in Iowa. “This campaign very quickly decided that’s the route we don’t want to go. Everybody else is going that route, including my Democratic opponents.”
Sanders’ campaign, with its 27 field offices and 103 paid staffers across the state, has also been buoyed by an influx of volunteers from neighboring states, who the campaign has bussed in on the weekends to help with phone banking and canvassing.
At stop after stop on Tuesday, he reminded voters that he can win.
“I think one of the major obstacles that we face is people say, ‘Well, Bernie, I like your ideas, I like you personally, but you know you can’t win,” Sanders told CNN.
“That in fact for us to win and retain the White House and regain the Senate, we need a large voter turnout,” Sanders added. “And to get a large voter turnout, there has to be excitement – enthusiasm at the grassroots level. I think that is our campaign.”