Let’s start with hats off to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — written by someone who is a longtime friend and strong supporter of Hillary Clinton — for the strong showing in The Des Moines Register‘s most recent poll. The senator is now within 7 percentage points (37 percent to 30 percent) among Iowa caucus-goers as of the middle of August, a gain of 6 percentage points since the last Des Moines Register poll, and a drop of 13 percentage points by former Secretary of State Clinton since June.
Vice President Biden, who is reportedly considering running, still remains in third place with 14 percent, 16 points behind Sanders and 23 points behind Clinton.
Sanders deserves credit from all Democrats not only for his effective message — consistent with Clinton’s — that we need a new president who can change the current economic system that is rigged for the super-wealthy and against the everyday American; but also because he has steadfastly refused the media’s efforts to draw him into the email controversy or into personal attacks on the secretary. He focuses on the issues and says he respects and likes Clinton. (I know the feeling is mutual).
As to Clinton, there is no doubt that some of the 13 point reduction in her prior Democratic support in the June poll is a result of the mistake she says she made in not using two devices rather than one in mixing personal and official business emails while secretary of State.
I was in Iowa on Saturday night when the poll results were first released. I was attending the Iowa Cubs (AAA minor-league team) baseball game. Interestingly, out of dozens of people I sought out and talked to about Clinton, their focus was not concern about her use of emails or housing them on her own secure server, but rather, what they thought was her absence of immediate transparency and explanation as to what happened and why. But many also volunteered that they can’t blame her for not preserving her private emails on her server — “she has a right to privacy too,” said one man who said he was a Republican.
Without suggesting that The Des Moines Register poll results are not good news for Sanders and sobering for Clinton allies, there are three facts in the poll data that should give Clinton supporters reasons for some optimism.
First: The poll shows that she remains very favorably viewed among Democrats: more than seven out of 10 have a favorable impression of Clinton, notwithstanding all the media and Republican negative pile-on over emails, etc., for the last six months. (And more than 60 percent say the email issue is not at all important). Indeed, the percentage of those who view her favorably is slightly higher (within the margin of error) than Sanders (77 percent to 73 percent). The Des Moines Register‘s data also show that Sanders’s voters view Clinton favorably: most say they would choose Clinton as their second choice. Among self-identified Democrats in the poll, Clinton’s lead over Sanders almost doubles, from 7 percent to 13 percent. To state the obvious: Democrats have the most to say about who is the nominee of the party.
Second, the most likely caucus goers, according to The Des Moines Register‘s poll, choose Clinton by a margin of 12 points: 39 percent to 27 percent. Turn-out and grassroots, voter ID and get-out-the-vote capabilities are paramount for the Iowa caucuses, as Barack Obama proved when he won in 2008. As of now, at least, no one disputes that Clinton has the superior gross-roots organization, with 47 paid organizers, 11 offices across the state, and at least one identified core Clinton supporter in every one of the 1,682 Iowa precincts.
Third, more than two-thirds of The Des Moines Register‘s poll sample — inevitably, many of them declared Sanders supporters — say they are “mostly confident” that Clinton can win the general election.
As of this writing, Clinton still has higher numbers than all Republican presidential candidates in the Real Clear Politics average over the last two-to-four weeks of all polls. Experience has shown that the more time passes, the “sending a message” Democratic voter focus more on defeating the Republican as election day approaches, which might favor Clinton’s candidacy by Feb. 1.
Hillary Clinton and her campaign have said from the beginning: this is going to be a tough and competitive contest. The August Iowa Des Moines Register poll only confirms that.
Lanny Davis is a regular columnist for The Hill. He served as special counsel to President Clinton from 1996 to 1998. He is principal in the Washington law firm Lanny J. Davis & Associates and is executive vice president of LEVICK, a strategic communications firm. He has no position in the Hillary for America campaign. He is a friend and supporter of Secretary Clinton.