Iowa Wants a Choice

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are way ahead in national surveys. Bernie Sanders is the only other candidate in double-digits. This has been the score for weeks. Shhh. Don’t tell Iowa. They seem to have other ideas. A new Emerson poll is out. Pete Buttigieg is third, at 16%, within striking distance of Biden and Warren (each 23%.) Sanders is hanging around at 13%.

Are we sure it’s not a fluke. Yeah, we’re sure. CBS/YouGov ran a survey a week prior and Mayor Pete got 14%. That was double his score from their previous poll taken at the end of August. He’s moving. It follows a statewide bus tour. He was already polling ahead of his national average there.

Biden and Warren were tied at 22% in the CBS/YouGov poll. The CNN/Des Moines Register survey from mid-September had her at 22%, him at 20%. Think it’s safe to say the two are fairly even at the moment. Sanders is all over the place. 21% with CBS/YouGov, only 11% with CNN/DMR. In the past couple months he’s polled as high as 26%, as low as 9%.

This is a four person race. And if Buttigieg does well enough in February, it makes it a four person race nationwide. Having Biden and Warren in the low 20s rather than the high 20s leaves a lot more space for an extra contender. Iowans pay more attention than the rest of us. They take that first voters thing seriously. The Emerson poll indicated 25% of respondents have already seen at least one candidate in person.

As much as the media and the past couple months of national data indicate otherwise, these voters aren’t content with choosing from three septuagenarians. We hear that a moderate like Buttigieg needs to take voters from Biden. That there’s only so much space in that lane. But the numbers indicate Warren and even Sanders are just as impacted by his gains.

Also, if you went back to 2008 and told whomever was near where your time machine landed that a male candidate who is in full favor of a public option for health care, wants to add 6 people to the Supreme Court, abolish the Electoral College, and has a husband was considered too moderate, they’d think you were insane, not from the future.

Buttigieg sounds moderate, especially compared to some of his competitors. He’s well to the left of the Barack Obama who governed for 8 years, at least on domestic and climate policy, the thing 90% of Democratic primary voters are more interested in. More important than ideology, he’s objectively different from the other three, and Iowans want that choice.

He may not get a debate bump nationally, but I’m guessing he will in Iowa, which is going to make this even more interesting when the next survey hits. The majority of the Emerson poll was taken pre-debate. Iowans regularly are willing to support a candidate who isn’t in the national top tier.

When a Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum won Iowa, they didn’t have the financial resources to capitalize going forward. Buttigieg has twice as much money in the bank as Biden and has out-raised him each quarter. His future is squarely in Iowa’s hands. He may not have to win there, but if not, he’s gotta get very close. Even more than most years, the Hawkeye State will tell us how many contenders we have.

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