The Iowa caucuses are less than a month away and candidates, on both sides of the aisle, are feverishly crossing the state, making their final pitches to an eagerly awaiting electorate. Republican candidates Donald TrumpDonald TrumpManafort-linked accounts on Cyprus probed: report Republican failure Trump's environmental order jeopardizes our national security MORE and Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) are in a fight atop the GOP polls in the Hawkeye State. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton defends April Ryan, Rep. Maxine Waters in speech Lobbying world Trump puts foreign investors first by supporting the Republican tax plan MORE's lead has vanished amid a hard-charging Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersIn California race, social justice wing of Democrats finally comes of age Sanders to headline progressive 'People's Summit' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (I-Vt.). As the presumptive Democratic nominee valiantly attempts to stave off defeat in the first national caucus (and in New Hampshire), her ongoing battle with Trump has reached a fevered pitch. Clinton's political baggage (Benghazi-gate, Server-gate, etc.) has always been seen as her albatross and now surging candidates on the right and left have her in the cross hairs, making her march to the White House a calamitous trek.
As Clinton fends off attacks from the right, she is doggedly attempting to push back a surging Sanders on the left. With less than 12 days before caucus voters in Iowa assemble, Clinton's lead over the democratic socialist has evaporated. The latest Des Moines Register poll has the candidates separated byjust two percentage points, well within the margin of error of 4.4 percentage points. The former first lady is tied in Iowa and losing badly in New Hampshire. A recent CNN/WMUR poll shows the Vermont senator besting the former secretary of State by 27 points, 60 percent to 33 percent. The poll, conducted prior to the most recent Democratic debate in South Carolina, shows that Sanders's support has actually grown by 10 points since December.
These latest developments are deeply troubling for the Democratic front-runner — and perhaps more surprising, given the fact that she won the New Hampshire primary in 2008. Attacks on Bill Clinton's past, combined with incessant assaults on Hillary's deep ties to Wall Street, are taking a toll on the Clinton narrative. The cumulative effect of these repeatedblows only undermines the historical nature of her candidacy. Clearly, the Clinton camp is rattled at the sudden turn of events, as evidenced by Chelsea Clinton's unexpected dig at Sanders on healthcare. The former first daughter accused Sanders of pushing a healthcare agenda that would "dismantle" ObamaCare and Medicare. The swipe was not only misleading, but confounding given the instigator. The Atlantic Magazine described Chelsea’s latest foray into the political muck in stark terms:
Such ungraciousness — and such disingenuousness — isn't expected from Bill and Hillary's only child. It cuts against not only her meticulously tended good-girl persona but also the deeply rooted mythology of Chelsea as the sweet, loyal, vulnerable humanizer of her ambitious, inscrutable parents.
The primary battles — for both sides — will be a marathon, not a sprint. As the bitter cold and harshness of winter gives way to the blooms of spring, the pitched battles of the campaign trail will only grow sharper. However, in the heat of battle, how the combatants wage war is equally as important as the outcome. Chelsea Clinton could no doubt prove useful in a general election matchup. Her engagement with young women and millennials would be the X-factor Hillary Clinton needs to sway a close election. Wearing the black hat in the Democratic primary could damage her efforts in a general election.
The race for 2016 is shaping up to be unconventional in every way. At no point in any (recent) presidential campaign has a candidate such as Hillary Clinton taken this level of fire from both sides. In fact, many within Clinton's own party have vociferously maligned the Democratic National Committee's process as being too deferential to the former senator from New York. Yet, as the caucuses and polling stations prepare to get underway, Clinton is under heavy fire from the GOP front-runner and an insurgent candidate for the Democratic nomination many experts and pundits — including many within the Democratic Party — never saw coming.
Perhaps this will assuage many on the left, who were concerned the Democratic front-runner would not get the competition she needed to prepare her for long, nasty and protracted general election fight. That wish has been granted. Should Hillary Clinton survive the primary, one thing can be said in the affirmative: She is battle-tested.
Ham is a political contributor to the P.O.T.U.S. channel on SiriusXM radio and author of the bestselling book "The GOP Civil War": Inside the Battle for the Soul of the Republican Party. Follow him on Twitter @EKH2016.