Clinton’s confidence climbs in Iowa

Clinton’s confidence climbs in Iowa
© Getty Images

 

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary Pressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Press: Why Trump should thank FBI MORE is camping out in Iowa in the hopes of steamrolling Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersClinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ Bernie Sanders announces Senate reelection bid MORE next month in the first contest of the Democratic primary.

The front-runner has spent twice as much time in Iowa as New Hampshire over the first week of 2016 — with more visits expected early next week — and is deploying top surrogates Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMaybe a Democratic mayor should be president Trump, taxpayers want Title X funding protected from abortion clinics President Trump’s historic rescissions package is a welcome step to cut wasteful spending MORE and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to the state beginning on Thursday.

“Do we feel confident about where we are? Absolutely,” said one strategist who speaks to the campaign. “Of course, it’s Iowa and anything can happen, but we’ve been holding steady there for several months.”

Another ally close to the campaign said that Team Clinton has made a “substantial investment” in the state. 

“Eleven out of 12 eggs have been put in that basket, and it’s been to the detriment of other places when it comes to spending money,” the ally said. 

Much of that investment stems from Clinton’s emotional loss in the 2008 cycle, when she placed a disappointing third in Iowa’s caucuses. 

“That was a painful loss,” the ally said. “And if there’s a way to erase that, people are working mightily to do just that.”

The most recent polls out of Iowa, taken before the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, show Clinton with a double-digit lead in the state. Only two polls find the former secretary of State with a single-digit lead over Sanders, her main rival. 

Beating the Vermont senator in Iowa, which is quickly becoming a must-win state for the liberal insurgent, would give Clinton momentum for the New Hampshire primary, where voters are familiar with Sanders given his long political career in neighboring Vermont.

Publicly, Team Clinton has been trying to lower expectations in Iowa. 

Campaign officials highlight that no candidate has ever won the Iowa caucuses with more than 50 percent of the vote other than a sitting president or vice president — and former Iowa Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinDem Senator open to bid from the left in 2020 Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Trump should require federal contractors to follow the law MORE.

But such a victory seems possible for Clinton, especially with only three candidates in the Democratic race and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley struggling. 

“We expect the polls to tighten,” one Clinton aide said. “We expect it to be close, and there’s no letting up till the end.”

Iowa may be the only chance for Sanders to shake up the race — he needs a victory there to give himself momentum in New Hampshire. 

The Vermont Independent has been leading polls in the Granite State, but a victory there is unlikely to be enough to counter Clinton’s funding and organization advantages as the contest moves to South Carolina and other states in the South. 

In addition, a new Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday found Clinton ahead of Sanders, 47 percent to 44 percent, in New Hampshire. Losing both states could force the senator out of the race. 

Still, some observers say he could be poised to give Clinton a serous challenge in Iowa, particularly if he can drive young voters to the caucuses. 

And the calendar for the Feb. 1 caucuses could help him, because he is popular with millennials. 

As Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University, pointed out, many college students will be back in school in February. In 2008, when then-Illinois Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHolder: DOJ, FBI should reject Trump's requests The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ Asian American and Pacific Islander community will be critical to ensuring successful 2018 elections for Democrats MORE and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina beat Clinton in the early January caucuses, students were not back in class. 

But Jerry Crawford, an Iowan who served as an adviser to the Ready for Hillary super-PAC, said he is “confident” the Clinton ground game in Iowa “is the best ever assembled.”

“From day one Hillary and [campaign manager] Robby [Mook] have focused on the ground game,” he said. “Hillary also wanted to make sure she could create genuine conversations with Iowans from the beginning, and that too has helped Iowans get to know her better.

While Clinton fundraises in California on Thursday, her husband will spend the day in the state hitting a couple of campaign stops in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque. Two days later, McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton friend, will make a six-city dash across the state.

In the spring and summer, Clinton’s campaign was plagued by an email scandal and her use of a private server while she served as secretary of State. At the time, Sanders surged in the polls, and some predicted he might even prevail in Iowa.

Months later, Clinton is sounding confident. She’s even giving what aides describe as “closing arguments” in Iowa — a full 25 days before the caucuses. 

The closing argument focuses on electability and is intended to signal, without naming her rival, that she is the Democrat with the best chance to win in November. 

“Let me ask you all to think hard about this job that you are interviewing for,” Clinton said to a crowd in Council Bluffs on Tuesday. “Think hard about the people who are presenting themselves to you, their experience, their qualifications, their positions, but particularly for those of us who are Democrats, their electability.”

The arguments have irked Sanders, who in a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” cited polls showing him beating GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRed states find there’s no free pass on Medicaid changes from Trump Trump meets with Moon in crucial moment for Korea summit The Memo: Trump flirts with constitutional crisis MORE by a wider margin than Clinton. 

Pat Rynard, the founder of the popular Democratic news site IowaStartingLine.com, predicts the caucuses may be close in the end. Still, he says he’s been impressed by how much Clinton has learned about organizing in the state since 2008.

“She has very clearly gone all-in on Iowa and she’s doing it in the Iowa way, taking a little bit from Obama’s winning strategy in 2008 and adding extra parts of their own,” Rynard said.

“They didn’t have to do that but they went all in from the very start.”