Iowa's impact on 2020: Warren is ahead of the pack

Iowa's impact on 2020: Warren is ahead of the pack
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Iowa is small but it kicks off the quadrennial race for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.

Iowa is in the middle of America’s heartland and every four years it is the epicenter of American politics. Iowa may not be the state of stage and screen fame where the “corn grows as high as an elephant’s eye,” but there is a lot of corn in the state and there are many more presidential candidates campaigning there than in Oklahoma.

Corndogs and candidates. Silly things and serious things. Deep-fried turkey on a stick and economic agendas for rural America. It was all there at the Iowa State Fair in recent weeks.


Just about every Democratic presidential candidate made the trek to the state fair as did the political media. It’s a wonder there was any room for Iowans.

Attendance at the fair gave the Democratic hopefuls the chance to tour the state that is the first in the nation to choose delegates to the Democratic National Convention. It also provided the candidates the opportunity to criticize President TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE for his trade policies they said hurt farmers and to release their own platforms for rural economic development.

In most states, the presidential campaign is an afterthought but in Iowa it’s the real thing. Democratic aspirants were as thick as flies in the summer heat in Iowa and many Iowa Democrats have already met the candidates. My guess is that many Oklahoma Democrats are only dimly aware there is a race for president. 

Because of the visibility of the candidates there, polling in the Hawkeye State means more than the national polling. The state of public opinion there could be telling for the rest of the nation. 

The big news out of Iowa is the rise of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial MORE (D-Mass.). A new online poll (with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percent) conducted for Iowa Starting Line shows that she leads the field with 28 percent of the vote.  

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters George Conway: Witness missing from impeachment trial is Trump MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sanders faces lingering questions about appeal to women voters MORE (I-Vt.) were tied for second at 17 percent. Sound Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Candidates weighing using private jets to get to Iowa Biden nabs endorsement from Iowa Democrat in swing district MORE also registered in double digits at 13 percent, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris on 2020 endorsement: 'I am not thinking about it right now' Panel: Is Kamala Harris a hypocrite for mulling a Joe Biden endorsement? The Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power MORE (D-Calif.) clocked in at 8 percent. All the others were at 3 percent or less.


Trump acknowledged the Warren surge when he said he would revive the controversial nickname he gave the Bay State senator a couple of years ago.

The trend in support for the Democratic candidates in the Iowa Starting Line poll is telling. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer: Trump's team made case for new witnesses 'even stronger' Trump, Democrats risk unintended consequences with impeachment arguments CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE (R-Ky.) has resisted bringing anti-gun legislation to the Senate floor in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, Warren has persisted and risen to the top of the Democratic heap.

Warren has surged big-time since May with a gain of 16 percent. Biden and Sanders who were leading the field in May were the big losers; each candidate lost 7 percent of their support.

These trends represent significant moments in the Democratic contest.

There’s a campaign within a campaign going on between Warren and Sanders for the championship of the progressive populist wing of the Democratic Party. It’s clear that Warren is winning.

Sanders’ standard stump speech given in Iowa has hardly changed from the speeches he gave there leading up to the 2016 caucuses. But his current level of support of 17 percent is far below the 44 percent mark he hit in the 2016 caucuses against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Clinton says Zuckerberg has 'authoritarian' views on misinformation Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee MORE

Voters don’t want the same old same old, and Warren offers caucus-goers a fresh perspective on the economic populism that the Green Mountain senator made so fashionable in the last presidential cycle.

The campaign in the center of the Democratic Party for leadership of the pragmatic liberal wing of the party is more muddled. 

Iowans saw the best and worst of Biden. In Burlington, Iowa he gave a compelling speech on the need for a president who can heal the wounds of the nation after years of race-baiting by Trump. Then Biden stepped on his own moment in the sun with gaffes that clouded his message and made voters wonder whether he’s lost his fastball over the years.

Buttigieg performs better in Iowa than he does nationally, and he is close to Biden in the new survey. It could be that his effort to sell himself as the son of the Midwest is catching on. Harris is just out of double-digit range and it appears the surge she enjoyed after the first round of the nationally televised Democratic presidential debates has dissipated. 

While Democrats hoofed their way through the cornfields and consumed cotton candy at the fair, Trump campaigned in the other small state, New Hampshire that has an outsized role in presidential politics. 

Many political experts question the key role that small states like Iowa and New Hampshire play in presidential politics, but both states will be competitive in the fall of 2020. Trump won Iowa by 10 percent but his job rating is underwater in the Hawkeye State.  Clinton won the Granite State by less than one-half of one percent.

Iowa may have only six votes in the Electoral College but those votes — and New Hampshire’s four — could make the difference in a close race. Especially when the president’s standing is shaky in the industrial Midwest that gave him his electoral-vote advantage in 2016.

There won’t be 20 presidential candidates at the Iowa State Fair next year, but there will be two candidates in attendance: Trump and the eventual Democratic nominee.

Iowa is important because it is one of many states that Trump won in 2016 but where his support is uncertain. If the president doesn’t win Iowa and states like it where he’s on thin ice, his tenure in the White House will end and his legal troubles will begin.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.