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.

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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 TrumpMilitary personnel to handle coronavirus patients at facilities in NYC, New Orleans and Dallas Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has total of 20 patients: report Fauci says that all states should have stay-at-home orders 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 WarrenMaryland Legislative Black Caucus pushes for state to release racial breakdown of coronavirus impact Hillicon Valley: T-Mobile, Sprint complete merger | Warren pushes food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees | Lawsuit accuses Zoom of improperly sharing user data Warren calls on food delivery apps to classify workers as full employees 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 BidenOvernight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims The Memo: Scale of economic crisis sends shudders through nation The Hill's Campaign Report: Coronavirus forces Democrats to postpone convention MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Schumer: Administration 'must move heaven and earth' to implement new unemployment benefits Biden associates reach out to Holder about VP search MORE (I-Vt.) were tied for second at 17 percent. Sound Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pence defends response, says Trump never 'belittled' virus threat MORE also registered in double digits at 13 percent, while Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisMaryland Legislative Black Caucus pushes for state to release racial breakdown of coronavirus impact Biden associates reach out to Holder about VP search Biden confirms he's considering Whitmer for VP MORE (D-Calif.) clocked in at 8 percent. All the others were at 3 percent or less.

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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 McConnellDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Top GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Stocks move little after record-breaking unemployment claims 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 ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' 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.