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Poll: Is This the New Democratic Frontrunner in Iowa?

AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Two days, two fairly intriguing polls in the Democratic primary. We'll get to Quinnipiac's New Hampshire numbers in a moment, but the political class has been oohing and ahhing at Monmouth's latest survey of Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa. According to the new numbers, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg -- who has been working hard and establishing a formidable ground presence in the Hawkeye State -- has vaulted into first place, followed by someone other than Elizabeth Warren:

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has joined former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at the top of the leaderboard in the third Monmouth University Poll of the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses. Buttigieg’s gains since the summer have been across the board, with increasing support coming from nearly every demographic group.  Regardless, less than one-third of likely caucusgoers say that they are firmly set on their choice of candidate and most would not be too disappointed if they had to switch their support...Buttigieg has gained ground among every major demographic group since the summer. His support stands at 26% among voters who describe themselves as moderate or conservative, 23% among those who are somewhat liberal, and 15% among those who are very liberal.

That's serious momentum, but is it reflected in the rest of the state's polling? The short answer is yes. Since mid-October, Buttigieg has been pulling support in the mid-teens to low-20's. Still, it's the first time that he's bumped up into the top slot, which has been occupied by either Warren or Joe Biden in every other Iowa poll this cycle. Not anymore. (By the way, at what point does Kamala Harris pack it in? She's poured everything into Iowa, and has only trended downward). Iowa Democrats say Buttigieg has been drawing good crowds, has steadily built support, and is well organized. He's also taking full advantage of Warren's stall/downturn, and the persistent sense that the former vice president is a weak national frontrunner. The theory has been that Biden could not just lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, but not really even complete, which would blunt his momentum and bruise his image heading into his firewall state of South Carolina. But in the Monmouth data above, Biden is virtually tied for first place in Iowa, and he turned some heads in the first Granite State Q-poll of the cycle earlier in the week:

Biden is beating both progressive senators from neighboring states, which bucks the prevailing narrative and suggests that Biden remains stubbornly strong overall. It seems like some people in the race, or some contemplating getting into it (Bloomberg, Holder and Patrick), are banking on an eventual Biden collapse. But what if that never comes?

Let's say Biden does implode. Buttigieg's emergence into the top tier in each of the first two states suggests that he could stand to benefit significantly from that development, which must be considered a threat by other campaigns. Which is why the knives are starting to come out:

In the still-crowded Democratic presidential field, one man has triggered an outpouring of resentment and angst. It’s not Donald Trump. As Mr. Buttigieg, the millennial mayor of a town smaller than a New York City Council district, rises in the polls, he has struck a nerve with his Democratic rivals. Many of their campaigns have griped privately about the attention and cash directed toward Mr. Buttigieg. They say he is too inexperienced to be electable and that his accomplishments don’t merit the outsize appeal he has with elite donors and voters. His public punditry about the race has prompted eye rolls from older rivals who view him as a know-it-all. And in a field where most candidates find themselves strapped for cash, they snipe at his ability to raise more than anyone else in the primary field except for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. More than a dozen participants in the Democratic campaign — including rival candidates and campaign aides — spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss their views about Mr. Buttigieg candidly. They conveyed an annoyance at the McKinsey consultant certitude with which Mr. Buttigieg analyzes and makes pronouncements about the primary.

The knives are getting sharper, too, and one wonders when they'll be deployed. Buttigieg's real problem, though, isn't that he's annoying his rivals; it's that he's unable to generate support among voters of color, who become a massive electoral factor after the earliest pair of contests in overwhelmingly white states, in which the young mayor is surging. A decent chunk of white Democrats is inspired by Pete's persona. Other Democrats? Not so much:

Finally, with another undeclared candidate chirping ever louder about possible getting in, claiming that "many, many, many" people are urging her to do so, I'll leave you with this amusing headline from the satirical e The Babylon Bee:


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