Welcome to Starting Line’s newest series: Monday Power Rankings! At the beginning of each week we’ll rank the candidates’ standings in different races, cycling through a number of different Iowa contests. We’ll often visit the presidential race on the Democratic and Republican side (probably the GOP side more since they’ll have more movement), but we’ll also take a look at the primaries for the 1st and 3rd Congressional districts and look ahead to the Iowa gubernatorial primaries in 2018. We start today by looking at the Democratic field for President. (Forgive the quality of the graphic, I’m working on it.)
1. Hillary Clinton
Barring the extraordinary, it’s unlikely Clinton will be challenged for the top spot in this ranking anytime soon. While she faces a hostile media, a skeptical chunk of Democratic activists and the danger of damaging stories from the Clinton Foundation and her time at State, Clinton still holds more advantages in this race than any non-incumbent has for a long time. In Iowa her large 40+ person campaign team has built up a steady organizing lead, tapping into their volunteer infrastructure from 2008, an advantage no one else has. Clinton enjoys an energy and excitement level from women thanks to her historic candidacy, giving her the ability to flood caucus night precincts with supporters who have never caucused before. She’s in Iowa again this week, sticking to her safe small event/limited-press strategy. How long she can keep that up before opening the events up some more is a key issue to watch.
2. Bernie Sanders
In the future these Power Rankings will have Up and Down arrows based on their movement from the last list. If we’d had a previous one, Sanders would have moved up here over O’Malley. His announcement – which by no means was a given – excited the progressive base, reassuring them that they’d have a long-time advocate of their issues in the race. Sanders starts out with a big national profile, a loyal following of progressive activists and consistently comes in 2nd in the polls (even if it’s the 10-15% range). It’s unclear how much higher he’ll get, but he begins with large bases of support like in Johnson County to build upon.
It was also an open question as to what type of campaign he’d run. Would he simply travel the early states with a skeleton staff, hit up cable news and the debates to get his message out, or would he run a full-out, legitimate presidential campaign? The answer appears to be the latter as Sanders is hiring a full team in Iowa, led by Pete D’Alessandro, a long-time Iowa consultant who can effectively steer a caucus operation. It appears they’ve already hired some field organizers as well, who will have plenty of eager activists to talk to.
3. Martin O’Malley
O’Malley remains the (potential) candidate with the best fundamentals to challenge Clinton for the nomination. He’s actually electable, has a record of progressive accomplishments in Maryland and runs a competent campaign organization. But with Sanders’ entrance he now faces extra tasks – first he must coalesce the anti-Clinton vote around him before rising enough in the polls to be seen as the one real challenger. The Baltimore riots makes his introduction to voters more difficult, as they force him to make additional explanations about his record. It could end up as an opportunity to be seen as the man with the experience to handle these difficult problems, but that remains to be seen. O’Malley’s journey to the top was difficult enough – this last month hasn’t helped.
4. Jim Webb
Webb has made several swings through Iowa this year, often with a packed schedule of small event stops. Without a major profile in the presidential contest yet to turn out huge crowds, he’s taken an interesting tactic by visiting smaller organizations and pre-set events: he visited a Vietnamese community event, toured an ethanol plant, spoke with veterans groups and met with the Every Child Matters organization.
It’s still unclear what Webb’s appeal is in this race, or where his base of support will come from. The one constituency he can probably count on is veterans, and they’re a great group to have. John Kerry organized them to great effect in 2004. Older vets are well-respected in their community, often meet locally as a group and are evenly dispersed throughout the state, giving you a boost in rural areas. But Kerry benefited in 2004 by there being no Republican primary competition. How many of the more independent- or conservative-leaning veterans will show up to Democratic caucus this year is questionable.
I could see a situation in some precincts where enough caucus-goers simply don’t like Clinton and aren’t swayed by the alternatives either. Anti-Hillary centrist Democrats probably wouldn’t go for Sanders, might get turned off by O’Malley’s progressive messaging and not think Jim Webb has a chance. With the small field for Democrats, don’t be surprised if Uncommitteds gain a couple delegates throughout the state.
6. Lincoln Chafee
Apparently the former Rhode Island Senator and Governor wants to run for President. The liberal Republican-turned Democrat has already started an exploratory committee and has worked the cable news circuit, getting noticed for taking several shots at Clinton. What he’s thinking with this peculiar endeavor is anyone’s guess. He barely has a national profile, no long-standing campaign infrastructure and can’t possibly raise much money. If Chafee gets in the race and breaks the 15% viability threshold to get a single precinct-level delegate anywhere in Iowa, I’ll eat my hat, shirt, pants and whatever else to make the point.
by Pat Rynard