January 17, 2016
Yesterday we took a look at how close Bernie and Hillary are in Iowa. I concluded they’re tied, or close enough to it.
Now it’s time to see how each should play the debate based on that understanding. Even if you disagree with my math, it’s unlikely the Sanders campaign thinks they’re noticeably trailing or the Clinton campaign thinks they have a comfortable lead.
At this point, only Iowa matters. If Hillary wins, Game Over. If Bernie wins, things get interesting. The New Hampshire result is highly dependent on what happens first in Iowa.
Even if Bernie wins NH, after an Iowa loss, it doesn’t mean much. Two wins heading to Nevada though…
What Hillary Should Do:
While Bernie has some choices to make, Hillary doesn’t. Her core voter in Iowa is an older, educated, mid-upper income woman.
Otherwise known as the most likely human in the known universe to turn out and caucus. There’s no reason for Clinton to worry about appealing to this voter. She’s on board to the death.
In every recent Iowa poll, regardless of who’s leading, regardless of the percentage of undecided voters, Hillary has at least 42% support.
This gives her a strong foundation, if not a guaranteed majority. Younger voters and those who don’t identify strongly with the Democratic Party are basically unavailable to her right now.
Of the 20% or so of the Iowa electorate that I’m estimating is totally up for grabs, at least half are male, and the whole group is disproportionately between the ages of 40 and 60. They tend to have incomes between 50-100k.
As Hillary has lost ground in the past month, these voters shifted from leaning slightly Hillary to undecided or leaning slightly Bernie.
It’s very tempting for Hillary to move leftward to try to limit Bernie’s appeal. That’s a mistake. Think about who I’m describing above. These voters are certainly left-leaning, but the hardcore progressives are already with Bernie.
These guys remember President Clinton and they remember they were probably doing better financially then. Moving left only makes her look opportunistic and inauthentic, without matching the ideology of these swing voters.
If Hillary isn’t going to be a little more moderate and pragmatic, they might as well pick the real thing and feel the Bern.
As we know, Hillary excels at policy detail. She also had a good reputation for bipartisanship in the Senate. Whether you ask Democrats or Republicans, she was a more effective, more respected senator.
While Hillary will be tempted to talk about her executive branch experience, it’s better for her to build a contrast in the one job they both had.
She’s actively tying herself to President Obama, attempting to show Bernie as outside what the mostly popular with Democrats president is trying to accomplish.
The two primary examples are gun control, where she argues she stands with the president but Bernie does not, and Obamacare.
Sanders wants to replace it with Medicare for all. Hillary argues he hasn’t figured out how to pay for it and risks tearing down what he fought to build.
You can see why Hillary is doing this. Obama is mostly popular with Iowa Democrats. But Bernie is more popular. The presidential link is a bad idea, at least in the primary, unless her goal is to avoid indictment by saying nice things about the administration.
Hillary’s core voters like her better than Obama. They voted for her in 2008. The younger voters like Bernie better. They’ll choose him if they caucus. Tying herself to Obama might help her with them in November, but not now.
Meanwhile, those undecided voters are not that excited about how the last 7 years have gone. They might very well vote for Obama (if he was eligible) over Trump or Cruz, but that’s not an endorsement by a registered Democrat.
Hillary is better off focusing on the best parts of her own record. The gun issue works though by putting Bernie on the defensive. After she started emphasizing it a few days ago, his numbers seemed to stall.
Senate accomplishments. Clinton economic record of middle class wage gains. Guns. Rinse, wash, repeat. With excessive detail.
What Bernie Should Do:
He’s shown a far greater willingness to contrast his record with Hillary’s (and sometimes by extension President Obama’s). His ads aren’t the old-school hatchet attacks, but they are sharper than many figured.
Bernie likes saying he was there first on gay marriage, income inequality, opposing the Iraq wars, opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, the TPP trade deal, etc.
It’s a good argument to say he was there first and Hillary followed. Bernie Sanders, The Real Thing, since 1972. He’s gone further than almost anyone thought this way.
Not good enough to pull in those undecideds. He has a tightrope to walk. Get the younger voters to caucus for their first or second time for him, while also converting undecideds.
The disaffected Independents and kids want True Believer Bernie. The undecideds want an effective, strong Chief Executive. There’s a way to check both boxes.
At the end of the day, the presidency is about judgment. Judgment under fire, sometimes without all the information you might prefer. Often you have to make the correct decision, the one to protect as many Americans as possible, not the popular one.
Bernie needs to argue that of everyone on the stage, everyone in the race on either side, he has the track record of making the right call. Not when it was safe, but as soon as he was sure.
He needs to say a president doesn’t always have four years to ponder a pipeline, six years to work on a trade deal. When the phone rings at three in the morning, who has consistently exhibited an ability to see beyond current public opinion and find the truth?
If he can deliver something like that, it would knock Hillary over. If Bernie can couple his ideological purity with a commander-in-chief argument, he’s got a winning hand.
On guns he’s semi-screwed. Democratic primary voters are apparently as unforgiving on any form of gun control apostasy as GOP voters on abortion.
Best response is to pivot to incarceration and how the Clinton Administration is partially responsible for the high levels of non-violent offender African-Americans in jail.
I’m assuming Bernie voted against the legislation at the time. He can make it another I was right, the Clintons were wrong.
Since Hillary frequently campaigned on her husband’s crime fighting record, it’s fair game.
What O’Malley Should Do:
Anything that would make us care what he does next.
The stakes are higher for this debate than any previous one on either side in this cycle. Hillary was declared the winner by the punditocracy in the first three.
If Bernie can get a draw in the court of media opinion and really connect with those undecided Iowans, many of whom will watch the show, he should have an advantage heading into the final two weeks before Iowa decides if we have a Democratic nomination race.