Do Democratic-Primary Voters Have the Answer to Trump?

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Council Bluffs, Iowa, November 8, 2019. (Scott Morgan/Reuters)

They’re not acting as if they do.

For a party whose most fervent activists are marinated in identity politics, Democrats could have been expected to gravitate toward a woman or a minority as their presidential candidate. Wrong.

Instead, a new CBS poll, which surveys a large 2,000-person sample of Iowa registered voters heading into that state’s February 3 caucus, shows the top three candidates — Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg — are all white guys.

The CBS poll shows a three-way tie among Democrats in Iowa, with Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Pete Buttigieg all tied at 23 percent support.

In New Hampshire, which votes eight days after Iowa, Sanders in another new CBS poll was in the lead, at 27 percent, just ahead of Biden, at 25 percent.

In the CBS poll, Elizabeth Warren is in fourth place in Iowa and third in New Hampshire, where her status as a senator from a neighboring state gives her an ID boost.

No one is counting out Warren, who in the RealClearPolitics average of all national polls still stands at third place, at 14 percent. But she has experienced a slow fade since she briefly tied Biden in national polls in October. Bernie Sanders has inherited much of her lost support.

Warren’s fundraising has also suffered. In the fourth quarter of 2019, her campaign raised $17 million. That’s a significant drop from her receipts in the third quarter, which were almost $25 million.

In a primary full of diverse candidates, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Consultants reported that actual voters in Democratic primaries were expected to be 37 percent minority and more than 60 percent female — an electorate seemingly perfect for a time of identity politics.

For example, Joe Biden’s initial strong support among black voters who fondly remember his loyal service to President Obama was supposed to fade once other candidates entered the spotlight. Both California senator Kamala Harris and New Jersey senator Cory Booker pulled out all the stops in playing the race card, but they’ve ended up as busted flushes. Harris has dropped out, and Booker is surviving on financial fumes.

Similarly, Julian Castro, a former Obama housing secretary, dropped out last week, claiming that Iowa’s 90 percent white population couldn’t give minority candidates a fair shake. It’s a curious argument given that the Iowa caucuses gave Barack Obama his first big win in the 2008 nomination race against Hillary Clinton and then voted twice for him in the general election. On the Republican side, the Washington Examiner reports that more than 60 percent of Republicans who cast ballots in the 2016 GOP caucuses voted for a black or Hispanic candidate: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio.

Each of the three leading candidates in Iowa are bunched at the top for a reason. Their supporters all believe that their man has the best chance of beating Donald Trump. Joe Biden’s fans see him as an experienced, safe choice. Bernie Sanders’s backers say that only the candidate with the sharpest possible contrast on the issues with President Trump will drive the voter turnout needed to beat the president. Pete Buttigieg’s supporters say the country is looking for a “fresh face,” someone who has no history of Beltway machinations. The 37-year-old Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., certainly provides that. At age 37, he is half the age of President Trump.

But the reason we’re likely to see a long race for the Democratic nomination is that each of the three candidates is having trouble convincing voters outside their base that they can win.

Only 38 percent of Democrats in Iowa and 36 percent in New Hampshire told CBS News they believed that Biden would probably beat Trump. The former vice president is seen as having performed unevenly in key debates. And, at age 77, he acts much older than the 73-year-old Trump.

As for Sanders, at age 78 and only three months past a heart attack, he also doesn’t present the most vigorous profile. More important, as the only candidate to openly declare himself a “democratic socialist,” his detractors are convinced he would have trouble winning over independent voters in November.

Pete Buttigieg, who served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan before entering politics, has no trouble convincing people he is vigorous. But he has no governing experience beyond being mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city (population 102,000). In addition, nervous Democratic consultants worry that religious black and Hispanic voters might not support a gay candidate.

Democratic-primary voters are apparently rejecting the siren call of politically correct activists, which is urging them to nominate someone in line with its new demographics. But these voters also don’t appear convinced that they have someone who can beat Donald Trump.

With ten months to go before the November election and despite all of his rhetorical excesses and credibility baggage, Donald Trump so far appears to be blessed with luck in who he has as opponents.

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