An Iowa frontrunner?!
It’s hard to believe but we are now one week (!) away from the Iowa caucuses. Even harder to believe for many is that Bernie Sanders is now enjoying frontrunner status. Multiple polls in Iowa and New Hampshire have him leading, and some national polls even have him up. I have a scoop today on his campaign shifting its organizing strategy away from phone calls into Iowa, and pivoting volunteers toward organizing their friends and knocking on doors in states that vote in March.
The reasoning is that there are diminishing returns at this point for every additional phone call into a state that is being absolutely carpet-bombed by phone calls, and the best way to turn people out to the caucus is door to door and friend to friend. What’s unusual about the last-minute switch is this: most campaign consultants wouldn’t do it, not because it’s necessarily the wrong move, but because it’s different. And if Bernie loses, people can point to whatever unusual decisions he made and blame that for the loss. So the incentive for campaign consultants is to do what everyone else has always done, because that way if you win, great, you’re a genius. But if you lose, well, what could you do? You did everything by the book, so it’s not your fault. I don’t know if it’s the right move, but it’s impressive his team is willing to roll the dice and do what they think is smart, and not worry about the Monday morning quarterbacks. (Aunt Mimi did not edit this newsletter tonight, otherwise she’d have nixed that mixed metaphor.)
Sanders rallied Sunday night in Sioux City, and J.D. Scholten told me that there were 600 people inside and another 1,000 outside -- absolutely staggering numbers. Scholten nearly upset Steve King in the 2018 congressional race in this heavily Republican district, and he’s running again this time around. He said that when he showed up, there were so many people he didn’t recognize, in a town that doesn’t have rallies of that size, that he wondered whether they were from out of state. But a number of them came up and told him they’d voted for him in 2018, and he spotted the entire staff of one of his favorite bars. His experience reminded me of something Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, said to me while I was reporting my recent story on Sanders’ organizing program: “My dream is that people look around on caucus night and there are all these Thai people and Latinos and Muslims and workers and they say, ‘Wow I didn’t even know these people lived in our community.’”
I know there are a lot of readers on this email who think that Joe Biden is the Democrats’ best chance to beat Donald Trump, but his poor showing on the campaign trail is really undermining that. This is his third presidential campaign. The first two were disasters and this one, even though he’s still in the hunt, has been terribly run, and that’s not on his staff, but on Biden, who continued making the same kinds of mistakes. His problem is that he has spent 50 years as either a senator or vice president and is very sure of himself, and not good about taking criticism or admitting when he was wrong. So when Sanders criticized him for his record on Social Security, Biden couldn’t just say, look, times were different, and I’ve changed my mind and here’s where I stand now. Instead, he has managed to spend the last two weeks mired in a fight that is extremely unfavorable for him, and he has repeatedly lied -- there’s no other word for it -- about his past positions, despite the existence of reams of video that contradict him. The New York Times called him out in a fact check today, and I wrote on this Saturday. Multiple recent polls have his support among people 50 and over falling as this is playing out.
Set aside the substance (which is bad for him). This is just being bad at politics. And if this is how he’s handling himself in the last few weeks before Iowa, the general election against Trump would be a disaster.