Hillary sags in early states

Rich Lowry says that a “plugged-in lefty” tells him he believes that Bernie Sanders will defeat Hillary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire. This scenario may sound far-fetched, but polling data suggests it could come to pass.

A new WMUR/CNN Granite State Poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center from June 18 to 24, puts Sanders within 8 points of Clinton, 43-35 (with a margin of error of 5.2 percent). In Iowa, reportedly, a Suffolk University poll and a Morning Consult survey put Sanders within 10 points and 12 points, respectively, of Clinton.

Bloomberg’s polling is considerably more favorable to Clinton. However, it shows that her margins are shrinking.

South Carolina is another key early state. Sanders apparently has no staff there, but his prospects aren’t bleak. According to Politico, earlier this month the state chapter of the AFL-CIO jumped the gun and effectively backed the Sanders’ candidacy before being forced to walk back the endorsement. And when the Vermont socialist visited the state, he had to change the venue for his swing through Charleston due to unexpectedly high interest

Additional anecdotal evidence supports the view that things aren’t going swimmingly for the former Secretary of State. Crowds at her events have, at times, been disappointingly small. According to the Daily Caller, Virginia Democrats were offered free tickets Friday to the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner at which Clinton was the featured speaker. The normal $30 fee for the event was waived.

One Republican operative exaggerated, but not by much when he quipped: “How bad is it out there for Hillary? She’s gone from paid speeches to paying people to hear her speeches.”

Why is Hillary struggling? In my view, it’s not because of her various scandals. Democrats don’t hold corruption against liberal candidates.

Are Hillary’s struggles due, then, to her lack of skill as a campaigner? Partially. But Bernie Sanders isn’t a great campaigner either.

The real problem is that Clinton, no matter how hard she tries to reinvent herself, isn’t deemed left-wing enough by a near critical mass of her party. Sanders, a socialist, is more in line with the views of those likely to vote in primaries and caucuses. If he were a woman and Clinton a man, Sanders would be a virtual lock to defeat Hillary.

Noah Rothman at Commentary summarizes Hillary’s plight:

Clinton has campaigned aggressively for a nomination that should, by rights, already be hers. She has contorted herself wildly, recanted her past policy preferences, and all but condemned her husband as a sellout to the cause; all in pursuit of the elusive support of the liberals who robbed her of the nomination once already.

And yet that seemingly unnecessary posturing has not solidified her support among Democrats. In fact, it appears to be ebbing.

The Democratic Party’s leftward drift over the course of the last 15 years has been observable both in anecdotal and quantitative terms. Speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell in September of last year, a roundtable of Iowa Democrats uniformly expressed reservations about Clinton’s perceived closeness to Wall Street and her hawkish approach to matters relating to foreign affairs. “I’m looking for someone that’s a little more liberal,” one politically active student told Mitchell.

The student is in good company. “In 2015, the proportion of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who said they were both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal reached 47 percent,” wrote Real Clear Politics analyst Mathew Disler this month. “Thirty-nine percent of participants in this group answered similarly in 2008, and only 30 percent did so in 2001.”

One shudders to think what “economically moderate” means to Democrats. Perhaps it means they want merely to occupy Wall Street, not burn it down. Whatever the precise meaning, Hillary Clinton seems not to fit the bill as well as Bernie Sanders.

Ironically, though, the steam Sanders has gained may work to Clinton’s advantage. It might be difficult now for another, more plausible candidate to jump in and steal his thunder. A potential entrant, such as Elizabeth Warren, could conclude that Clinton will be too tough to beat if the anti-Hillary left is divided between two reasonably attractive candidates.

The problem is similar to the one Robert Kennedy faced when he belatedly entered the 1968 presidential race, after Eugene McCarthy had courageously challenged President Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy arguably overcame the problem. But then, he was Bobby Kennedy. Elizabeth Warren isn’t.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Let’s instead enjoy the spectacle of Hillary Clinton attempting to ward off the implausible Bernie Sanders.