HRC in Iowa, Then and Now

The renewed excitement over a possible primary challenge to Hillary Clinton has spilled over into an event in Iowa. “Run Warren Run,” a MoveOn.org project aimed at drafting the Massachusetts senator, is holding a rally in Des Moines tomorrow.

But at FiveThirtyEight Harry Enten warns that anybody who thinks Clinton’s weakness in the First-in-the-Nation-Caucus State in 2008 will automatically carry over to 2016 needs to remember the former year a bit more clearly.

Many have argued that the Clinton campaign blew its opportunity in 2008 by squandering a large lead. This may have been true nationally (though vastly overblown), but wasn’t true in Iowa. Clinton either trailed or held a small lead during the lead up to the 2008 Iowa caucuses….

Edwards was ahead in most polling through mid-2007. Even when Clinton overtook him midyear, her advantage was never greater than 5 percentage points. That’s well within the average error for presidential primary polls, and Clinton’s edge was evaporating by the waning days of 2007.

Perhaps as important, Clinton’s support never went above 30 percent. More than 70 percent of Iowa caucus voters wanted someone else. This left the door wide open for Edwards and Obama. By the time the votes were counted, Clinton came in third with 29.5 percent of the vote on caucus night.

As I’ve written on several occasions in the past, the natural tendency to forget about John Edwards as thoroughly as possible has obscured the fact that he, not Clinton, was the early front-runner in Iowa going into 2008, having finished a surprise second there in 2004 and then maintained his organization intact. Clinton trailed Edwards in organizational heft and then Obama in enthusiasm, and her third-place finish was no big shock.

The picture in 2016 is different. Over the past six months of 2014, Clinton has double the support in Iowa than she did in 2008. She’s at 61 percent in the polling average. That matches her strong standing nationally. Warren, on the other hand, is at 12 percent in Iowa. For Warren to win, she’ll have to overcome a 49 percentage-point deficit, compared with the 12-point difference between Clinton and Obama at this point in the 2008 cycle.

That could still happen, especially if Warren were to jump into the race with both feet very soon. But it won’t happen automatically based on the idea that Iowans fell out of love with Clinton in 2008. They’re a lot more enamored with her right now.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.