Bernie, Hillary…and Joe

The story in the Democratic primary last week was all about Bernie-mania. Sanders drew a huge crowd in Denver and gained ground on Clinton in a poll in Iowa. On the former, Jonathan Topaz points out that it’s a good strategy for an insurgent.

He’s running to win a movement as much as an election, and there’s no clearer sign of it than the liberal strongholds he’s visiting — Madison, Wisconsin; Minneapolis; Denver; Portland, Maine.

“The news of large crowds manages to make its way to people, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said senior Sanders adviser Tad Devine. “It’s demonstrating that the message Bernie is delivering is connecting with a large audience.”

The idea is to barnstorm the nation’s most progressive cities in the hopes of attracting field organizers, small-dollar donors and, most importantly, the kind of media attention that insurgent candidates are typically starved for.

I decided to look a little deeper into the polling and found something interesting that I haven’t seen anyone comment about. In the Quinnipiac poll of Iowa caucus-goers, 52% support Hillary Clinton and 33% support Bernie Sanders. But it’s interesting to note who comes in third…Joe Biden with 7%.

There was some buzz last week about the possibility of VP Biden getting into the race. But I think it’s important to note that it came from the conservative Washington Times. An article in Politico showed how most of that was based on rumors from people who have had no contact with Biden or his inner circle.

I personally doubt the Vice President will get into this race. But in some ways, that’s beside the point right now. Even with no announcement or campaign operation, Joe Biden is coming in third in Iowa. In the Quinnipiac poll, he draws on the same group of supporters that Clinton does. A breakdown by ideology shows that Sanders actually beats Clinton (47/43) with those who identify as “very liberal.” But among “moderate/conservative” Democrats, Clinton wins big (60/17) with an additional 11% preferring Biden.

We see much the same thing (only more so) in national polls. The Huffington Post aggregator shows the race this way:

Clinton – 58%
Sanders – 15%
Biden – 12%

And at Real Clear Politics, Biden actually comes in second.

Clinton – 63%
Biden – 13.5%
Sanders – 12.7%

A comparison of two individual polls shows what might happen in Biden doesn’t run. The latest CNN poll includes Biden and shows this result:

Clinton – 58%
Biden – 17%
Sanders – 15%

But NBC/WSJ’s latest did not.

Clinton – 75%
Sanders – 15%

What all of this suggests is that, in order for Bernie-mania to gain traction, his supporters should really be hoping that VP Biden decides to run. It’s the only way he has a chance of getting anywhere close to Clinton’s numbers.

But the national polls also show one other major problem for Sanders. In reporting their latest, PPP summed it up this way:

Clinton continues to be dominant nationally with every segment of the Democratic electorate- she’s over 60% with liberals, moderates, women, men, Hispanics, whites, and voters in every age group and she’s polling at 83% with African Americans. The lack of racial diversity in New Hampshire [and Iowa] is one reason Sanders is coming closer to her there given her dominance with black voters nationally.

Sanders will have to dominate in both Iowa and New Hampshire as he heads into primaries like South Carolina – where the Democratic base is much more diverse. Hillary Clinton has made it clear that she is running a campaign to address the issues that are important to what we’ve come to call the “Obama coalition.” Bernie Sander’s appeal is still primarily with white voters. He also doesn’t do as well with women. In order to be competitive over the long run, he’ll have to close those gaps.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.