Just days after the continued good news for Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, new numbers released on Saturday from the New York Times and Siena College now shows a late-break in Iowa for the Senator from Vermont. The race remains tight, of course, with both Joe Biden and Sanders still tied according to the RealClearPolitics polling average of Iowa polls, but there is undeniably something happening in Bernie’s favor.

The Times reports that Sanders, with just over a week to go until the Iowa caucuses, seems to be hitting a stride:

Senator Bernie Sanders has opened up a lead in Iowa just over a week before the Democratic caucuses, consolidating support from liberals and benefiting from divisions among more moderate presidential candidates who are clustered behind him, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll of likely caucusgoers.

Mr. Sanders has gained six points since the last Times-Siena survey, in late October, and is now capturing 25 percent of the vote in Iowa. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. have remained stagnant since the fall, with Mr. Buttigieg capturing 18 percent and Mr. Biden 17 percent.

Here’s the full breakdown:

NY Times/Siena College Poll of Iowa Caucusgoes
Conducted Jan 20-23 | Source

  • Bernie Sanders – 25%
  • Pete Buttigieg – 18%
  • Joe Biden – 17%
  • Elizabeth Warren – 15%
  • Amy Klobuchar – 8%
  • Andrew Yang – 3%
  • Tom Steyer – 3%
  • Tulsi Gabbard – 1%
  • Michael Bloomberg – 1%

Sanders leads with just one-quarter of voters, enough to win the caucus with this much division in the field. On the other hand, it’s not out of the question of Buttigieg, Biden, or Warren to win in Iowa given the way the caucuses work.

If, for example, supporters of Amy Klobuchar were forced to move to their second choice because Klobuchar couldn’t get to 15% in the first round in various districts, where would they go? They wouldn’t be heading toward Sanders or Warren, they’d likely end up with Biden or Buttigieg.

The same could happen if Elizabeth Warren has some areas where her support doesn’t hit 15%, her supporters could then reorganize behind Bernie Sanders which would add to his lead.

The point here is that with many candidates hovering in the mid to high teens, these results could still be a jump ball on caucus night with Sanders a slight favorite heading in.

In examining the NY Times numbers, NBC News urges caution by pointing out that a sizable number of caucusgoers remain willing to change their minds:

The race in Iowa remains highly fluid, with the poll finding that 40 percent of those polled said they could still be persuaded to caucus for a different candidate than the one they listed as their first choice.

And what these caucus-goers are looking for in a candidate is still split: 42 percent of voters said they want a candidate who “brings politics in Washington back to normal”, while 51 percent want a candidate who “promises fundamental systematic change.” Those are the competing messages of progressives like Sanders and Warren, and moderates like Biden. While the progressives may tilt the scale on that question, 55 percent of voters said they want a candidate who is “more moderate” than other Democrats, while only 38 percent said they want someone who is “more liberal” than most Democrats.

With that dynamic in play, even Amy Klobuchar sitting down at 8% could be viable if she receives more late-breaking support. While Sanders is getting the headlines for big poll numbers, Klobuchar has been steadily climbing as well, though not yet bursting solidly into the top tier.

While Joe Biden has been the “default” choice for most of 2019, it really does appear his candidacy could be in trouble based on the numbers from Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s a well-known quantity, voters haven’t had to learn much about him to know if they like him.

Perhaps the term “like” isn’t really the question, it’s whether Democratic voters feel Biden is the solution for the party in 2020 or whether defeating President Trump and turning the tide on progressive causes needs someone like Bernie Sanders.

If you look at numbers beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, the race is still muddy. Nevada, with sparse polling, looks like a toss-up. South Carolina, once a solid firewall for Biden in the south is still in his column, but there haven’t been any polls there over the past week to know if sentiment has changed. The big Super Tuesday state of California even looks squishy for Biden, where he is tied with Sanders on average at 23 percent each.

Gone are the days of pundits and Democratic Party insiders sneering that Bernie Sanders can’t win or will never be the nominee. On the flip side, some of them are gaming out what his candidacy could look like. The fork in the road for Democratic caucus and primary voters is to decide a path for the party in 2020. The Bernie path, or the Biden path, or something in between.