As the nomination process for US presidential candidates gets under way, one writer looks at the significance of the early states for leading Democrats.
Iowa and New Hampshire have always been the first frontiers for candidates for their party’s nomination. But in what has finally become an interesting race, could it be a death knell for most of those on the democratic side of the nomination in 2016?
Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton has leapt into an early lead as the most high profile candidate following her previous roles as First Lady and Secretary of State, as well as being the main challenger to Obama in 2008. However, recently, a new contender has emerged, cutting her national lead to 20 points. That alone is not enough to make the Clinton camp worry, but, crucially, Bernie Sanders has taken the lead in some polls for the early elections.
The lead for polls in Iowa is split between the two, but many expect Clinton to eventually come out on top due to the nature of voting in the state, where voters must attend the caucus in order to vote. However, the lead is considerable for Sanders in New Hampshire, with some pollsters having him with a 20 point lead.
Momentum plays a key role in politics. Just ask Clinton, who won more votes than Obama in 2008 and won in California, New York and Texas; three states that always have huge implications in the voting procedure. However, an 11 state losing streak following Super Tuesday saw her lose out in the nomination.
This time around she appears to have it all sewn up. A 20 point lead is commanding, if not overwhelming. However, were she to lose early on, media attention would begin to swing towards Sanders as a legitimate threat to the nomination. The nomination process can be unforgiving for candidates, and the increased screen time following Sanders’ rallies and events will give the people a better chance to get to know who they could be voting for.
His radical policies have already won the hearts of the left in the US and as he continues to gain support more people could switch to America’s latest visionary. He wants free healthcare, free tuition at university and more equality in the economy, which he claims is “rigged” against the lower classes; all things which have attracted the left of the left but also appeal to idealists from across the country, including many Republicans. In contrast, Clinton is far more moderate but stands a better chance of winning the overall Presidential election due to her appeal to such a wide range of voters. Furthermore, she is far tougher on guns; Sanders’ home state of Vermont has among the highest rates of gun ownership in the country and this could be a key topic for voters following a series of high profile killings over the past few years.
Of course, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire are particularly representative of the country as a whole, and the appeal of a left field candidate could only be something for the early states, before it becomes serious with Super Tuesday coming around the corner on 1st March. However these are the main states in which the candidates have been campaigning and as Sanders moves around, support could follow. He is a relative newcomer to the party and relatively unknown to the public, but he was the most searched name in Google during the last Democratic Party debate and his bold policies are making some real headway with the electorate.
The hierarchy of the party will hope for a healthy debate, but in the end, for Clinton to prevail with her reputation relatively unscathed. Having filled several high profile roles in the past she does not need the consistent scrutiny many candidates do to allow the public to become familiar with their work. However, it’s clear that winning the nomination wasn’t going to be as easy as she once thought; Clinton has already attracted a lot of criticism for her use of a private email server whilst she was Secretary of State and could do without any more high profile scandals to deal with.
The two Republican front runners so far come across as extremely controversial figures, with Donald Trump being, well, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz coming under fire for being born in Canada and being substantially more right wing than the American public. Cruz has been repeatedly attacked by the Republican leadership and that side of the nomination looks set to go down to the wire as forecasters continue to struggle with the idea of Trump as an electable candidate whilst the other candidates fail to make inroads amongst the electorate. Despite all this, if momentum continues to swing to Sanders, with him winning New Hampshire and remaining competitive in Iowa, we could have a real race on our hands.