This morning, The Hill broke a story that alternately sent Bernie Sanders supporters to panic and denial modes: the news was of a Monmouth University poll showing Hillary Clinton opening up a prohibitive 41-point lead over Bernie Sanders in Iowa. Before the Sanders apologists could find enough excuses to unskew the poll, however, yet another poll, this one from Loras College, put Clinton on top by 38 points over Sanders.
It bears mentioning that as of this writing, those two polls represent the entire universe of Iowa polling after a huge week for Hillary Clinton: from her triumph at the sham hearing on Benghazi to all-candidate appearances at the Democratic Women's Leadership Forum and the Iowa Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Day dinner. Clinton not only cleaned the Republicans' clock at the Benghazi hearing, she roused the two audiences that followed with a command of the issues and an easy but passionate style.
One of the reasons Sanders apologists are quick to dismiss this poll is that they are focused on the galloping gap rather than the actual numbers. Those who rip these polls as outliars cannot account for the fact that Sanders' numbers actually seem to be returning to a 20-25% range, where most polls had put him between the end of June and the end of September. What should worry Sanders supporters is the fact that their candidate's surge earlier this month to 40% territory is now over and Clinton seems to be gaining the almost exactly the numbers Sanders is bleeding, after and in addition to her bump from Vice President Biden's announcement that he will not seek the Democratic nomination.
If this two polls are right, Hillary Clinton's support is also back to where she roughly started, at the 60%+ level. In other words, for all the hullabaloo, the numbers released today simply represent both Clinton and Sanders returning to their respective "normal" levels of support.
This is exactly what would have happened if certain voters, concerned about Hillary's viability with the Benghazi testimony looming, decided she wasn't a safe bet yet and supported Bernie, and once the fog of the sham hearing cleared and she proved herself more than capable, those voters came home. That could be why she's back at the starting levels before there were actually any real challenge to her.
If that's what's happening, that's horrible news for a challenger. Despite his confessed ego and his supporters' fantasy, Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama. From a political talent standpoint, Barack Obama rose from being a State Senator to the President of the United States in eight short years. It took Bernie Sanders 26 years to go from mayor to a US senator (of a much smaller, less diverse state than Obama's).
Sanders seems to have peaked and people from his camp seem to be moving to Clinton's. For another, Sanders may have a lot of house parties, but he doesn't have close to the resources or ground organization Barack Obama was able to amass. Lastly, "Another White Male for President" doesn't exactly knock on history's door.
Lots of candidates get crowds, but the measure of true political genius is translating those crowds to action, to voters. Obama did.
It took all of that - Barack Obama's youth, vision, unparalleled political talent, and the methodical focus of the most brilliant community organizer this country has ever known to defeat, barely, a Hillary Clinton that was far less polished and far less experienced in public office. Bernie Sanders doesn't come close.
Oh, and Hillary Clinton has been smart to tell her audiences every chance she gets that Barack Obama does not get the credit he deserves for rescuing the American economy from a Republican disaster. Much of the Democratic electorate - especially the primary electorate - passionately feels the same, and want their candidate to shout it from rooftops.
A week ago, I noted that Bernie was beginning to drop in the polls following his debate performance. Perhaps Democratic voters had noticed then his loving relationship with the gun lobby and his xenophobic votes on border and immigration issues. In that post, I observed that nationally, Clinton was already moving into the 60% range. Today's polls are merely a continuation of that trend, and an indication that it's moving to the early states.
If anyone needed help verifying that the Sanders campaign folks know their candidate is in trouble, they are beginning to go negative, using as excuse the panning of his record on gun rights in the first debate. As cover for his disgusting record on the rights of ethnic minorities (gun violence, Black Lives Matter and immigration), he's chosen to go suddenly pretend to be a champion of gay rights, pointing to his vote against DOMA.
But while Sanders' supporters point to a speech Clinton gave on the floor of the Senate in 2004 affirming her belief in heterosexual exclusivity of marriage before she actually voted against a Constitutional amendment writing that exclusivity into our founding document, Sanders got caught red handed advocating in 2006 against marriage equality in his own state of Vermont when he was running for the Senate.
This should point to two problems for Sanders. First, but less importantly, being exposed as a hypocrite.
Second, and far more importantly, this incidence is indicative of the fact that his rhetoric cannot stand up to scrutiny, even a little bit. This is not a man ready for the national media prodding and probing into his every statement, every vote, every public appearance since his first day in public office.
That's another reason Clinton is back up. Some voters dated Sanders, but they're marrying Clinton because in the field of battle, in the public sphere, under scrutiny, the revolutionary hero falls apart. Clinton, on the other hand, has had that kind of scrutiny for the last 25 years. Whatever else you can say about Hillary Clinton, one thing you cannot say is that she isn't battle tested. That's why she's rising.
The numbers may well tighten before the caucuses, but that sinking feeling Sanders fans have right now? It's real, and for good reason.
Update: A third poll, though commissioned by a right wing network, conducted Gravis Marketing, an independent pollster, has confirmed Clinton's 40-point mammoth lead in Iowa. That poll shows Clinton up over Sanders 58-16. (h/t The Elusive Robert Denby in comments)