By Zach Toillion
The race for the Democratic nomination in the early voting states has shifted significantly since the race began. In Iowa, the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton will almost certainly be closer than the Republican contest, barring a large shakeup. Hillary Clinton has maintained a lead since the race began, but the gap has been narrowed to a statistical tie, with each trading the lead with each passing poll. In New Hampshire Bernie Sanders has clung to a lead since late August, with current polling projecting a double digit victory.
The Clinton campaign, as well as multiple neutral political observers have all questioned whether or not the Sanders campaign can use early wins to propel himself to the Democratic nomination. Sanders strength is built primarily on white liberal voters who make up a disproportionate percentage of the electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire. For Democrats the third state to vote is Nevada, with a more Latino electorate. Clinton has been leading in the state since the start of the election, but her 50 point lead has now diminished to around 15 points. Next is South Carolina, where Clinton has a similar structural advantage with minority voters. Like Nevada, Clinton has seen her 50 point lead diminish as Sanders does well nationally.
The Sanders campaign still benefits from a few things. The electorate universally knows who Hillary Clinton is, while Sanders is not quite as known. While Clinton is still the candidate favored by Black and Latino voters, Sanders believes that once he is established as a credible candidate by winning one, if not two of the early states he will see a surge in support. The Sanders campaign is also banking on early caucus states where he believes he has an advantage. Nevada, Washington, Colorado and Minnesota are several states that appear early in the caucus system. The Sanders campaign is also hopeful on the funding front. Sanders has received the most contributions from small dollar donors of anyone this cycle. What that means is Sanders can go back to the same people for contributions as the Primary elections drag out. Hillary Clinton faces a different situation. Most of her contributors have already given out the maximum dollar amount capped by campaign finance regulation, meaning she would have to seek out new donors, either by fundraisers or some sort of new grassroots push. Her other option would be to have affiliated Super PACS up spending on her behalf, but this idea has a crucial problem-campaigns can’t coordinate with Super PACs under election law.
An additional major development that could swing the primary is the endorsement of Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). Warren has been mum on a potential endorsement, but has hinted on several occasions she is ideologically more inclined to endorse Sanders. Elizabeth Warren is the only woman in the Democratic Senate caucus to not endorse Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign.
The other wild card on the Democratic side is the continuing investigation into potential wrongdoing regarding the handling of emails by Secretary Clinton while Secretary of State. A potential indictment would upend the entire race if such an event were to occur.
Sen. Sanders has a real path to the nomination, but it remains very narrow.