It's only four-plus months until the Iowa caucuses. It doesn't matter that the general election is far more distant at 14 months away. The Iowa caucuses are almost on us, and they count big-time. Winning in Iowa means a lot.
So how do things look as we near Iowa? Because of the large herd in the Republican contest it's hard to tell who is the strongest at this point. Donald Trump is the flavor of the month but like ice cream on a hot day he will in due course melt away. If however he decides to run as a third-party candidate, he will thereby hand the election to the Democrats. I have doubts as to whether he'll run as a third party candidate, mainly because he has very little staying power. I think he'd get bored with a real campaign. After all there's a lot more crazy things to do in life that he hasn't tackled yet. Like jumping off one of his hotels with a bedsheet for a cape.
From the GOP debates this past week, we learned that previously supposed-leader Jeb Bush is "wallpaper", as commentator Mark Shields so aptly puts it. (The Irish have such a gift for putting people away.) I think we see now, why Jeb's own mother said that there have been enough Bushes in the White House. I'll bet she remembers Georgie beating up on Jeb a lot. She wouldn't want a wuss to be president. Not Barbara. And Jeb is—well, he's wallpaper.
On the other side, Bernie Sanders continues to pick up momentum. I like Bernie and I'm in his corner, but I would not be honest if I didn't watch the numbers. The best way to watch the numbers is, as you long time readers of my blog know, by following Nate Silver. This guy knows numbers. He made his mark by revolutionizing baseball's method of evaluating players. They made a movie sort of based on him called "Moneyball". In 2008 in Daily Kos and in 2012 in the New York Times, he pegged Obama as virtually a sure winner, calling virtually every state correctly. He ranks the polls according to their reliability based on their track record. Then he averages these according to a formula and comes up with his sound predictions. I love him.
I had not seen until now Nate Silver's current numbers on Bernie and Hillary. They indicate she is still way ahead in "favorability" with Democratic voters. Previous figures from the Wall Street Journal etc. blared that Bernie was leading Hillary. But they had the wrong numbers. They were polling everybody. Everybody doesn't vote in Democratic primaries. Only Democrats do. So Nate's numbers are the ones that count.
We are left with the puzzle of why all these Democrats like Hillary. I think it's in part because she's been hiding. She is now doing campaigning by just appearing before small groups, sort of a "listening tour" such as she first used in her initial Senate race. When you have an unappealing candidate who has a high name recognition, this is a good campaign strategy. I first saw it used in 1975 in Jerry Brown's campaign for governor of California. People had loved his father, Pat Brown, so Jerry's poll numbers were good in the beginning. But the longer he campaigned, the more the numbers went down. He was an arrogant brat and very cold. (I worked for him in his first administration. He treated me well but I found him to be an arrogant stick.) His arrogance and coldness came across on the platform. So his campaign staff put him under wraps in the closing weeks of the campaign, his numbers stopped bleeding, and he squeaked across the finish line having been denied the opportunity to shoot himself in both feet.
It's possible Hillary will remind people eventually that she is very unappealing. She is cold, stiff, and a very bad speaker. She doesn't know the meaning of the words "authenticity" or "spontaneity". Sooner or later she will have to take off the brown paper bag and let people en masse see the "real" Hillary, i.e. the phony who is Hillary rolling her eyes. Her numbers among Democratic voters may then go down. About that time, however, Ol' Bill will likely show up to save her bacon. Can he? Can he on-stage make castor oil taste like ice cream?
Meantime the other big issue is: what are the two campaigns doing now about the caucus states? Winning in the caucus states gave Obama the nomination in 2008. Amazingly enough the supposedly mighty Clinton machine failed to do anything about the caucus states. That was a dumb mistake, and Hillary's people will not make that mistake again. Can Bernie's people get it together to win those caucuses? Winning caucuses takes real skill and experience.
Well, as we used to say in rural Illinois, "We shall see, God willing and the crick don't rise."
Meantime, I really like Bernie Sanders. I really liked Obama in 2008 and 2012. Obama beat Hillary in 2008, and in 2012 he beat the recession. You may not remember but he had to confront an unemployment rate of over 8% in 2012. Against the odds he made it. In reality Nate Silver didn't make anything happen or not happen in those years. He merely had the guts to perceive that Obama was pulling off the impossible. If Bernie begins to pull off the impossible this time, Nate Silver will let us know.
It can happen. Let's keep watching. And for those of us who like Bernie, let's keep helping.