San­ders takes lead head­ing into Iowa

3 weeks be­fore cau­cus, field still tightly grouped

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Bri­anne Pfan­nen­stiel

DES MOINES, Iowa – Sen. Bernie San­ders leads the Demo­cratic field three weeks ahead of Cau­cus Day in Iowa – nar­rowly over­tak­ing his clos­est com­peti­tors, who re­main locked in a tight con­test just be­hind him.

A new Des Moines Reg­is­ter/ CNN/ Me­di­a­com Iowa Poll shows 20% of likely Demo­cratic cau­cus­go­ers name San­ders as their first choice for pres­i­dent.

Af­ter a surge of enthusiasm that pushed Pete But­tigieg to the top of the field in Novem­ber, the former South Bend, In­di­ana, mayor has faded, fall­ing 9 per­cent­age points to land be­hind both San­ders and Sen. El­iz­a­beth Warren. Warren is at 17%; But­tigieg, 16%; and former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, 15%.

“There’s no deny­ing that this is a good poll for Bernie San­ders. He leads, but it’s not an un­con­tested lead,” said poll­ster J. Ann Selzer, pres­i­dent of Selzer & Co., which con­ducted the poll. “He’s got a firmer grip on his sup­port­ers than the rest of his com­pa­tri­ots.”

The poll of 701 likely Demo­cratic cau­cus­go­ers was done Jan. 2- 8 and has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 3.7 per­cent­age points.

Bi­den, But­tigieg, San­ders and Warren have re­mained clus­tered atop the Reg­is­ter’s Iowa Poll through­out the 2020 cam­paign cy­cle, though no one has defini­tively pulled away from the pack. In­stead, each of the top four has now led the Iowa Poll at some point this cy­cle as the field con­tin­ues to shift.

The per­cent­age of those who say their mind is made up about which can­di­date to sup­port on cau­cus night

has risen to 40% – up 10 per­cent­age points from Novem­ber. Forty- five per­cent say they have a fa­vorite can­di­date but could be per­suaded to sup­port some­one else and an ad­di­tional 13% have not picked a fa­vorite can­di­date.

“The cau­cus process is an in­vi­ta­tion to keep an open mind,” Selzer said, not­ing that the Iowa Poll pro­duced sim­i­lar num­bers of un­de­cided cau­cus­go­ers at the same point dur­ing 2016’ s crowded Re­pub­li­can pri­mary.

Other Demo­cratic can­di­dates – in­clud­ing those bank­ing on a late burst of mo­men­tum – failed to gain much ground in the Jan­uary poll. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota and Cory Booker of New Jer­sey held steady, Klobuchar at 6% and Booker at 3%. En­tre­pre­neur An­drew Yang grew his sup­port from 3% in Novem­ber to 5% to­day.

Could San­ders gain the Iowa cau­cuses win that eluded him in 2016? Selzer said the data sug­gest it’s plau­si­ble.

“There’s just the Bernie fac­tor,” Selzer said. “Which is ( even) stronger than we saw in the last cy­cle.”

Although this is the first time in his back- to- back races for pres­i­dent that the Ver­mont se­na­tor has led the Iowa Poll, his sup­port this cy­cle has re­mained re­mark­ably firm, a fact his cam­paign

“There’s just the Bernie fac­tor,” Selzer said. “Which is ( even) stronger than we saw in the last cy­cle.” J. Ann Selzer Selzer & Co., which con­ducted the poll

has worked to ex­ploit.

San­ders’ sup­port­ers are more likely than those who back the other lead­ing can­di­dates to say their minds are made up ( 59%), and they are “ex­tremely” en­thu­si­as­tic about him. ( 49%). Just 32% of Warren’s sup­port­ers de­scribe them­selves as ex­tremely en­thu­si­as­tic, and 26% each for Bi­den and But­tigieg.

“There was a thought that his sup­port was a holdover from when he ran be­fore and that that would evaporate,” Selzer said. “It cer­tainly has not evap­o­rated.”

She said San­ders is hold­ing on to many of those who cau­cused for him in 2016 while also grow­ing sup­port among young and first- time cau­cus­go­ers. Those are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult groups to turn out on cau­cus night, she said, but San­ders has done it be­fore and ap­pears to be on track to do so again.

He has re­tained sup­port from 44% of those who say they cau­cused for him in 2016. Warren earns 20% of his former sup­port­ers. He leads the field with those younger than 35, earn­ing 36% of their sup­port; Warren fol­lows him at 20%.

“He’s some­one I fol­lowed in the last pri­mary and re­ally liked,” said Matthew Quick, 25, a P. E. teacher from Es­sex. As a teacher, Quick said San­ders’ fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and im­prov­ing teacher qual­ity and pay stands out.

“When he put his name in the hat in 2020, I knew I was go­ing to be in all the way,” he said.

But­tigieg held a com­mand­ing lead in the Reg­is­ter’s last Iowa Poll, in Novem­ber, at 25% – 9 per­cent­age points ahead of Warren, his clos­est com­peti­tor. But in the weeks since, he has faced more crit­i­cism over his record, his mod­er­ate pol­icy po­si­tions and his in­abil­ity to win over vot­ers of color.

But­tigieg fares worst among the lead­ing can­di­dates in the share of sup­port­ers whose minds are made up: 40%. That’s com­pared with the 59% of San­ders’ sup­port­ers, 48% of Warren’s and 44% of Bi­den’s.

But­tigieg’s fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings also have gone in the down­ward di­rec­tion. The share of those who say they view But­tigieg fa­vor­ably has fallen 4 per­cent­age points from Novem­ber to 68% to­day. The share of those view­ing him un­fa­vor­ably has risen from 16% to 24%.

“That used to be his great claim to fame: He was very lik­able, and there were very few who didn’t like him,” Selzer said. “Some of that lus­ter is lost in this poll.”

STEPHEN MATUREN/ GETTY IM­AGES

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