Dem con­test tight­ens be­yond cov­eted Iowa

Bi­den leads Ne­vada poll, but San­ders is on his heels

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Su­san Page

It’s not just Iowa: An ex­clu­sive Suf­folk Uni­ver­sity/ USA TO­DAY Poll of Ne­vada shows an­other early- vot­ing state where the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial race is tight­en­ing, former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den is strug­gling to hold fron­trun­ner sta­tus and Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders is show­ing strength.

As Demo­cratic con­tenders pre­pare to de­bate Tues­day in Des Moines – the final de­bate be­fore the open­ing cau­cuses in Iowa – the field is shrink­ing and the race may be head­ing toward a show­down be­tween a fa­mil­iar cen­trist and a firebrand lib­eral who rep­re­sent starkly differ­ent choices for the party.

In Ne­vada, the third state on the cal­en­dar, the new sur­vey shows Bi­den lead­ing Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders by a sin­gle per­cent­age point, 19%- 18%. Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth Warren is third at 11%.

Some of the same dy­nam­ics were ap­par­ent in a Des Moines Reg­is­ter/ CNN

Iowa Poll re­leased Fri­day. San­ders held his first lead in the iconic sur­vey, at 20%, fol­lowed by Warren at 17%, Pete But­tigieg at 16% and Bi­den at 15%. In both states, the sec­ond- tier can­di­dates seemed to be hav­ing trou­ble break­ing through.

In Ne­vada, Bi­den has dropped by 9 points and Warren by 7 points from the av­er­age of re­cent statewide polls cal­cu­lated by RealClearP­ol­i­tics. com. San­ders’ sup­port has proven stead­ier, dip­ping by 2 points. No other can­di­date has bro­ken into dou­ble dig­its in the Sil­ver State.

“Look­ing at the to­tal­ity of the data, you’d have to say that Bi­den, San­ders and Warren are in a tier of their own,” said vet­eran Demo­cratic poll­ster Mark Mell­man. But, he added, “it’s late to say it’s early, but there’s still time for things to hap­pen. What hap­pens in Iowa and what hap­pens in New Hamp­shire will affect what hap­pens in Ne­vada.”

With the open­ing Iowa cau­cuses just three weeks away, the Demo­cratic con­test is head­ing into a roller­coaster seven weeks that could well de­ter­mine the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee who will face Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. The Feb. 3 cau­cuses are fol­lowed by the New Hamp­shire pri­mary on Feb. 11, the Ne­vada cau­cuses on Feb. 22 and the South Carolina pri­mary on Feb. 29. Su­per Tues­day con­tests on March 3 will then chose a third of the del­e­gates needed to claim the nom­i­na­tion at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion in July.

The cal­en­dar could raise the stakes for the Des Moines Reg­is­ter/ CNN de­bate, which will have six con­tenders on stage. “Ev­ery can­di­date will be look­ing for that ‘ break­out mo­ment’ to gen­er­ate mo­men­tum,” pre­dicted David Pa­le­ol­o­gos, di­rec­tor of the Suffolk Uni­ver­sity Po­lit­i­cal Re­search Cen­ter, although he noted that in the past any post- de­bate bumps have been short­lived. “To date, we have only seen mini- moves of can­di­dates spik­ing af­ter debates, to be fol­lowed by a set­tling back to the same fron­trun­ners that we’ve had all along.”

The av­er­age of re­cent polls in New Hamp­shire show the same four con­tenders clus­tered at the top: San­ders at 21.5%, Bi­den at 18.8%, But­tigieg at 18.3% and Warren at 14.8%. That quar­tet plus Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Tom Steyer qual­ified for the Tues­day de­bate.

In the Ne­vada sur­vey, But­tigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, In­di­ana, and Steyer were at 8%. En­tre­pre­neur An­drew Yang and Klobuchar were at 4%. An­other 22% were un­de­cided.

Bi­den and San­ders showed strength not only in lead­ing the pack but also in the loyalty of their sup­port­ers, who by nearly 2- 1 were com­mit­ted to stick­ing with them. Twothirds of their back­ers said their minds were firmly made up. But among sup­port­ers of Warren and But­tigieg, nearly six in 10 said they might change their minds.

The can­di­date with the most fer­vent sup­port was Yang. Among his back­ers, 73% said their minds were made up; just 18% said they might change them. ( Put an­other way, only four of his 16 sup­port­ers said they might switch to some­one else.)

The poll of 500 likely Demo­cratic cau­cus­go­ers, taken by land­line and cell­phone Wed­nes­day through Satur­day, has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 4.4 per­cent­age points.

Mean­while, the record- size Demo­cratic field con­tin­ues to shrink. New Jer­sey Sen. Cory Booker, who was at 2% in the Ne­vada poll, with­drew from the pres­i­den­tial con­test Mon­day. In re­cent weeks, Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, former Hous­ing sec­re­tary Ju­lian Cas­tro and Mar­i­anne Wil­liamson also have pulled out, say­ing they saw no re­al­is­tic path to the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion. That leaves the Demo­cratic field with­out an African Amer­i­can or His­panic con­tender, a po­ten­tial con­cern for a party that counts mi­nori­ties among its core sup­port­ers.

Asked for their sec­ond choices, 21% of those sur­veyed in Ne­vada picked Warren, 19% picked Bi­den, 12% picked San­ders and 10% picked But­tigieg.

Those find­ings may raise a red flag for San­ders. While he is es­sen­tially tied with Bi­den as a first choice, Bi­den and Warren are bet­ter po­si­tioned to pick up sup­port if and when other can­di­dates drop out.

Those who picked Bi­den as their first choice were in­clined to sup­port Warren as their sec­ond choice. San­ders’ sup­port­ers also were in­clined to back Warren. Warren’s sup­port­ers di­vided be­tween San­ders and Bi­den. But­tigieg’s sup­port­ers di­vided be­tween Bi­den and Warren. Steyer’s sup­port­ers went to Bi­den.

One more prospect: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A late- start­ing can­di­date, he hasn’t been cer­tified for the Ne­vada cau­cuses. But the mil­lions of dol­lars he has spent on TV ads na­tion­wide haven’t gone un­no­ticed. A 55% ma­jor­ity of the likely cau­cus- go­ers in Ne­vada say they’ve seen them.

When it came to the is­sues that mat­tered, three dom­i­nated the oth­ers from a long list: health care, cho­sen by 22%, cli­mate change by 14% and the econ­omy by 10%.

CHRIS CARL­SON/ AP

Demo­cratic can­di­dates Joe Bi­den, left, and Bernie San­ders face off in the pres­i­den­tial pri­mary de­bate Dec. 19 in Los An­ge­les.

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