Iowa poll: Now leading the Democratic field by nine points is ... Pete Buttigieg?

Shocking, although the fact that he’s leading isn’t the shocking part. A different poll taken this month by Monmouth had him ahead in Iowa by three points. Now here comes the Des Moines Register with its own number to confirm that Butti-mentum is very much a real thing in their state. And no wonder: He’s built a formidable organization there and is spending big money on ads. His strategy is the same as any other young longshot candidate’s, to go all-in on Iowa and trust that a surprise win there will catapult him into the top tier in the other 49 states that have yet to vote.

So, no, his frontrunner status isn’t shocking. The margin is shocking: Nine points, which is a biggg lead by the standards of this race. Over the past six months, the only Democrat to enjoy a lead in Iowa of as many as nine points was Joe Biden and that came in a single poll in early August. Buttigieg has nearly tripled his numbers since the Register last polled this race in September, bouncing from nine percent then to 25 points now.

A Twitter pal suggested last night after these numbers came out that it’s possible the first four states could go like this: Iowa to Buttigieg, New Hampshire to Bernie, Nevada to Warren, and South Carolina to Biden. That actually is plausible given that Warren is reputed to have an excellent GOTV operation in Nevada and Biden remains strong with South Carolina’s majority-black electorate. All Sanders would need to do is win the state next door to his own and we’d have a complete stalemate after the early states and total chaos as Democrats confront the growing prospect of a brokered convention.

Since September, Buttigieg has risen 16 percentage points among Iowa’s likely Democratic caucusgoers, with 25% now saying he is their first choice for president. For the first time in the Register’s Iowa Poll, he bests rivals Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are now clustered in competition for second place and about 10 percentage points behind the South Bend, Indiana, mayor.

Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, led the September Iowa Poll, when 22% said she was their first choice. In this poll, her support slips to 16%. Former Vice President Biden, who led the Register’s first three Iowa Polls of the 2020 caucus cycle, has continued to slide, falling 5 percentage points to 15%. Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, also garners 15% — a 4 percentage point rise.

Not a disaster for Biden, Warren, and Sanders. Iowa sometimes breaks late: Remember when it looked for awhile in 2003 like Howard Dean was going to cruise there, only to have the more “electable” John Kerry ultimately win it instead? Just 30 percent of people polled by the Register say their minds are made up, with more than twice as many claiming they have a first choice but are still open to persuasion. And 63 percent say it’s more important to nominate someone who can win than someone who shares their position on big issues. Biden in particular continues to be viewed as the electable choice in the field, a trait that may rescue him on caucus night:

There’s two bits of news there, actually. One is Biden’s advantage, the other is the fact that Buttigieg is now viewed as just as capable of beating Trump as Elizabeth Warren is (and more capable of beating him than Bernie Sanders) despite the fact that his age and sexual orientation are cracked up to be major burdens for him in a general election.

That’s not the only evidence that Warren’s standing has taken a hit in Iowa either. Check out the response when Iowa Dems are asked if a particular candidate’s policy views are too liberal, too conservative, or just right:

Biden does okay, although more than a quarter polled think he’s too conservative. The newsy part is the number who say Bernie and Warren are too liberal — and not just the number but the trend. Look at where each scored in the “too liberal” column in March and compare it to where they are now, after Warren rolled out her Medicare for All plan and was shredded for her claims about how she’d pay for it by right and left. By repositioning himself as a moderate instead of a dogmatic progressive and going after Warren on health care, Buttigieg has emerged as the Goldilocks candidate, the person with the highest share of Iowa Dems saying his views are “about right.”

Whether Medicare for All will end up as an anchor around Warren’s (and Bernie’s) ankles in other states is unclear right now, although I note that her polling has declined in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationally this month as scrutiny of her new M4A plan has intensified. I think progressives would grudgingly tolerate seeing Sanders and Warren come up short in the primary so long as their policy program, starting with socialized medicine, gains ground within the party. To see the two lefty candidates lose *because* they embraced the progressive agenda would be a much harder pill for them to swallow.

But the eternal caveat applies here: It’s Just One Poll, even if the Des Moines Register poll is considered by pros to be the most reliable survey of Iowa. A separate poll of Iowa out today from CBS/YouGov has Biden and Sanders tied for the lead there at 22 percent and Buttigieg a point behind. Buttigieg hasn’t received any hard shots at the debates yet since he hasn’t been a serious threat to the top tier until now; that will change at the next one, obviously. And of course his much-noted difficulty in attracting black voters continues, with this story at the Intercept getting some attention online today. Buttigieg’s campaign issued a press release about his “plan for black America” touting the endorsement of 400 South Carolinians. But not everyone who likes the plan is endorsing Buttigieg’s candidacy. And not everyone who supposedly endorsed the plan actually endorsed the plan. And not everyone on that list of 400 is black. And the stock photo the campaign used to illustrate its announcement about its hopes for black America actually shows a Kenyan woman.

So yeah, those issue might persist.

In other Iowa news, Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard are now tied at three percent each despite Harris having spent the past six weeks laser-focused on Iowa to try to revive her candidacy. Which of their two campaigns is likely to last longer at this point? Read this before you answer.