Could Elizabeth Warren finish ... fifth in Iowa?

There’ll be lots of subplots from the results next Monday night but don’t overlook the growing possibility of a campaign-crushing disaster for Elizabeth Warren as the key one come Tuesday morning. New data from Iowa via Monmouth:

Do my eyes deceive me or is there a touch of Klomentum happening here?

Just a touch. A jot. Not enough to win — probably. Although Monmouth notes elsewhere that just 47 percent of those polled say they’re firmly decided on whom they’ll support. Nearly as many, 45 percent, say they could switch on caucus night. Hmmm!

What if Klobuchar’s been held back to this point by the fact that lots of Iowa Democrats just don’t believe she can win? She was a five-percent candidate for ages. They may have liked her, they may have thought deep down that she’s the most electable of the bunch, but no one wants to throw their vote away on a candidate in the mid-single-digits.

…Except she’s not a mid-single-digits candidate anymore. A vote for Amy on Monday could mean something. And Iowa has been volatile this year. Since late September, every member of the top four has had a turn in the lead according to the RCP average. Biden gave way to Warren, who gave way in time to Buttigieg, who eventually gave way to Bernie, who gave way to Biden again, and at the moment it’s Bernie back on top, albeit by just three points. The largest share of the vote achieved by any candidate during that period was a mere 25 percent by Sanders, and he’s ticked down slightly in the last few days.

If Klobuchar gets some good press from this poll in Iowa *and* Trump’s trial wraps early because no witnesses are called, freeing her to campaign there this weekend, what happens on Monday night? You wouldn’t want to bet on her winning. But would you maybe want to wager on a last-minute surge past Warren, pushing Fauxcahontas into a dismal fifth-place finish?

Now you’re thinking, “Don’t get too excited about one good poll for Klobuchar. Could be an outlier.” Right, but it’s not just one poll.

In one of those three, Emerson, Klobuchar was actually (a distant) third at 13 percent, ahead of Warren. If Warren lands in fifth on Monday, she’ll limp into New Hampshire already in fourth place there according to RCP’s tracker and with no prospects of a bounce to make up the 11-point deficit she currently faces. If she finishes fourth there, she’ll probably continue on to Nevada just because her organization in that state has been touted as top-notch for months, giving her a fighting chance of a strong finish. But she’s third there according to the latest polling, in one case trailing by double digits, and her campaign would reek of death if she got walloped in both IA and NH before Nevadans vote.

If she finished third there too, is she done? She could slog on and take her chances in South Carolina but the left would be howling at her to get out immediately and endorse Sanders. Biden’s probably unbeatable in SC but the combined Sanders/Warren vote in one December poll exceeded his share. Imagine if Bernie wins two out of the three earliest states and is hoping to finish off Biden in with a huge upset in South Carolina. The left would never forgive her if she stuck around and pulled enough votes to damage Sanders’s chances there without improving her own.

Especially given the near-certainty that she’d quit after SC barring an unlikely strong finish.

There’s another Klomentum-related subplot to watch on Monday night. Namely, according to Monmouth, Klobuchar’s gain is Biden’s loss:

If viability comes down to just the top four candidates, though, the race is still tight but Biden appears to benefit slightly more. When likely caucusgoers are asked to choose from among this limited field, the race stands at 29% Biden, 25% Sanders, 20% Buttigieg, and 19% Warren. In this scenario, about 4 in 10 Klobuchar supporters would realign with Biden, while about 1 in 4 would go to Buttigieg, 1 in 5 to Warren, and just a handful to Sanders.

Remember that there are two ballots on caucus night, the initial vote to see which candidates have managed at least 15 percent support and then a second vote that will give voters who backed a <15 percent candidate the chance to cast a ballot for someone who cleared that threshold. Biden could have a big night if Klobuchar can’t clear the bar, especially if Bernie ends up as his main obstacle to a win. Lots of Klobuchar voters are would-be Biden voters. If instead she gets enough of a surge to hit 15 percent, he loses all of those second-ballot voters. And who knows? With Buttigieg now perilously close to failing to clear the bar himself, maybe Klobuchar would pick up a bunch of Mayor Pete’s support on the second ballot and stand a real chance of an upset.

Gonna leave you with two choice Biden soundbites from the campaign trail. Imagine nine months of this.

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