Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t target Iowa as the site for its first official voter outreach events for nothing. Speaking to reporters with The New York Times, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook noted that Team Hillary expects that, not only will there be a competitive Democratic primary in the race for the presidential nomination, but it will be a slog for the party’s prohibitive favorite.
Within two hours of the [FEC] paperwork becoming public, Mrs. Clinton’s top campaign aides held a call with donors in which the phrases “everyday Americans” and “it’s about the voters” were used repeatedly. (A New York Times reporter was allowed to listen to the call.)
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, made two assurances in the call – he’s planning to husband resources, unlike her 2008 campaign, and he is assuming there will be a primary challenge.
“There are a lot of Republican candidates out there, and we know that the Democratic primary is going to be competitive, despite what some people might tell you,” Mr. Mook said, adding that he expected “a competitive fight in Iowa” in the Democratic caucuses.
It’s likely that the Clinton campaign’s primal fear of the Hawkeye State’s Democratic caucuses is founded in the memories of her devastating loss in 2008. While Clinton always polled about even with North Carolina Sen. John Edwards for the better part of two years, few expected her to lose to both Edwards and Barack Obama. Moreover, the Clinton camp seems aware of the national polling that indicates a large majority of Democratic voters want to see Clinton face a substantial primary challenge from her left.
But a quick glance at the polling of Iowa this cycle reveals that Clinton has little to fear from her fellow Democrats. The latest Quinnipiac University survey of Iowa’s Democratic electorate found Clinton retaining a resounding 42-point lead over her nearest competitor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). And she isn’t even running. In a distant third place is the sitting Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, with just 7 percent support. Biden, too, does not seem inclined to run to succeed his boss in the Oval Office.
What’s more, Clinton’s lead over her competitors has been largely stable over the course of the last year of polling while Biden’s support has gradually ebbed. By contrast, Warren’s support among Iowa Democrats has grown even amid her repeated Shermanesque denials that she has any interest in a presidential bid in 2016.
From her perspective, there are a variety of reasons why Clinton might actually invite a primary challenge. A competitive race allows her campaign to create a broad voter list, develop a robust volunteer network around the country, and establish the framework support network that can be activated during a general election. Without a primary fight, those progressives who are suspicious of Clinton might never have their concerns resolved. Grudging mistrust will characterize their tepid support for Clinton right up until election day, when some of those aggrieved liberals might not show up at the polls at all.
For better or worse, it doesn’t look like a competitive Democratic primary is in the cards this cycle.