With a little over six months until the Iowa caucus, the battle for the Democratic party nomination is already at full tilt. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is widely expected to win the nomination. Her smooth path to that, however, has come up against some unexpected turbulence in the form of last month’s late-night-TV-punchline turned somewhat-serious-contender, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But even as support for the avowed Socialist Sanders from the far left has heated up in recent weeks, Clinton hasn’t shown many sign that she’s feeling the heat.
And that’s a smart move.
Showdown in Iowa
All five democratic Presidential candidates met in Iowa on Friday, July 17 for a “Cattle Call”—an event where each candidate is invited to speak in succession. According to USA Today, all five candidates (who spoke in alphabetical order) revealed that they share a great deal of common ground—especially with regard to “raises for workers, fighting powerful wealthy special interests, gay rights, women’s rights, immigration reform and spending for public infrastructure.”
Of the five, Clinton and Sanders are the only two currently enjoying any consistent, significant support. According to the latest polls, as reported by The Huffington Post, Clinton leads with a commanding 57 percent of the vote going in to the event; Sanders trails behind her with a respectable (if not exactly threatening) 17 percent. As for the lesser-knowns, former U.S. Senator Jim Webb from Virginia, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee are pulling less than a combined 2.5 percent of the polls—and by most accounts at least two of the three men failed to distinguish themselves from Clinton and Sanders on Friday.
Despite a less than polished message, O’Malley was fairly well received in Iowa, but both Chaffee and Webb failed to impress. At the event, Chaffee only spoke for six of his allotted fifteen minutes—hardly enough time to articulate a comprehensive message; Webb, who spoke last, watched as those who had only stayed to hear Sanders’ speech slipped out of the ballroom. “Bernie, you always fire me up” Webb laughed, adding, “I’m here to turn the lights out, folks.”
Clinton and Sanders, on the other hand, were showstoppers.
Clinton’s speech: Fire and Ice
Clinton enjoyed the most support in the room. She simultaneously reinforced her core democratic values while aiming to skewer her GOP opponents. A sly remark comparing trickle-down economics to other bad ideas from the 1980s like “new Coke, shoulder pads and big hair” met with thunderous applause, as did her jibes at the improbable Republican front runner, Donald Trump—of whom Clinton quipped, “finally a candidate whose hair gets more attention than mine.” Audience members had hoped Hillary would follow her Roast Trump with a second course of sirloin à la Bernie-se, but Clinton left the podium without uttering a single word about Sanders.
So why did Clinton simply ignore her biggest Democratic rival? After all, Sanders has been drawing considerable media attention, as well as crowds of thousands at rallies across the country. Echoes of his recent success could be heard in the whooping cheers of his supporters as he called for a “political revolution” and railed against America’s so-called ‘billionaire class’ during his speech. And an insurgent left had caught Clinton by surprise eight years ago, when a little known Senator from Illinois overtook the lead and held it for the rest of the campaign. Is she unwise to dismiss the growing threat?