Senator Elizabeth Warren surged into the lead past Joe Biden in the latest Des Moines Register poll. Warren was the first choice of 22% of Iowa Democrats while Biden was close behind with 20%. Bernie Sanders faded to third place with 11%.
“This is the first major shakeup” in what had been a fairly steady race, said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “It’s the first time we’ve had someone other than Joe Biden at the top of the leader board.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg follows the three leaders as the favorite of 9% of poll respondents. U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California is at 6%. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey are at 3%.
Polling at 2% are U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, businessman Tom Steyer and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Eight others are polling at 1% or less.
Warren’s surge coincides with worrying questions about Biden’s age and acuity. The former vice president has made several embarrassing gaffes in recent weeks and many in the press are openly speculating about his fitness for office.
But the race is far from over.
Just one in five likely Democratic caucus goers say their minds are made up, while 63% say they could still be persuaded to support a different candidate.
“The data in this poll seem to suggest the field is narrowing, but my sense is there’s still opportunity aplenty,” Selzer said. “The leaders aren’t all that strong. The universe is not locked in.”
The poll of 602 likely Democratic caucus goers was conducted Sept. 14-18, and the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The news for Biden is not all bad. Warren may be the first choice for Iowans, but that support is soft.
Among those who say she is their first choice for president, only 12% say their minds are made up, while 88% say they could be persuaded to support another candidate.
More Biden supporters are firm in their choice: 26% say their mind is mind up, with 70% saying they could be persuaded.
If Iowa determined the winner of the party primary race, we’d be anticipating the second term of Ted Cruz, and celebrating the distinguished retirement of President Tom Harkin. Iowa’s importance isn’t so much in determining who wins the nomination as it is a chance for candidates to achieve visibility and notoriety going into the rest of the primary season.
Warren now has that visibility. The spotlight is on her. Biden and the also-rans will now gang up on Warren and try to tear her down.
Don’t be surprised if her fake Indian heritage becomes an issue in the October 15 debate. Her opponents have been reluctant to use the issue, but something must be done to blunt Warren’s momentum. They will throw everything at her and see what sticks.
Warren may be surging in Iowa but has yet to catch on in the South. And Bernie Sanders is outpolling Warren in New Hampshire for second place. Warren’s momentum could be lost even before the first Iowa snowfall unless she has a good debate performance in October.