The 2016 race for President is certainly here, as the Iowa Caucus is in less than a month, on February 1. With the holiday break behind us, where does the race stand right now? Here are ten snapshots.
1. Donald Trump remains the unconventional GOP leader – Donald Trump’s first campaign stop in 2016 was in Mississippi, a state that doesn’t vote until March 8. Standard operating procedure at this point in the race for President would be for a candidate to do multiple events this week in Iowa and New Hampshire – but not Donald Trump. With four weeks to go until Iowa, Trump will only have one event in each of those key states, along with rallies this week in Mississippi, Massachusetts, Vermont and South Carolina. No one else could have that schedule in a race for President, but we’ve seen that the rules don’t apply to Donald Trump. Or do they? We will find out, starting on February 1 in Iowa.
2. Ted Cruz keeps his eye on Iowa – While Trump won’t be in Iowa until Saturday this week, Ted Cruz will be living in the Hawkeye state, making 27 stops over the next five days in Iowa – that’s the kind of retail campaigning that voters are used to seeing in Iowa and New Hampshire, as opposed to singular, large evening rallies. Since Ben Carson started going downhill in late November, Cruz has been either leading or right behind Trump in every Iowa poll. Cruz is considered the favorite right in Iowa. We’ll see if the polls stay that way in coming weeks.
3. Trump again raises religion against Cruz – During a rally in Iowa over the holiday break, Trump again used the dog whistle of religion against Cruz, once more telling an audience that evangelicals don’t often come from Cuba, the home of Cruz’s father. “Not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba,” Trump said. “Just remember that,” he added. A Cruz spokesman told CNN the next day about the Trump attack, “I can’t make any sense of it.” Watch to see if Trump starts to take any more jabs at Cruz as Iowa draws near.
4. Ben Carson is in trouble – The departure of three top aides on New Year’s Eve – along with very public finger pointing in the press – is not the kind of advertising that Carson needs right now, as he tries to figure out how to reverse his slide in the polls. Once the GOP front runner, Carson just keeps slipping back in the GOP field, much like a race horse that can run six furlongs in January, but can’t go a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May. Carson has not been on the campaign trail since December 22.
5. The GOP debate field will be smaller – With George Pataki and Lindsey Graham now out of the Republican race, the next debate will be smaller on the main stage, as six GOP candidates seem likely to be tapped by the Fox Business Network for a January 14 debate in South Carolina. Rand Paul has said he won’t join the under card if he is pushed off the main stage. There is also a GOP debate in Iowa on January 28, just four days before the nation’s first caucus.
6. Rubio gets jabs from conservatives – One of the big social media tussles of the past two weeks among Republicans in conservative circles was over Marco Rubio, and whether he’s a liberal GOP squish, or a real conservative. Most of the attacks on Rubio have been centered on his past work regarding immigration reform; Rubio backers pushed back with posts like this:
7. Hillary Clinton is still the Democratic leader – Nothing has changed in recent weeks to alter the perception that Clinton is at the front of the Democratic race. She could still lose to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, but her backers clearly feel they are in a good spot as 2016 begins. Clinton starts this week in New Hampshire, where recent polls have shown everything from a slight Clinton lead to Sanders ahead by double digits. Clinton raised $37 million for the primary in the fourth quarter of 2015.
Bernie Sanders hasn’t given up – While Hillary Clinton raised $37 million, Bernie Sanders brought in $33 million in the last three months of 2015. Sanders has been ahead in two of the last three polls in New Hampshire, while he trails Clinton in Iowa. Sanders probably needs to win in New Hampshire, as polls show Clinton ahead by sizable margins in both South Carolina and Nevada. It might be difficult for Sanders to survive without winning one of the first four states in February.
9. Martin O’Malley is on life support – Not only has O’Malley been unable to break through in the Democratic race against both Clinton and Sanders, but then last week O’Malley failed to submit enough signatures to get on the primary ballot in Ohio. It’s sort of hard to sell yourself as a candidate for your party’s nomination when you can’t find 1,000 valid voter signatures in the all important Buckeye State.
10. A reminder about the polls – Just look back at the polls at a similar point and you see why things can still change dramatically. Right now in 2004, Howard Dean led the field among Democrats by 15 points. He did not win Iowa or New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton led her primary race by 21 points in 2008. She did not win. Also in 2008, Rudy Giuliani was the leader among Republicans at this point. And in 2012, Newt Gingrich was the leader in the GOP polls. Just a reminder.