Paul Krishnamurty says tomorrow's Democrat debate from Iowa is the most important moment yet of the 2020 election and identifies an outsider to steal the show...
"Much can change over the next month. Past experience suggests that primary voters only become heavily engaged during this final stretch."
With primary season less than a month away, the 2020 US Election is underway in earnest, There have of course been numerous Democrat debates already but none carries anything like the importance of Tuesday's six-way debate in Iowa, which will host the opening caucuses on February 3rd.
Six candidates will be on the debate stage in Des Moines - which UK viewers can view live on CNN (Sky Channel 506). In order of their odds for the Democrat Nomination - Bernie Sanders [3.35], Joe Biden [3.5], Elizabeth Warren [8.2], Pete Buttigieg [14.0], Amy Klobuchar [70.0] and Tom Steyer [110.0].
This weekend's latest poll from the Des Moines Register - regarded as the gold standard for Iowa - confirmed the importance of making an impact to this particular audience. Sanders leads on 20% but critically, more than half of Iowans are either undecided or open to switching. The eventual winner will probably need to reach 30%.
IOWA? PollingReport.com (@pollreport) January 10, 2020
Which one of the following Democrats would be your first choice for president?
(Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom/Selzer, likely Dem. caucus-goers, 1/2-8/20)
The effect on Betfair markets has been a surge for Sanders into [7.0] second favourite for Next President and [2.22] to specifically win the Iowa Caucus. The logic is obvious. He is the one with momentum and campaign energy, eclipsing Warren as the candidate of the Left. His ground game was very efficient at winning caucuses, as opposed to primaries, in 2016.
Sanders in a much stronger position than 2016
Although Sanders failed by a tiny margin to pull off an upset against Clinton in Iowa, the result represented a seismic advance. People had only started taking him seriously a couple of months previously against the presumptive nominee. The 'movement' only really took off afterwards and one week later, he won the New Hampshire Primary by a 23% margin.
Whilst only responsible for apportioning a tiny percentage of pledged delegates - 65 out of 3979 - towards the nomination, the historical significance of these first two races should not be underestimated. Nobody has won either party's nomination without one of IA and NH since Bill Clinton in 1992.
Primary contest often change fast and late
Nevertheless, we are still at an early stage of the caucus process and much can change over the next month. Past experience suggests that primary voters only become heavily engaged during this final stretch.
2012 Republican winner in IA, Rick Santorum, was an unconsidered outsider at this stage. 2008 winner Mike Huckabee wasn't obvious. On the Democrat side that year, Barack Obama started out a clear underdog behind Clinton.
Klobuchar to make impact in critical debate
The outsider to watch on Tuesday is Amy Klobuchar. She needs to make an imminent impact to retain any chance. Representing neighbouring Minnesota and with deep connections in IA, I expect she will know how to push the right buttons with this audience. Her brand is moderate, pragmatism, getting things done.
Perfect, therefore, for the 'anti-Bernie' role in this debate. There is plenty of opposition to the Independent Socialist Senator from Vermont within the Democrat Party but it remains split several ways.
I envisage Klobuchar taking on Sanders and Warren directly over uncosted or undeliverable promises and being on top of the details. She has impressed in earlier debates, without being able to get the necessary cut-through on social media.
Though languishing in the polls, qualifying for this 'top-six' is a small breakthrough (as it is for the billionaire Steyer). Longer airtime is guaranteed - Klobuchar has impressed at times in earlier debates.
Impeachment offers a big platform for Senators
A second, bigger stage awaits for Klobuchar, along with Sanders and Warren. The Senate trial for Donald Trump's impeachment will likely begin within the next ten days, consuming their ability to campaign in states but offering a huge national platform if any of them can find that killer speech.
One would expect the President's alleged misdeeds and Iran to dominate Tuesday's debate. Indeed Trump on trial may well end up sucking up all the oxygen in this race and rendering earnest policy disagreements a distant memory.
Bet on the 2020 US Election here