Martin O’Malley’s supporters might help Bernie in tight race in Iowa

Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley leads attendees in a song after holding a town hall at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Associated Press photo

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sings during an appearance in Grinnell, Iowa, last week. O’Malley is polling around 4 percent in Iowa, and his supporters switching their allegiance to Bernie Sanders or to Billary Clinton during tomorrow night’s caucuses could make a difference in the tight race there between Bernie and Billary. 

I was thinking about this last week, when I read that under the Iowa caucus rules, if a Democratic presidential candidate does not have the support of at least 15 percent of the attendees of the caucusing site, then his or her supporters are to then pick another, stronger candidate.

Wouldn’t this help Bernie Sanders? Wouldn’t most of Martin O’Malley’s supporters switch their allegiance to Bernie? I thought, but until today I hadn’t seen this discussed in any news article; until today, I’d seen only the Iowa polls discussed.

This is from Yahoo! News today:

Des Moines, Iowa — [Tomorrow] night, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s tiny band of supporters will be the center of attention in Iowa precincts across the state.

O’Malley had only 3 percent support in the final Des Moines Register-Bloomberg Politics poll, but because of the Byzantine rules of the Democratic caucusing process, his supporters could end up deciding the incredibly close race between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In each of the state’s 1,681 caucusing locations, a candidate must get 15 percent of voters to be considered viable during an initial count that’s taken at the beginning of the evening. O’Malley isn’t expected to reach that threshold in the vast majority of precincts, which means his supporters will be up for grabs — they must either choose another candidate, or their vote will not count.

Wooing voters who back candidates that fail to meet the threshold has made a big difference in elections in the state in the past: John Edwards finished a surprise second in 2004 thanks in part to Dennis Kucinich’s supporters defecting to him. And Bill Richardson’s backers joined Barack Obama’s camp in 2008.

The Clinton campaign is arming its precinct captains with special software to help them figure out how to keep O’Malley supporters from defecting to Sanders’ camp, BuzzFeed News reported [yesterday]. Meanwhile, Sanders’ precinct captains are being told to beef up on their O’Malley knowledge so they can entice his fans over to their side and to offer them delegates for the county convention as inducement.

… Mitch Henry, a Democratic activist who was leading a small training for Sanders precinct captains Saturday afternoon in a coffee shop in Des Moines … [said] that he believes most [of] O’Malley supporters’ second choice is Sanders.

“Talking to a lot of O’Malley supporters, there are a lot of ways Bernie lines up on the issues. A lot of them will say the environment [is their top concern], and Bernie is clearly superior to Hillary on the environment,” said Bri Steirer, a precinct captain for the Drake University area.

But the Sanders plan to convince O’Malley fans with delegates and issues may not be able to compete with Clinton’s scheme.

The Clinton campaign has trained its precinct captains to use software that calculates when it benefits Clinton to give O’Malley supporters a few of their votes in order to block them from defecting to Sanders. That means Clinton supporters would help O’Malley become a viable candidate in precincts where she would still carry the day.

A Sanders precinct captain, Darlene Lawler, asked Henry about whether Bernie supporters should be trying to do the same thing — helping O’Malley become viable in cases where it would help Bernie.

“I would not give them three or four people to be viable because you just don’t know what could happen,” Henry said, adding that the “math” can get complicated as the night goes on, and it’s easy to make a mistake.

Clinton’s campaign has an app that will help caucus leaders calculate the risks, however, which means they don’t have to worry about mistakes.

So Team Billary has to resort to dirty tricks? To lie in order to help Billary? (Yes, having Billary supporters pretend to be O’Malley supporters in order to boost Billary and block Bernie is lying.) What a shock!

At any rate, the rules of Iowa caucuses indeed apparently are complicated (and apparently can be subverted too easily by those of low character), and having never participated in a caucus I’m largely ignorant of the process, but, barring dirty tricks by Team Billary, which very apparently at least widely will be attempted, I hope that in the end we can rely on the basic math of the Iowa polling.

Right now, Real Clear Politics’ average of Iowa polling has Billary Clinton at 47.3 percent, Bernie at 44 percent and O’Malley at 4.4 percent. (The Huffington Post’s average of Iowa polling is quite close: 47.4 percent for Billary, 44.1 percent for Bernie and 4 percent for O’Malley.)

Not only is Bernie within most or all polls’ margin of error, being only 3.3 percent behind Billary, but if Bernie can win over most of O’Malley’s supporters, that could help him beat Billary. In fact, it seems to me that it just might come down to O’Malley’s supporters winning Iowa for Bernie by the majority of them switching their allegiance to him.

I’ve seen no poll of O’Malley supporters as to whether Bernie or Billary would be their second choice, but given the fact that O’Malley’s most useful function in the four Democratic Party presidential debates thus far has been to point out how craven Billary Clinton is, I can’t imagine that it would be natural for the majority of his supporters to now support her.

I mean, Billary has been around for decades; if you haven’t supported her by now, are you going to magically support her tomorrow night in Iowa? Not without a lot of arm-twisting by Team Billary, right?

On that note, I expect Team Billary to engage in plenty of arm-twisting and other dirty tactics tomorrow night, but playing dirty often backfires and has an effect that is opposite of the effect desired. (Look at Billary’s 2008 bid for the White House, for example; that’s a textbook example of that phenomenon.)

In any event, Bernie Sanders’ having polled as well as he has been polling in Iowa for a candidate who couldn’t possibly stop the coronation of Queen Billary is quite impressive. Bernie and Billary are neck and neck in Iowa when she has been on the national stage for decades and is in her second run for the White House but he has been obscure for most of his years in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

This demonstrates, I believe, what a weak primary contender Billary is. Again, I know of no one, not one person, who actually is excited by or enthusiastic about Billary.

We’ll see how far this lack of excitement and enthusiasm for her can carry her.

If Bernie wins Iowa tomorrow night, then he no doubt will then win New Hampshire on February 9.

Billary will then play the victim and cry in public again, perhaps even two or three times, and/or she’ll lash out and dash to the right, as she did in 2008, only sealing her fate.

Unfortunately, I pretty much agree with Nate Silver’s assessment of how important winning Iowa is for Bernie. Silver writes that if Bernie loses Iowa (links are Silver’s):

It’s probably over [for him]. Not that I’d expect Sanders to drop out of the race. Nor would I expect the media to stop covering it. Depending on Clinton’s margin of victory, you’d probably see some headlines about her resilience, but others saying the results had “raised doubts” about her campaign.

None of that would necessarily matter. Iowa should be one of the half-dozen or so most favorable states in the country for Sanders; New Hampshire is one of the few that ranks even higher for him.

If Sanders can’t win Iowa, he probably won’t be winning other relatively favorable states like Wisconsin, much less more challenging ones like Ohio and Florida. His ceiling wouldn’t be high enough to win the nomination unless something major changes [such as a federal indictment of Clinton].

On that note, there are many unknowns in terms of how Iowa will turn out, such as how O’Malley’s supporters will break and whether or not there will be any effect from the news that broke on Friday that at least 22 top-secret e-mails were found on Billary’s home-brewed (as in in-her-house) e-mail server.

Will this Friday news be mostly lost in the shuffle? Or will it spook enough Iowa caucus-goers, making them believe or suspect that Billary is too risky to put forth as the party’s presidential candidate? As Silver raises the specter, as I have, what if Billary wins the presidential nomination but then is indicted? What then?

And the Friday news has come too late for its effect, if any, to be reflected in the Iowa polling, it seems to me. Indeed, the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll, widely called the most respected Iowa poll, came out last night, too soon to be able to measure the full effect (if any) of Friday’s news on tomorrow’s caucuses, it very much seems to me.

So we’ll see…

In any event, I count Bernie Sanders’ candidacy a win, whether or not he wins the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

His level of support — 37.2 percent nationwide per Real Clear Politics and 35.8 percent nationwide per Huffington Post — coupled with O’Malley’s admittedly small support (around 2 percent nationally) demonstrates that more than a third and almost 40 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners nationwide aren’t on board with Billary.

If she actually makes it to the White House, Billary wouldn’t have nearly the political support behind her that Barack Obama did when he first sat in the Oval Office in January 2009.

Bernie, on the other hand, win or lose, had the courage and the industriousness with which to take on Billary Clinton, something that no one else of his caliber dared to do. (My best guess is that Elizabeth Warren didn’t run primarily because she didn’t want to step on Queen Billary’s regal cape, didn’t want to be seen as a spoiler within the party. [She might also have calculated, of course, that she couldn’t win the nomination.])

If Bernie Sanders doesn’t make it to the White House — if he fails at the level of the Democratic Party presidential primary race or if he wins that race but doesn’t become president in November — he will, I surmise, be the left’s Barry Goldwater; recall that Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential election badly, but that his right-wing politics ushered in Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes.

Bernie Sanders himself might not get us to the promised land, but at the very least he has set us upon its path.*

*I would be thrilled if Elizabeth Warren were our first female president, whether she were preceded by a President Sanders or not. (If Bernie wins the 2016 nomination, I hope that he and Warren strongly consider her as the vice-presidential candidate.)

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