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New poll shows Bernie Sanders beating Hillary Clinton in Iowa for the first time

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Bernie Sanders campaigning in Iowa in August.
Bernie Sanders campaigning in Iowa in August.
Al Drago/CQ Roll Call
  1. A new Quinnipiac poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers shows Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders narrowly edging Hillary Clinton, 41 percent to 40 percent. It is the first ever Iowa poll to show Sanders ahead.
  2. The poll also offers Joe Biden as an option, and he polls 12 percent. If he is not included, Clinton defeats Sanders, 47 to 44 percent.
  3. Another recent poll of Iowa Democrats, from NBC/Marist, showed Clinton leading Sanders by 11 percentage points, and in late August, the highly respected Des Moines Register poll showed her up by 7. In each, it's clear that Sanders has been trending upward.
  4. Separately, Sanders has also led Clinton in the three most recent polls of New Hampshire Democrats, which means he's in a very good position in the two earliest states to vote.

Iowa and New Hampshire have long seemed promising for Sanders

When I visited Iowa with Bernie Sanders last September — months before he announced his presidential campaign — it was already clear that he had a core of committed supporters who were extremely eager for him to run. That month, a poll showed him at a mere 5 percent — nearly 50 points behind Clinton. Much has changed since then — he's become better known, and his anti-billionaire, pro-worker message is gaining support among liberals.

As I wrote back then, Iowa and New Hampshire always seemed like they could be two promising states for Sanders. The latest poll results just confirm this. Rural and white, they resemble his home state of Vermont demographically — and he's been winning over voters like those for years. "A misconception about Vermont is that it's a bunch of Volvo-driving liberals," Huck Gutman, Sanders's former chief of staff, told me. "A lot more people there drive patched-up old cars than Volvos, and they're the heart of Bernie's constituency. Bernie appeals to working families, seniors, veterans — to people who say, 'I'm being pushed and shoved.'"

Sanders's campaigning and the media coverage he's earned have clearly helped him a great deal in both states. And the prospect of a Sanders victory in either Iowa or New Hampshire — let alone both — would certainly be an embarrassment to the Clinton campaign.

But most of the delegates who will determine the Democratic nomination are from states where the electorate looks quite different. Sanders's next challenge will be to broaden his support among African-American voters and Hispanics — communities that don't know him particularly well and that he's never really had to appeal to in his past elections. (For instance, he's currently trailing far behind Clinton and Biden in both support and favorability among African-American voters in South Carolina.)

Sanders also has to prove he's not just another Howard Dean. In 2003, the then-governor of Vermont excited liberals with his antiwar views and surged to the front of polls. But he lost steam in the end, and Democratic voters — in Iowa, New Hampshire, and nationally — ended up opting for the seemingly more reliable and electable John Kerry.