By David Weigel David Weigel National
First, I'd like to thank the Hollywood foreign press, and this is The Trailer.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at a rally at West Delaware High School in Manchester, Iowa, on Saturday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Here, during Sen. Elizabeth Warren's first visit to Iowa in the new year, no voters asked about Iran at all. It was up to Warren, in a back-and-forth with reporters, to clarify her position: She would not have ordered the killing, which she called an "assassination," and would never have quit the Iran nuclear deal in the first place.
"We don't need more war in the Middle East," the senator from Massachusetts said. "We need to stop endless war in the Middle East. We have been at war in this region for 20 years now, and it has meant thousands of American lives lost and huge costs imposed on our country, both domestically and around the world."
Yet at Warren's next stop, in Dubuque, no voter asked about Iran. One of the most potentially significant developments of the Trump presidency, the sort of event his opponents had warned about for years, has yet to dominate the conversation in the first voting state. In the first 48 hours after the killing, many voters said they were nervous about the risk of a wider war but not following every detail of the story. Rather than sparking a debate among Democrats, President Trump was giving them another reason that just one action — replacing him with one of the Democratic candidates — would let them stop worrying all the time.
"With this constant cycle of retributions, and retaliations, and revenge, it's never going to end," said Dennis Geesaman, 71, as he waited for Warren to speak in Manchester. "All kind of [terrorists] have targets on their back, but in the past, when something like this was done, it was acknowledged quietly. Trump is making a big show of it."
The story from Iran and Iraq was moving fast, all weekend — faster than candidates could respond to, and far too fast for voters to quickly process. Further escalation could reshape the Democratic race, orienting it around the role of American power for the first time. If that were to happen, polling has consistently found that the party's voters trust former vice president Joe Biden on foreign policy writ large. Sanders and Warren have overlapping anti-interventionist stances that have rarely been debated in this primary. Until Friday, national security issues were so absent from the race that pollsters with CBS/YouGov, the first to conduct a survey of the caucuses since November, did not even ask about them.
Sanders, more than Warren, has tried to pick a fight with Biden. In two of the Democrats' six televised debates, he pointedly referred to his vote against the Iraq War and contrasted it with Biden's vote to support it. "Joe, you're also the guy who helped lead us into the disastrous war in Iraq," Sanders said at the last Democratic contest, in Los Angeles. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg also has criticized Biden's Iraq vote and said he would seek congressional approval before any military intervention, though it's unclear how a focus on war would affect the campaign of a veteran with only municipal government experience.
But Biden's support for the Iraq invasion has not alienated Democratic voters like Hillary Clinton's identical vote did in 2008 and 2016. In conversations this weekend, even at a rally for Sanders, voters said they were aware of what Biden had done but did not see him as a hawk.
"I don't think Biden's said much about when he'd use our troops," said Bill Iverson, 64, at Sanders's rally in Decorah. "So many senators were squeezed in that direction politically, to vote [to invade] Iraq. One of the ones who didn't is in this room, and that's good. But it was 18 years ago."
Biden, the only one of 14 Democrats who voted for the Iraq invasion, has occasionally dissembled about why. (He and Sanders are the only current candidates who were around for the vote.) On Saturday, after telling Iowans that he would put his foreign policy record against "anyone in public life," Biden claimed that he opposed the military invasion "from the very moment" it began, a statement at odds with his record. With former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg recanting his own support for the war, no Democratic candidate for president now supports the 2002 decision that destabilized the Middle East.
Yet despite widespread Democratic opposition to the Iraq War, the party has twice handed its presidential nomination to candidates who supported it. One of them, former secretary of state John F. Kerry, is set to campaign for Biden in Iowa next week. Many Democrats shared Biden's and Kerry's journey on the war, if not their rationales, and that made them uninterested in a purity test from 18 years ago.
"From the information we had at the time, I think I was for it," said Art Lupkes, 72, as he waited for Biden to arrive at a campaign office in Waterloo. "But it turned out that it was blown out of proportion, that there were no weapons of mass destruction. I feel like we really got swindled."
This weekend, the mood was not recrimination, but caution, with voters still processing the news and the risks of another war. While Saturday brought at least 70 impromptu antiwar rallies across the country, Iowa saw just one of them, a 100-person march in liberal Iowa City. At some of those rallies, activists criticized Democrats for calling Soleimani a murderer as they condemned the attacks, accusing them of feeding into the mind-set that led to war in the first place.
For many Democratic voters, it was more complicated. While Warren and Sanders criticized the very act of killing an Iranian official, voters tended to say that the problem was with the president. They had trusted President Barack Obama's judgment when he carried out 540 drone strikes without new congressional authorization.
"This smacks of more of a political assassination than a casualty in war," said Rory Baratta, 67, who had backed Sanders in 2016 but planned to support Biden in 2020 because of his perceived electability. "That's qualitatively different, no matter how bad the guy is. Now, if you asked me, had drones existed in 1939, should we have taken out Adolf Hitler? I'd say yes. But this is probably something which previous presidents have considered and decided against for good reasons."
Obama won the Democratic nomination despite making some calls that hawks considered naive, from his initial opposition to the Iraq War to a promise he made good on: diplomacy with Iran and no threat of "regime change." The debate about the Obama-Biden administration's use of drone warfare has led to Warren, Sanders and others supporting the end of the 2001 authorization of force that allowed that tactic in the first place.
But that debate has not gripped Democratic voters, who remember the Obama years as a time when they felt safe. Jan Bingham, 64, who has lived in Cedar Rapids for the past two years, said that her son was active duty in the military and that her first thought when hearing about possible escalation was about a president who might send him to war.
“He knows I keep up with the news and he texted me this morning and asked, ‘Are we going to be in war with Iran?’ " said Bingham. “I believe [Soleimani] is a horrible person, but then I read that Bush and Obama both had an opportunity to do the same thing and didn’t. I don’t believe anything [Trump] says. You’ve given me no reason to believe your credibility.”
Bingham's worries had led her to Obama's partner in office, Biden, and away from a candidate who might dramatically change American foreign policy. "He’s got the experience," she said. "He’s got the relationships with leaders in the world. It’s got to be somebody that’s not so extreme.”
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed reporting.
READING LIST"Killing of Iranian commander exposes Democratic divide over America’s role in the world," by Michael Scherer
How war fears are impacting the Democrats' race.
"Can the Bernie Sanders campaign alter the course of the Democratic Party?" by Ryan Grim
An incredibly deep dive into a new organizing strategy.
"Organizing for Warren in one of Iowa’s most rural counties," by Holly Bailey
What in-person voter mobilization looks like.
"The rise of a hollow political catchphrase," by John Patrick Leary
How "kitchen table issues" took over.
"Two endorsements highlight the quandary for Democrats as they look for a nominee," by Dan Balz
The two youngest members of Congress pick sides.
"The Senate is in play," by Jennifer E. Duffy
How the 2020 map changed last year.
"Crowded Democratic presidential field sprints toward ‘jump ball’ in crucial Iowa caucuses," by Michael Scherer
The big picture in the first state.
IMPEACHMENT WATCHThe latest on the impeachment of President Trump:
- Top Republican suggests changing Senate rules to begin Trump impeachment trial within days
- Least deliberative Senate faces weighty task of holding Trump’s impeachment trial
- Escalating U.S.-Iran tensions scramble the politics of Trump’s impeachment
Joe Biden, "Soul." The remarkably consistent Biden ad campaign continues with a spot that echoes the candidate's original announcement video, from nine months ago. "Everything that has made America America is at stake," Biden says. "We are in a battle for the soul of this nation." It closely resembles Biden's original launch video and seems to have been taken from the same session, with the former vice president wearing the same striped shirt in front of the same background.Cory Booker, "We Will Win." Before this week, the senator from New Jersey had appeared on Iowans' TV screens only thanks to a super PAC. His first real campaign ad reintroduces him through the story of Newark, the city he ran from 2007 to 2013, arguing (as the previous PAC ad did) that he pulled a city out of recession into dramatic growth. It actually gets more into municipal experience than Pete Buttigieg's ad campaigns have, so far.
Elizabeth Warren, “Top Priority.” The last of Iowa’s four poll leaders to go on the air, Warren started running this spot over Christmas. It focuses entirely on her “anti-corruption” agenda, which (easy to forget) is slated to become her first legislative push if she becomes president. “I’m not selling ambassadorships to donors,” she says. “I’m not cozying up to super PACs.”
Amy Klobuchar, “What It Takes.” A 60-second expansion of what Klobuchar has been saying on TV, this spot is even more direct about her make-it-all-stop appeal: “If you’re tired of the noise and the nonsense, you’ve got a home with me.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks in Boone, Iowa, on Sunday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Bernie Sanders: 23% ( 1)
Joe Biden: 22% ( 1)
Pete Buttigieg: 21% ( 2)
Elizabeth Warren: 16% (-2)
Amy Klobuchar: 7% ( 2)
Tom Steyer: 2% (-)
Cory Booker: 2% ( 1)
Andrew Yang: 2% ( 1)
Tulsi Gabbard: 1% ( 1)
There had been no DNC-approved polling in any early state since Nov. 18, a drought that ended with CBS's first survey of Iowa for 2020. (A Des Moines Register/CNN/MediaCom poll appears to be in the field right now, release date unknown, but almost certainly before the Jan. 10 deadline for debate inclusion.) What had been happening in the meantime? Not too much, as everything visible in Iowa (crowd sizes, scrambled endorsements) was suggesting.
The only real movement has come in candidates' favorable ratings and in how many Democrats are considering them. Two months ago, Warren trailed in Iowa, but 51 percent of Democrats were considering her and 24 percent pegged her as a second choice. Today, 46 percent of Democrats are considering her and 18 percent call her their second choice. That's really the most movement in the field; the percentage of Democrats considering Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg, respectively, moved from 47 to 48 percent, 48 to 50 percent, and 48 to 51 percent.
New Hampshire Democratic primary (CBS News/YouGov, 856 registered Democrats)
Bernie Sanders: 27% ( 11)
Joe Biden: 25% ( 9)
Elizabeth Warren: 18% (-7)
Pete Buttigieg: 13% (-)
Amy Klobuchar: 7% (-)
Tom Steyer: 3% (-2)
Cory Booker: 3% ( 1)
Andrew Yang: 2% (-)
Tulsi Gabbard: 1% (-)
Deval Patrick: 1% ( 1)
Now, that's movement. The last CBS polls of early states were conducted before Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California quit the race, but that alone doesn't account for the movement away from “undecided” and from Warren, who had led this poll in November. As in Iowa, she remains a popular second choice; she ties Sanders, 53 to 53, when voters are asked who they're considering. But two months ago, she led Sanders on that measure by 14 points. Here, as in Iowa, Sanders benefits from having the most excited base and from recovering “liberal” voters from Warren; she had broken away with them in November. One in four Democrats consider Sanders a “long shot” to win in November, while one in three say that about Warren.
IN THE STATESWeek by week, states are finishing up their ballot access chases, and not every Democrat is making it to the finish. In Ohio, Andrew Yang missed the ballot due to a technicality: His campaign failed to include a form "that signifies which candidate voters are providing their signatures for," according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Yang's campaign will run a write-in effort in Ohio, but the story in Illinois suggests that he may have missed a real opportunity. In that state, where Democrats are allowed to name the delegates they'd send to the convention if they win, just two candidates filled all 101 delegate slots: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Joe Biden filled 98 of them, but Andrew Yang was next up, with 65 delegates, and Amy Klobuchar followed, with 63. Buttigieg filled slightly more than half of the slate, with 52 delegates. That has no bearing on the math in the coming primary; seven Democrats filed no delegates whatsoever, including Mike Bloomberg, the first candidate to advertise in the state.
Illinois and Ohio hold primaries March 17, though both have early voting underway before that.
DEBATE SEASONIf all goes according to plan, Democrats will gather in Des Moines in nine days for their first debate in any early-voting state. That plan was not built for an impeachment trial. There’s already chatter, but no real strategy, about moving the debate from Jan. 14 to assure that the three senators likely to qualify can still participate.
There are no good options, but a few less-bad options. The quadrennial Brown & Black Forum is scheduled to unfold on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 20, and at least a few leading Democratic candidates are expected to attend. That would put them in Des Moines by midmorning on a Monday, when even an impeachment trial would probably be paused; the forum would be over hours before the debate, giving them a modicum of time to prepare.
All of this depends on the impeachment schedule, which no one knows yet, and the DNC, which has refused to shuffle things around until and unless there's a reason to. There is no current labor dispute at Drake University, the host of the seventh debate, which makes a change from what Democrats confronted ahead of last month's debate in Los Angeles.
Joe Biden leaves a campaign field office in Waterloo, Iowa, on Saturday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Bernie Sanders. He finished the weekend in Iowa while picking up an endorsement from New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Sanders had previously endorsed Williams's bid for lieutenant governor, while Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Williams in the heated public advocate race.
Elizabeth Warren. On Sunday, she made her first Sunday show appearances since the start of her campaign, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" that she supports the USCMA update to NAFTA (opposed by Sanders) because of how Democrats have improved it and telling CNN's "State of the Union" that voters were "reasonably" asking whether the Soleimani strike was timed to help the president politically. While she's planning more events in New Hampshire this week, she has been advised that the impeachment trial could cancel them.
Cory Booker. He's slated to return to Iowa on Tuesday for more campaign stops, though he, too, may be at the mercy of an impeachment schedule.
Tulsi Gabbard. She's continuing to campaign through New Hampshire next week, with events through even when the House returns Tuesday. (Gabbard is retiring from the House this year.)
Andrew Yang. He'll be in New Hampshire from Wednesday through Sunday for canvass launches and town halls, one of the longest stretches any candidate has had in the state, though falling short of Gabbard's current tour.
Michael F. Bennet. His campaign made hay out of a Fox News interview that ran into an awkward "hard break," cutting off a point he was making about President Trump's "weak" foreign policy.
Deval Patrick. He's spending Monday and Tuesday in South Carolina; that state and New Hampshire have gotten the most attention from his late-starting campaign.
John Delaney. He's heavily focused on Iowa for the rest of this month, making stops in some small towns that no other Democrat has visited as part of a strategy to maximize rural votes despite falling out of the primary discussion.
DEMS IN DISARRAYIn just a few weeks, early voting will begin in two closely watched battles between moderate Democratic congressmen and left-wing female challengers. And in the last few days, both of those incumbents left their left flanks exposed.
In Texas, where Rep. Henry Cuellar is fending off left-wing challenger Jessica Cisneros, the congressman praised the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Suleimani as a "necessary" step in combating Iran. That was consistent with his long-held positions, and it drew a fast rebuke from Cisneros.
“Unlike his Democratic colleagues, my opponent Henry Cuellar thinks we should be able to defy the AUMF and commit an act of war without Congressional approval,” Cisneros said in a statement to The Washington Post. “It’s not that surprising if you look closely. Rep. Cuellar is bought and paid for by the military industrial complex. He has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the defense industry, including contractors like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and BAE Systems.”
In Illinois, where Rep. Daniel Lipinski is facing a rematch with activist Marie Newman, the congressman was one of two Democrats to co-sign an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to allow state abortion bans. That led to a direct attack from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who lopsidedly won the part of the city in Lipinski's district — a part that the congressman won in 2018.
"I support a big tent but there's no room under the flaps for anyone who is actively seeking to deny women control over our bodies," Lightfoot tweeted. "Time to leave, [congressman]."
Texas votes March 3, while Illinois holds its primaries two weeks later.
COUNTDOWN... six days until the cutoff for the seventh Democratic debate
... 10 days until the seventh Democratic debate
... 15 days until the Iowa Brown & Black Forum
... 23 days until the special legislative election in Texas
... 29 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 37 days until the New Hampshire primary
... 48 days until the Nevada caucuses
... 56 days until the South Carolina primary