Clinton faces nightmare of losing out to an outsider
The Democratic presidential hopeful faces a real challenge and is losing the support of women, writes Gary Younge
Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30
Of all the groups that comprise Iowa's electorate, young female Democrats should be natural supporters of Hillary Clinton.
But when Iowa becomes the first US state to choose a Democratic nominee tomorrow, the polls suggest that most young women will back Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old socialist.
One national survey suggests that Mr Sanders enjoys a 19-point lead over Mrs Clinton among women aged 18 to 34.
In Iowa, his favourability rating with women is 81pc, well ahead of Clinton's 69pc.
Overall, the rival campaigns are almost neck and neck in state-wide polls, but the Sanders campaign believes these young female voters in Iowa could be crucial.
"I do think it will be a factor - we've seen it at our rallies," said Tad Devine, Mr Sanders's senior campaign adviser. "I'm surprised by the level of support from young women. Bernie has spoken in front of a total of 60,000 people at rallies in Iowa now and a lot of them have been young women.
"They're a large percentage of the people we've identified as supporters and we've seen that across the country, too.
"Young people, male and female, look at politics and often feel it's phoney.
"With Bernie, there's authenticity. They're really interested in his messages, like affordable college education and healthcare."
The first question posed to Hillary Clinton at a town hall meeting in Iowa last week was from a first-time caucus goer called Taylor Gipple.
"It feels like there are a lot of young people like myself who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders," he said. "And I just don't see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I've heard from quite a few people my age that they think you're dishonest, but I'd like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn't there."
Clinton's response blended stern resolve with a touch of slightly theatrical camp.
"Look, I've been around a long time," she told him. "They throw all this stuff at me and I'm still standing. But if you're new to politics, if it's the first time you really paid attention, you go, 'Oh my gosh, look at all of this'. And you have to say to yourself, 'Why are they throwing all of that'?
"Well, I'll tell you why. Because I've been on the frontlines of change and progress since I was your age."
Clinton is a more fluent orator than Sanders, her chief opponent, and has a far less abrasive style. But while Sanders unfurls a vision, on a huge canvas in broad strokes, of the kind of society he would like to see - free healthcare, no state tuition, $15 minimum wage - Clinton paints by numbers.
Better rates of interest for student loans; an infrastructure bank; building on Obamacare. All of it possible; none of it exciting.
"When Democrats are in power, the economy improves," she says, citing her husband's tenure. "We lifted people out of poverty," and "we created jobs".
Not for the first time, Clinton finds herself in an existential battle with a rank outsider - Sanders cast in the role of Barack Obama - which threatens to derail her anticipated processional journey to the White House. Her experience and ever-presence on the public stage seem to be equal parts hindrance and help.
At Drake's Diner in the Iowa state capital Des Moines, Lauren Shun, the 25-year-old manager, said many female customers were supporting Mr Sanders.
"Young women just like him, I can't really explain why," she said. "He's personable and he's forward-thinking on social issues. I know super-feminists who are going to go vote for him."
The diner has been frequented by various presidential candidates and their supporters, and its customers are among the most engaged and best-informed voters.
Miss Shun said: "People are really fired up. But the biggest fights are on the Democrat side, over Bernie and Hillary, and people are really torn.
"It's another Obama situation, where people were jazzed about Hillary becoming the first woman president, then someone else came along that they liked better."
In 2008, Mr Obama defeated Mrs Clinton in Iowa, partly because of his lead among women. After this setback, she called the election of a female president the "highest and hardest glass ceiling".
At a rally in the town of Newton, her lack of appeal to young women was clear.
"Most of our friends are Bernie supporters," said student Emma Zimmerman, 20. "They don't trust Hillary."
Regardless of gender, the Iowa polls suggest that more than four-fifths of all 18-34-year-olds back Sanders.
The disparity between his advanced age and the youthfulness of many of his supporters was on display as he addressed teenagers at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. He looked a little uncomfortable as a 17-year-old girl asked for his views on sex education.
Mrs Clinton still leads by around 18 points in national polls, but if Mr Sanders can win Iowa, her advantage could diminish.
His key challenge will be ensuring that first-time voters actually go to the polls, which is why he has recruited 100 paid staff and 15,000 volunteers.
"Barack Obama did that in 2008 and it's going to be easier for us than it was for him," Mr Devine said.
"I can't tell you with complete confidence that we'll win, but I think we can win."