CNN has its first numbers for prospective Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa, the first caucus state in 2020, and the news is not pretty for California Democrats.
Sitting atop the pile in a cluttered field is former Veep Joe Biden with 32 percent, followed by laggard Bernie Sanders with 19 percent and Beto O’Rourke at 11 percent.
No other Democrat gets into double digits. And Sen. Kamala Harris is the only prospective candidate from California who manages above 1 percent. Harris comes in fifth with a whopping five percent. Tom Steyer, Eric Swalwell and Eric Garcetti all manage less than 1 percent according to the poll.
Why are Iowans just not that into Californians? It could be that culturally, even among progressives, Iowa is pretty different to California.
Iowa is obviously a whiter state than the Golden State. It’s over 90 percent white, including about 5.6 percent of the population that is Hispanic or Latino. California is about 73 percent white, but close to 40 percent of that population is Hispanic or Latino. You can’t help but notice that the top four contenders in CNN’s poll are all white.
Today’s Iowans were also mostly born in Iowa, to the tune of over 70 percent. In 2016, only about two-thirds of California voters had been born in the state.
Iowa has historically exhibited less inclination to elect or nominate female candidates than California, though this doesn’t seem to be adversely impacting Harris’ chances relative to other Californians. The Golden State sent Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to the U.S. Senate in 1992. But Iowa only recently got around to electing female candidates statewide, and then on the GOP side. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who originally got the job as a result of the resignation of former Gov. Terry Brandstad, was elected in her own right this year. Sen. Joni Ernst was elected in 2014. Again, you can’t help but notice that the top three candidates in CNN’s poll– the only ones polling in double digits– are all male.
All this said, both states are agriculture-heavy, and contrary to popular perception, Iowa is home to a growing financial services and tech sector. Manufacturing actually outranks agriculture as a sector in Iowa’s economy. A number of insurance companies call the state home. Iowa is also home to a massive cluster of data centers, thanks in part to cheap electricity. It’s not Silicon Valley, but it’s also not just a bunch of ethanol producers and hog farmers.
It may also be that despite progressive anger and animus towards Donald Trump, Iowans’ disposition just isn’t gelling with with Steyer’s efforts to put himself front-and-center as the proponent of impeachment. If you go back to 2008, there was also a fair bit of clamor among the Democratic grassroots nationally for impeaching President Bush. But while all of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards ran in direct opposition to Bush, Obama– who was ultimately successful in Iowa’s caucuses– focused on “change,” not impeachment. That is likely a replicable strategy for Democrats who want to win in the nicer, more sedate Midwestern state in 2020.
Bear in mind that this early out, a lot of these numbers are purely a function of name ID. Biden was the Vice President, so his name is easily recognizable. Sanders ran in 2016 and is a leading voice on the left, so again, his name is easily recognizable. O’Rourke has become a rock star on the left after taking on, and narrowly losing to, Sen. Ted Cruz. So again, people know his name.
Harris and the other Californians just haven’t had that level of exposure, nationally or locally. In a state that runs a caucus, they’re going to need to get in there and meet caucusgoers face to face to see their numbers rise. As they do, they may find they outperform Sanders and O’Rourke, despite the “celebrity” gap. Or they may become celebrities in their own right. Iowans, and the rest of us, will be watching to see.