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Poll finds Iowa Democrats like their choices, favor Biden

Pollsters say they expect caucusgoers still will change their minds

Joe Biden answers questions Jan. 2 at a campaign stop at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa. Biden made a stop la
Joe Biden answers questions Jan. 2 at a campaign stop at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa. Biden made a stop later that day in Manchester as well. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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A poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers finds that 29 percent think Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is best-suited to address the needs of rural Iowa, but the same percentage say they will support former Vice President Joe Biden when they caucus Feb. 3.

A Focus on Rural Iowa poll conducted in the days after last week’s televised Democratic presidential candidate debate put Biden back on top of the survey conducted quarterly since September 2018.

But despite calling Klobuchar “best-suited” for rural Iowa, only 11 percent of the sample of 500 likely caucusgoers — 92 percent of them Democrats — plan to caucus for her, according to the poll conducted by David Binder Research of San Francisco.

Biden’s lead has shrunk from that first Focus on Rural Iowa poll in September 2018, when he had the support of 37 percent of the sample.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was at 16 percent and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 12 percent in that poll.

The poll’s sample is split almost evenly between urban/suburban Iowans and rural/small town residents.

Now Warren is second at 18 percent, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16 percent and Sanders at 14 percent.

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Focus on Rural Iowa co-founder Jeff Link of Link Strategies, which works with Democratic candidates, said that although the poll is a snapshot of where likely caucusgoers are two weeks before the caucuses, people could change their minds.

“At this point in 2016, Donald Trump led Ted Cruz by 4 points and lost by 3.3” points in the Republican caucuses, Link said Monday. “Hillary Clinton led Sanders by 5, but won by .2 percentage points. So while we’re only two weeks out, we think that this thing could definitely shift around.”

What is less likely to change is Iowans’ favorable opinion of the Democratic field, Link and Binder said.

“Overall, the big take-away for me is that Iowans like this field,” Link said. “That’s probably why it’s a tough choice for people.”

Binder’s research finds that Biden has a favorability rating of 81 percent — just 1 point less than Klobuchar’s 82 percent favorability rating. Hers is up from 70 percent in September, Binder said, indicating that the exposure she has gained in debates has helped her. The favorability ratings for the others are: Buttigieg, 79 percent; Warren 77 percent; and Sanders, 76 percent.

“We know there is some attention to the competition between them, but when Iowa caucusgoers look at these top five, they like them all,” Binder said. “I think that also is an indication there still may be some fluidity moving into the caucuses because the caucusgoers like multiple candidates.”

By a 52 percent to 28 percent margin, the likely caucusgoers prefer a candidate who makes it a priority to engage rural Iowans instead of a candidate who makes it a priority to increase turnout in Iowa’s larger cities. In addition, 89 percent think the nominees should compete for rural votes while 9 percent see that as a lost cause.

Asked specifically about the Trump administration’s decision to grant biofuels waivers to some oil refiners, which limited ethanol production, 65 percent said it would hurt Trump, including 35 percent who said it would hurt him “a lot.” Twenty-seven percent said the decision would not matter.

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Focus on Rural Iowa’s effort to bring presidential candidates to rural Iowa and learn about rural issues has paid off, said the group’s co-founder, former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge.

“We believe we have been able to move the needle,” she said. Fourteen candidates have visited ethanol plants, and 15 have released comprehensive rural plans. “People are talking about rural America. They have not forgotten us, and we hope that dialogue will continue.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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