Hillary Clinton leads in Iowa poll: Why 2016 won't be 2008 for Hillary

A survey released Thursday shows that the former secretary of State overwhelmingly leads likely Iowa voters, signaling a vast improvement over her caucus performance in 2008.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Hillary Rodham Clinton smiles during a keynote address at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, Tuesday, in Santa Clara, Calif.

If the polls are correct, history will not repeat itself. At least not in Iowa, where Hillary Clinton has an overwhelming early lead of likely Iowa Democratic caucus participants, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

A year ahead of Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, some 61 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus voters said they would choose the former secretary of State – that's a far cry from 2008 when Clinton took a disappointing third place in the Iowa caucuses (thanks to then-unknown upstart Barack Obama), a low point from which her campaign never quite recovered.

The political arithmetic this time around couldn't be more different.

“The Democratic race in the Iowa Caucuses a year before the voting can be summarized pretty succinctly: Hillary Clinton is the huge favorite,” Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Peter A. Brown said. “If she chooses not to run, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joseph Biden are likely to begin at the top of a pack with other candidates scrambling to get into the race.”

Whether Clinton runs makes all the difference. If she runs, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts got 19 percent and Vice President Joe. Biden got 7 percent, the poll finds. No other candidate tops 5 percent.

If Clinton decides not to run, Warren is the choice of 36 percent and Biden 32 percent. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont gets 8 percent with 17 percent undecided. But even Warren's narrow lead is nowhere close to Clinton's 61 percent.

So what's changed? Why are the (Democratic) heavens smiling down on Hillary now?

The biggest reason has less to do with Hillary than it does with the other candidates – this is one of the smallest, quietest Democratic presidential fields in recent history. Even Quinnipiac, it appears, was struggling to find candidates to include in its poll. Warren has famously insisted, in both present and future tenses, that she is not running for president. Biden, who's already run for president twice (2008 and 1988) doesn't really stand a chance. And Bernie Sanders, who's been called "A Ross Perot of the left," has even less of a chance.

That leaves Iowa caucus voters with...Hillary.

So what's changed is that Clinton appears to be the inevitable choice for 2016. Clinton is the most dominant non-incumbent ever – and for that matter, perhaps the most dominant non-candidate ever.

That's not to say Clinton herself hasn't changed since 2008. She's now perceived as an accomplished secretary of State, and she (and her campaign) have learned from her 2008 mistakes and have bolstered her image.

That's why Iowa likely Democratic Caucus participants give Clinton a whopping 90 percent favorability rating. In fact, voters like Hillary so much these days, the dynasty thing doesn't even bother them: According to the poll, 5 percent of caucus-goers are less likely to vote for Clinton because her husband was president, while 29 percent are more likely and 65 percent say it will make no difference.

In other words, in politics, 2008 is ancient history.

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