The Democratic Party is in the midst of an identity crisis that will start getting sorted out in Iowa when its members gather in precinct caucuses across the Hawkeye State on Monday night.
This is far more than the clash of personalities from the previous nomination contests as the shadow of the Clintons slowly fades from the scene.
This fight is whether the party will essentially become a European-style socialist entity (Sanders/Warren) or remain a patchwork of special interests united on abortion and expanding federal spending to their constituency groups (all the other candidates).
Polling data point towards a first place finish for Vermont socialist US Senator Bernie Sanders, having broken away from Massachusetts US Senator Elizabeth Warren for the far left pot of voters.
And a Sanders win in the heartland would essentially lock up a victory in New Hampshire next Tuesday and give him an advantage in the Nevada caucuses two weeks after that, where service industry workers play a big role in determining the outcome.
On the “soft creeping socialist” side the three leading candidates contesting Iowa are former Vice-President Joe Biden, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Minnesota US Senator Amy Klobuchar.
While Biden enjoys standing as a former number two national official and institutional backing from the state power brokers and Klobuchar has the proximity angle representing the state just north of Iowa, the youthful Mayor Pete has the enthusiasm.
And that can’t be quantified in caucus polling.
In a caucus that requires an investment of time by a voter as opposed to just walking in pushing a button and leaving, Buttigieg is looking at no worse than a third place finish or maybe even second.
Either way the national story on Tuesday morning is likely to be Mayor Pete for nabbing one of the three tickets out of Iowa.
As the Big Media still resents Sanders for mucking things up for Clinton four years ago, don’t expect many bouquets to be lobbed his way.
In fact the other national story will be focused on the party’s internal fight to stop Sanders, which has already begun in earnest with word trickling out that former Secretary of State and 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry mulling a late entry.
Likely Iowa Top 5 caucus order: