Clinton increases Iowa lead over Sanders

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Hillary Clinton has expanded her lead in Iowa over Bernie Sanders in Iowa to nine points among likely Democratic caucus-goers thanks to support from women, seniors, the wealthy and concerns over terrorism. Yet if the Vermont Senator can turn out first-time caucus goers and younger Iowans, he could pose a threat to the former secretary of state.

Six weeks before the first nominating contest of the 2016 election, Clinton is the top choice for 48 percent of Democratic likely caucus goers, compared with Sanders at 39 percent, according to a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. In an October survey, Clinton led Sanders 42 percent to 37 percent, though that match-up also included Joe Biden.

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While Clinton is "solidifying her position," she hasn't yet hit the 50 percent mark, which might give her a greater degree of comfort, said J. Ann Selzer, founder of Selzer & Co., the West Des Moines-based firm that conducted the poll.

In a distant third place is former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, at 4 percent. The findings come at a time when terrorist attacks in Paris and in California, and a call from Republican candidate Donald Trump to stop allowing Muslims into the U.S. have dominated news coverage.

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"If anybody could handle Mr. Trump one on one I think it could be her," said Mike Dooley of Cedar Rapids, 68, a retired law enforcement official.

Clinton and Sanders both have vulnerabilities based on their past stances on issues. Seventy-one percent of those surveyed said they disagree with Clinton's support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; 61 percent disagree with Sanders' opposition of holding gunmakers legally responsible for mass shootings. A majority of Clinton's supporters, 54 percent, agree with her vote to bail out Wall Street banks in 2008 financial crisis while two-thirds of Sanders' supporters disagree with that vote.

"Bernie Sanders has proven to be a worthy adversary," Selzer said. "He's attracting people who, as a coalition, together, can be a force to be reckoned with, if he can turn them out. They're notoriously difficult."

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Perceptions about Clinton and Sanders boil down to a contrast of power versus compassion. Iowa voters who say they will definitely or probably attend the Democratic caucus give Clinton the edge in nine of 13 traits, including having the best temperament and life experience to be president and being best able to combat Islamic terrorism and manage the economy. More say Sanders is trustworthy and would do more to help the middle class and rein in Wall Street.

Progressives have long been excited about the hypothetical prospect of a Sanders ticket with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and 7 percent of Clinton supporters said they might switch their support to Sanders if he were to commit ahead of the caucuses to making Warren, a leading Wall Street critic, his running mate.

In such a hypothetical, even after Clinton and O'Malley supporters who want Warren on a ticket are reallocated to Sanders, Clinton still would hold a six-point lead, at 45 percent.

"I do really like her work and what she's done," said Matthew Butler of Iowa City, 41, a university researcher and Clinton supporter, explaining why he might change his mind if Warren shared the ticket with Sanders. Butler said Warren could help Sanders to "frame his message in a little more pragmatic way. It seems like she would lend her credibility."

Even so, Butler said there are many reasons to stick with Clinton, including that in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, and the ensuing debate about U.S. refugee policy and Muslim immigrants, Clinton's foreign policy experience now seems especially important.

"Hillary was our top diplomat," Butler said. "She knows how to speak that language, to not be inflammatory. It seems like a real hot button issue."

Clinton also is locking in her supporters at a higher rate than Sanders; 64 percent of Clinton supporters say they've made up their mind and can't be persuaded to support a different candidate as their top choice, while 55 percent of Sanders' supporters say their minds are made up.

"She just can't drop her guard; he's there," Selzer said of Clinton and Sanders. "She's got to keep her game on all the way through caucus night."

Clinton is leading Sanders with women (54 percent to 35 percent), those 65 and older (64 percent to 24 percent) and those earning $100,000 or more (55 percent to 30 percent.) Sanders continues to lead Clinton with first-time caucusgoers (49 percent to 40 percent), Iowans younger than 45 (58 percent to 31 percent), liberals (48 percent to 44 percent) and independents who plan to caucus with Democrats (51 percent to 26 percent) as well as those who do not affiliate with any religion (55 percent to 36 percent).

At roughly the same point in the 2008 nominating contest, it was a much closer race: then-candidate Barack Obama barely led Clinton, 28 percent to 25 percent, with John Edwards at 23 percent.

The Iowa Poll, taken Dec. 7-10, included 404 likely Democratic caucus participants. On the full sample, it has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, although higher for subgroups.

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