Opinion writer

“Has Bernie Sanders peaked?” asks Bloomberg Politics’ Sahil Kapur.

Here’s some evidence that he may indeed be peaking: A new CNN poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers finds Hillary Clinton leading Sanders by 55-37, an 18-point lead. The average of polls in Iowa has Clinton up by 49-32, and the trend suggests her lead may be stabilizing.

It’s important to understand that of the two early state contests, Sanders’s long term prospects could depend on the outcome in Iowa — regardless of what happens in New Hampshire. That’s because, if Clinton wins Iowa, she can lose New Hampshire, where Sanders currently leads, and the early-contest results will essentially be a wash. Then it’s on to the other contests, where Clinton’s broader coalition probably gives her a big edge as things stand now.

But if Sanders can win Iowa, then he’ll almost certainly win New Hampshire, and taking both those early contests has a better chance of meaningfully shifting the dynamic among voters in the states that follow. Thus, the polling in Iowa is really the thing to watch. The long-term dynamics of the Democratic primary contest may depend heavily on the Iowa outcome. And Clinton, whose campaign is building a very robust organization in Iowa to avoid any last-minute surprises, like Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa win, appears to be winning there.

Meanwhile, Clinton appears to hold a real edge in the contests that follow. The polling averages show her with massive leads in South Carolina and North Carolina, for instance. Among Democrats nationally, she leads by 55-30, and that advantage appears to be ticking upwards. Bloomberg Politics polling analyst Ken Goldstein explains Clinton’s overall demographic edge:

“Sanders is not so much declining, but has maximized his potential support and is bumping up against his ceiling…The overall Democratic primary electorate is composed of white liberals, union members, more moderate whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics, with the size of each of those groups varying by state. The math for Obama in 2008 was getting white liberals…and African Americans. Bernie has the white liberals but has no place else to grow — especially as unions fall in line behind Hillary Clinton now.”

In fairness, a lot could still change. It’s still early. The history (2008) suggests overconfidence by the Clinton camp would be folly. There are three more debates before the voting begins, and a strong showing by Sanders — or a serious mistake by Clinton — could shake up the race. So could more revelations about Clinton’s e-mails. What’s more, we have little polling with which to gauge what is happening in many of the states that come after the early contests, so Clinton’s demographic edge could prove illusory. And as noted above, a comeback win in Iowa for Sanders really could scramble the dynamic in a very significant way.

But we may look back at the current moment and conclude that Sanders did hit his ceiling around now, and Iowa may prove to be Sanders’s last stand, regardless of what happens in New Hampshire a week later.

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* A STRONG JOBS REPORT: The October jobs numbers are in:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 271,000 in October, and the unemployment rate was essentially unchanged at 5.0 percent….In October, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by nine cents to $25.20…hourly earnings have risen by 2.5 percent over the year.

Overall, stagnating wages is still a major problem, but the overall consensus on economic twitter appears to be that today’s report is very good news. The unemployment rate, having edged slightly down by 0.7 percentage points, has hit a seven year low.

* JEB BUSH AND MARCO RUBIO AT WAR: The Wall Street Journal talks to Jeb Bush about his intensifying battle with Marco Rubio, and Bush amplifies his criticism of Rubio over his missed Senate votes. Also:

“He’ll go through the wringer, just like I’m going through it, and he’ll have to defend himself,” Mr. Bush said. “There’ll be scrutiny on him, just as there should be for everybody.”

Dum, da dum dum! One imagines that “scrutiny” might be fueled by research performed by a certain Rubio rival’s campaign.

* BUT KEEP AN EYE ON TED CRUZ: David Drucker reports that Ted Cruz’s campaign is convinced he’s well-positioned to emerge as the main alternative to Rubio, and that Cruz will have the advantage in the epic showdown that ensues:

“The difference is, who went to Washington and stood up, not just to Democrats, but to his own party, on issue after issue?” a Cruz ally told the Washington Examiner this week. “The other fatal problem for Marco is ‘gang of eight’ support. People don’t trust him.”

Also, Cruz will probably challenge Rubio to declare unequivocally that he would roll back Obama’s executive action protecting DREAMers from deportation, which Rubio has been reluctant to do, further pulling the GOP to the right on immigration.

* RUBIO CHARGE CARD STORY ISN’T A SCANDAL: Post fact checker Michelle Lee does a very deep dive into stories about Rubio’s use of a Republican Party charge card for personal expenses. Rubio’s explanation is that this charge card was secured under his personal credit in conjunction with the party, that he paid it off every month, and that no personal expenses were ever billed to the party.

Our fact check rates this to be essentially true. So maybe this isn’t going to be much of an issue for Rubio, after all.

* HOUSE REPUBLICANS VULNERABLE IN 2016: Roll Call has a useful rundown of the 10 members of the House of Representatives who are most vulnerable to losing reelection next year. It turns out nine out of the 10 are Republican, which illustrates that 2016 will be a very different map from last year.

Still, a reminder: Republicans are probably going to hold the House into the next decade, so get used to that idea.

* AUSTERITY’S BITTER LEGACY: Paul Krugman brings us some new research showing that the turn towards cutting governments amid the struggling recovery may have inflicted not just short term damage, but lasting economic damage as well:

And the bitter irony of the story is that this catastrophic policy was undertaken in the name of long-run responsibility, that those who protested against the wrong turn were dismissed as feckless.

Professor, everyone knows that cutting government is inherently hard-headed and responsible, while spending is soft-headed and irresponsible, because…because…well, those things just sound true, so they must be so.

* AND THE GOP DEBATE MESS CONTINUES: Fox Business Network has announced that four Republican presidential candidates will not appear on the main debate stage at the November 10th debate: Chris Christie; Mike Huckabee; Lindsey Graham; and George Pataki.

Surely they can just blame the liberal media for this, right? Oh, wait….in all seriousness, it’s striking that four candidates with real governing experience are getting booted, while Donald Trump and Ben Carson will be at center stage.