As I wrote recently about the New Hampshire primary, the Iowa caucuses suddenly look quite different than they did a couple of weeks ago. The latest Monmouth poll on the state’s caucuses, indicative of a trend we have seen recently, finds, “South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has joined former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at the top of the leaderboard.”

Buttigieg’s improvement has been “across the board, with increasing support coming from nearly every demographic group.” Currently, Monmouth find his support at 22 percent, in the lead (but within the margin of error) followed by Biden at 19 percent, Warren at 18 percent and Sanders at 13 percent. “Compared to Monmouth’s August poll, Buttigieg has gained 14 points (up from 8 percent) and Sanders has gained 5 points (up from 8 percent), while Biden has lost 7 points (down from 26 percent), and Warren’s standing has changed by only 2 points (20 percent previously).”

As in many other polls, a low percentage of voters (28 percent) are set on their candidate, meaning televised debates, retail politics and on-the-ground organization all matter. The good news for Buttigieg is that his bus tours have generated large turnout and favorable press coverage. Moreover, his support does not seem to depend on a narrow segment of the Democratic electorate:

His support stands at 26% among voters who describe themselves as moderate or conservative, 23% among those who are somewhat liberal, and 15% among those who are very liberal. He is currently in the top tier for both women (24%, to 22% for Biden, and 20% for Warren), and men (20%, to 19% for Sanders and 16% for Warren). Looking at the poll results by age, Buttigieg (26%) is nipping at Biden’s heels (29%) among voters age 65 and older. He has a slight advantage among those age 50 to 64 (24%, to 17% each for Biden and Warren), and is competitive among voters under the age of 50 (19%, to 24% for Warren and 19% for Sanders). Buttigieg leads among college graduates (24%, to 21% for Warren and 15% for Biden) and is in the top tier among those without a college degree (21%, to 21% for Biden, 18% for Sanders, and 16% for Warren).

It bears repeating that this is a single poll, but the trend as reflected in the RealClearPolitics averages over the past month or so does suggest Buttigieg is rising while Warren is no longer surging and Biden has lost his lead. Not so long ago Warren was leading Buttigieg in the RCP average by more than 10 points; now they are virtually dead even. Warren’s lead vanished as Sanders surged following his heart attack and Buttigieg caught fire.

Buttigieg’s improvement may be partially a function of his successful attack on Warren’s Medicare-for-all position, making him appear to be the most aggressive center-left and the clear alternative to Biden. While Biden has fallen, he too has shown resilience by virtue of his muscular pushback against Warren, most recently on a CNN town hall where he declared that his “elitist” charge against Warren referenced her elitist approach to politics. “The attitude is elitist that people can’t make up their own mind. You like your health insurance," he said. "But you shouldn’t like your health insurance, you should have to give that up. I’m going to demand you not have that. We’re going to give you something better.'” Between the two of them and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who’s now up to 5 percent in Iowa, the moderates have hit their stride in combating Warren’s “my way or the high way” approach to politics.

In addition, Buttigieg is managing to sound progressive (enough) but expound on an uplifting, unifying message that differs from left-wing populism. His progressive take on the Gospels combined with an ethic of public service seem to have generated some emotional uplift. It’s not coincidental that he now reminds Iowans of his days canvassing for President Barack Obama in Iowa. “I had felt a tug of service growing up, and it was reinforced when I was knocking on doors in rural Iowa for a different young presidential candidate with a funny name,” he told the audience at a Veterans Day speech.

Buttigieg certainly stands out in the top tier as decades younger than his competitors, as the only one with military service, and the one who has managed to walk the line between realism and inspiration, progressive lead and national healer.

We have a little more than 80 days until the caucuses, so today’s polls are not predictive of the results. What they do show is that he’s put together a message, ground game and persona that are gaining supporters. Finishing ahead of any of the other top three contenders whose longevity and name ID dwarf his would transform the race. Whether he can sustain his recent upswing remains an open and fascinating question.

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