Mayor Pete Blows Past O'Rourke and Castro, Climbing to Third Place in Iowa and New Hampshire

WASHINGTON -- A pair of polls released Thursday shows former Vice President Joe Biden still leading among Democrats in the crucial early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, despite an uproar over whether his touchy-feely style crossed the line.Two Texans remain well behind--eclipsed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., a dark horse who surged to third place in both states after strong performances in a CNN town hall and on the stump.The buzz attending Beto O'Rourke in the heady aftermath of his near-miss against Sen. Ted Cruz has faded. He has settled into a single-digit slump. Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor and federal housing secretary, has inched up but remains mired in low single digits.In New Hampshire, the top three are Biden, with 23%, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders at 16% and Buttigieg at 11%, according to a survey from the Saint Anselm College Survey Center at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.Behind them are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (9%) and Kamala Harris (7%), with O'Rourke at 6%. "The early battle in New Hampshire seems to be between two familiar faces that represent different wings of the Democratic Party," said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm. "Biden leads the older and more moderate wing while Sanders' support comes from younger progressive voters." He noted how quickly Buttigieg "has gone from a virtual unknown to 11% support," putting him ahead of Warren, from neighboring Massachusetts. In Iowa, Buttigieg is now the top choice of 9% of Democrats likely to take part in the February caucuses, the first contest of 2020. That's the finding of a new Monmouth University survey that showed Biden on top with 27% support, and a formidable 78% favorability rating, by far the best in a field of two dozen announced or likely contenders.Biden hasn't jumped into the race, though he has signaled that he will.Sanders, the runner up for the nomination in 2016, is the pace setter in fund-raising. He had 16% support in Iowa. But in a Des Moines Register/CNN poll last month, 25% of likely caucus-goer picked him as their top choice.Tied for fourth in the Monmouth poll: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris (both at 7%). Then came O'Rourke (6%), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (4%), Sen. Cory Booker (3%), and Castro (2%). While many of the contenders remain little-known to voters, most Democrats in Iowa say they're familiar with O'Rourke, and he is positioned well, with a 60% favorable rating. And he's the second choice of 8% of voters - better than all but three rivals for the nomination.Strategists typically shrug off polls from this stage of the campaign, though the longer a candidate remains stuck in the basement, the harder it is to attract media attention, crowds and donations."We're not building this campaign to win a poll in April 2019. We're trying to win the election in February of 2020 and March of 2020 and April of 2020," Booker's campaign manager Addisu Demissie told reporters on a call Thursday, ahead of Booker's hometown roll-out rally in Newark, N.J., on Saturday. "This is a long race where there's going to be a lot of ups and downs. And anybody who's been through this...knows that there are going to be ebbs and flows."Castro led a rally Wednesday night in his hometown to protest a visit hours earlier from President Donald Trump. The event drew several hundred people. He'll get a spotlight on CNN Thursday night on a live town hall at 9 p.m. Central Time."If Biden does get into this race, he'll start out as a clear front-runner in Iowa," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. "Buttigieg's current standing in the horse race is impressive given that nearly half of likely Democratic caucus goers have yet to form an opinion of him."  Continue reading...

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