Bernie Sanders campaigning
Bernie Sanders campaigning

On Monday, the race for the presidential nominations begins in earnest. For the Democrats Iowa is the battleground for Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders, with each candidate readying their supporters and honing their attacks.

Former Secretary of State Clinton seems, if anything, to have lost ground against Senator Sanders in the latest polling. The long-time presidential hopeful registered only a 45% to 42% lead in a widely respected Des Moines poll from Saturday. But when Iowans were asked the question “Who cares about people like you,” Sanders scored a telling 51% to 37% advantage.

Commentators have alluded to the growing sense of unease with the Washington elite, suggesting the fringe candidates may yet have their day. Former senior Democrat and Iowan Tom Harkin said, “She’s not as unique as Bernie Sanders, and in every election some people want the unique, the new, the untried.” People wondering if what Donald Trump is to the Republicans, Bernie Sanders could be for the Democrats.

In a battle between the more liberal and centrist sections of the Democratic Party, Sanders himself has attacked Clinton on her funding sources. In a recent speech he made reference to her support from Wall Street and recent speaking fees paid by top financial firms: “We do not raise our money from Wall Street, from investment banks…We are raising our money from the middle class and working families of this country.”

A surge in support for Mr Sanders at this stage could seriously undermine Mrs. Clinton’s aspirations for success, and release yet more funding and support for a more liberal Democratic vision. The Vermont democratic socialist senator lagged behind for many months, but in the last weeks, with TV ads released and a warming of interest from voters, the race has tightened.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump led Ted Cruz by 29% to 26% in the recent Iowan poll. A Trump win in this state could prove disastrous for Mr Cruz. The latter has poured huge resources into mobilising support among evangelical Christians, seeking to develop a conservative core allied to the Tea Party and libertarian wings of the GOP.