As Bernie Sanders has gained in the polls, the former secretary of state has gone from ignoring the Vermont senator to attacking him. Now that those attacks have backfired, she’s shifted strategy yet again, toning down the anti-Sanders rhetoric and focusing on her own qualifications. That will be especially easy to do at Monday’s town hall on CNN, because the candidates won’t be on stage at the same time. And she’ll likely plead her case with one state in mind: Iowa, where she lost in 2008 and is in a dead heat with Sanders.
Sanders’s supporters in Iowa, which caucuses a week from today, are concentrated in cities and university towns; if Clinton can appeal to voters in the more numerous rural counties by playing up her experience, the caucus could be hers. But there’s a curveball from an unlikely source: O’Malley is almost certain not to reach the 15 percent threshold, meaning his supporters may then back another candidate. That could decide key districts. O’Malley took shots at Clinton over Wall Street in the last debate, so although he might be hoping for a cabinet appointment in a Clinton administration, his performance in tonight’s town hall might inadvertently steer his supporters toward Sanders.