In the wake of the terrorism rampage that tore through Paris on Friday, some presidential primary voters may now place more emphasis on choosing an experienced leader and a strong commander in chief who would prevent a jihadist-style attack on American soil. That could create challenges for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in Saturday’s Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, according to a new focus group of 31 undecided Iowa Democrats conducted late Friday.
Following the attacks in Paris, CBS News said it would shift the focus of the two-hour event on national security, terrorism and immigration. That’s potentially good news for front-runner Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state under President Barack Obama. Focus group participants, who were asked their thoughts on the candidates in light of the Paris attacks, said Clinton’s experience gives her an edge over Sanders, whose campaign is still suffering from a perception that the junior Vermont senator is simply not electable.
The two-and-a-half-hour focus group, conducted by the Washington research firm Park Street Strategies, showed that Friday’s attacks were likely to allow Clinton to play to her strengths.
“[T]he attacks in Paris reinforce pervasive pre-existing beliefs that Clinton is simply more experienced, ready to lead, and is perceived as a stronger commander in chief, while Sanders simply lacks these critical qualities,” Chris Kofinis, CEO of Park Street Strategies, wrote in a pre-debate memo. “It won’t be the defining issue of the race, but it could certainly move voters.”
The latest polls show Clinton with a decisive lead over Sanders among Iowa Democrats. But victory is by no means a sure thing. According to the focus group, voters are hugely concerned that “Clinton will be controlled by her donors,” and are many still longing for a candidate who will electrify the party with fresh ideas -- not simply be a retread of the last eight years.
“The ‘Obama hangover’ is real,” Kofinis wrote.
The second Democratic presidential debate will air at 9 p.m. EST Saturday on CBS, and will include Clinton, Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. According to the focus group, the latter is barely registering with voters. “O’Malley’s campaign is almost over,” read the memo. “He’s still too unknown and it’s simply not his time.”