Hillary Clinton arrives at her caucus night rally.

Hillary Clinton arrives at her caucus night rally. Andrew Harnik/AP

Clinton Got Obama's Iowa Tactics, Not His Voters

Sanders' strong showing with young voters highlights the challenge Clinton faces if she wants to replicate the Obama coalition.

Hil­lary Clin­ton mastered the Barack Obama or­gan­iz­ing tac­tics, and she has ad­op­ted the Barack Obama agenda and leg­acy.

Now all she has to do is fig­ure out how to win over the Barack Obama voters.

Be­cause while she man­aged Monday to avoid the crush­ing loss that she suffered in the Iowa caucuses eight years ago, her vir­tu­al tie with Sen. Bernie Sanders will do little to dis­cour­age him from push­ing full steam ahead in­to the New Hamp­shire primary, where most polls show him hold­ing a healthy lead.

And what drove Sanders to his strong show­ing? Young voters, who, ac­cord­ing to en­trance polls, broke for Sanders by a 6-1 ra­tio. (This un­der-30 age group eight years ago sup­por­ted then-Sen. Obama over­whelm­ingly.) For­tu­nately for Clin­ton, the ma­jor­ity of those caucus­ing were over 50, and they broke for her by an av­er­age of 25 per­cent­age points Monday night.

In brief re­marks late Monday from Des Moines, Clin­ton ac­know­ledged the razor-thin mar­gin: “I stand here to­night breath­ing a big sigh of re­lief—thank you Iowa!”

She said she looked for­ward to con­tinu­ing the de­bate with Sanders in the com­ing weeks, and re­peated a line meant to re­mind his sup­port­ers that she shares their goals and val­ues but also has the ex­per­i­ence to de­liv­er res­ults. “I am a pro­gress­ive who gets things done for people.”

The good news for Clin­ton, of course, is that the road will soon get a lot easi­er for her. Iowa’s nearly all-white, ex­tremely lib­er­al Demo­crat­ic elect­or­ate is far more fer­tile ground for Sanders’s ap­peal than just about every caucus and primary that comes after New Hamp­shire. In South Car­o­lina, for ex­ample, which votes at the end of the month, Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans make up the ma­jor­ity of Demo­crat­ic voters, and Clin­ton is far more pop­u­lar in that com­munity than Sanders is. That primary is fol­lowed by the March 1 states, most of them in the South, where Clin­ton can again count on black sup­port.

Also en­cour­aging for her: She still re­mains pop­u­lar with Demo­crat­ic primary voters, in­clud­ing those who will be vot­ing for Sanders in the com­ing weeks and months. The vast ma­jor­ity of those at­tend­ing Sanders cam­paign events very much like his mes­sage and be­lieve his can­did­acy has forced Clin­ton to con­front his is­sues and even take po­s­i­tions closer to his—but in the end are al­most cer­tain to sup­port Clin­ton over any Re­pub­lic­an come Novem­ber.

But Clin­ton’s prob­lem is not just the young­er and more-pro­gress­ive voters who at­tend Sanders’s ral­lies. Her prob­lem is with those who agree with Sanders’s views and who sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama eight or four years ago, but who may not be ex­cited enough by her to come out this Novem­ber—should she man­age to get past Sanders this spring.

Young voters are a key ele­ment of the “Obama co­ali­tion” that de­livered him the White House twice. Clin­ton showed with Monday’s per­form­ance that ad­opt­ing the Obama or­gan­iz­a­tion­al mod­el—with plenty of on-the-ground staff and heavy on de­tailed, data-driv­en turnout—can lead to a draw against a can­did­ate who can at­tract a big piece of the Obama base.

Between now and Novem­ber, as­sum­ing she winds up the nom­in­ee, she will need to get a handle on both halves of the Obama ma­chine if she hopes to fol­low him to the White House.