Monday, June 17, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: The Warm Up Act is Over, It’s Debate Time

Tom with our BTRTN monthly feature on the 2020 Elections, with all the latest numbers and commentary.

Image result for 2020 visionThe Democratic field is set and the first debates, the first real event of the campaign, are just around the corner.  Joe Biden is the frontrunner but the race is tightening, with five “Tier 1” candidates out of the field of 23, and Biden is already displaying his vulnerabilities.  It is a long way to the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee on July 13, 2020.

THE FIELD

No one new entered the race in the past month, and it seems highly likely that the field is set.  We have 23 Democrats (we exclude Mike Gravel from our count).  The Democratic field now looks like this, with the candidates ranked by the average of the national polls over the last month.

Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest National Polls (May 16 to Jun 15)
Joe Biden
76
4/25/2019
Ex-VP, Ex-Senator, Delaware
34%
Bernie Sanders
77
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
17%
Elizabeth Warren
69
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
10%
Kamala Harris
54
1/18/2019
Senator, California
7%
Pete Buttigeig
36
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
7%
Beto O'Rourke
46
3/14/2019
Ex-Representative, Texas
4%
Cory Booker
49
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
2%
Amy Klobuchar
58
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
1%
Kirsten Gillibrand
51
1/15/2019
Senator, New York
1%
Julian Castro
44
1/10/2019
Ex-Secretary, HUD
1%
Andrew Yang
43
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
1%
Michael Bennet
54
5/2/2019
Senator, Colorado
1%
Jay Inslee
67
3/1/2019
Governor, Washington
0%
John Hickenlooper
66
3/4/2019
Ex-Governor, Colorado
0%
Tulsi Gabbard
37
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
0%
Tim Ryan
45
4/4/2019
Representative, Ohio
0%
John Delaney
55
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
0%
Marianne Williamson
66
1/28/2019
Self-help author
0%
Eric Swalwell
38
4/8/2019
Representative, California
0%
Wayne Messam
44
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida
0%
Seth Moulton
40
4/22/2019
Representative, Massachusetts
0%
Steve Bullock
52
5/14/2019
Governor, Montana
0%
Bill de Blasio
58
5/14/2019
Mayor, New York City
0%

Howard Schultz announced that he was “suspending” his campaign (as an independent) due to back issues (he said he had had three back surgeries over the past few months).  Look for him to completely disappear.

THE MONTH

Joe Biden continues to lead the field, albeit by (slightly) narrowing margins, in a month (since our last 2020 Vision on May 15) headlined by these developments:

Joe Biden gets punched.  Biden took the first of many punches he will have to endure, with the initial blow more or less self-inflicted.  And this qualifies as the rarely performed “triple flip flop,” the first known record of this particular political gymnastic feat.  Biden has been a long-time supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which denies federal funding for abortions.  But he told a representative of the ACLU on May 4 that he was in favor of rolling back the Hyde Amendment:  Flip One.  But when this video surfaced, his campaign team walked it back and reiterated his support of Hyde:  Flip Two.  And when the blowback came on strong from his more progressive Democratic opponents, and he went back to saying that he would seek to roll Hyde back:  Flip Three!  Paraphrasing John Kerry: “I was for it before I was against it and then I was for it again before I was against it again.” 

Biden has to decide whether he is going to toe the centrist line (and hew to his win-the-Midwest-back strategy) or become a progressive wannabee and, essentially, re-brand himself (at age 78).  Sticking with Hyde certainly set him up for criticism within the party, but it also would have doubled down on where he stands within the party, firmly in the centrist “lane.”  There are a whole host of issues that Biden will have to navigate with care at some point, and this was a particularly clumsy start on that journey.

It’s a five-person race right now.  Of course the polls can change in the blink of a two-minute spiel in the upcoming debates, but as of now, both in Iowa and nationally, there are only five candidates with material support:  Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  We’ll get into the “whys” down below, as well as why the others have been unable to gain traction or have lost whatever traction they once had.

Iowa race tightening.  The national polls are not where the action is….instead look at Iowa where the candidates and the electorate are locked in the daily mating dance.  National trends will follow Iowa, by and large (and also New Hampshire as well, which differs little right now from Iowa).  And while Biden still leads in Iowa, it looks more like a race there, with three other candidates (Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg) all just about tied and within single digits of him (see below).

Elizabeth Warren coming on strong.  Warren is performing extremely well on the campaign trail, and with her authentic Oklahoma lower middle class back story and her dazzling array (and command) of policy positions, she is rising in the polls both in Iowa and nationally.  She is now challenging Sanders for the lefty wing of the party, and he is declining in Iowa, starting to feel a bit like yesterday’s news.

Run-up to the debates.  Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, Steve Bullock, Seth Moulton and Wayne Messam are the odd men out of the first debates, although perhaps they are getting more publicity for that than they have received as candidates.  The other notable development was the rather surprising revelation that the top five have been placed in lopsided fashion, with Warren “alone” on the first night, and Biden, Bernie, Buttigieg and Harris together on the second.  How hard would it have been to split them up?

THE NUMBERS

Biden is holding on to his lead both nationally and in Iowa, for sure, though some more recent national polls may indicate some softness there as well.  As stated, Warren is on the rise, as is Mayor Pete (in Iowa).  Harris is hanging in the top tier but treading water, at best.  Sanders is dropping like a stone in Iowa.

Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar are disappearing, squandering the name recognition and excitement they earned in the 2018 election (Beto), the 2016 convention (Booker) and the Kavanaugh hearings (Klobuchar and Booker).  They badly need powerful debate performances to get back in the dance before their fundraising dries up.

As for the other 14, they are simply in the race by virtue of an announcement and a qualifying resume.  They have not made a dent in the consciousness of America (or, more troubling, in Iowa, where they have been practically living).

Tier
Candidates*
Iowa Polls

Average of National Polls
Tier
DM Reg/CNN Mar 3-6
Mar 16 - Apr 15 (2 polls)
DM Reg/CNN Jun 2-5

Mar 16 - Apr 15
Apr 16 - May 15
May 16 - Jun 15
Tier 1
Biden
27
26
24

31
37
34
Tier 1
Sanders
25
20
16

23
18
17
Warren
9
9
15

6
8
10
Buttigeig
0
11
14

3
7
7
Harris
7
10
7

9
8
7
Tier 2
O'Rourke
5
5
2

8
5
4
Tier 2
Klobuchar
3
2
2

2
2
1
Booker
3
6
1

4
3
2
Castro
1
1
1

1
1
1
Inslee
1
1
1

1
1
0
Gabbard
0
0
1

1
1
0
Delaney
0
0
1

1
0
0
Yang
0
0
1

1
1
1
Bennet
n/a
n/a
1

n/a
1
1
Gillibrand
0
0
0

1
1
1
Hickenlooper
0
0
0

1
1
0
Williamson
0
0
0

0
0
0
Ryan
n/a
n/a
0

n/a
1
0
Swalwell
n/a
n/a
0

n/a
0
0
Messam
n/a
n/a
0

n/a
0
0
Moulton
n/a
n/a
0

n/a
0
0
DeBlasio
n/a
n/a
0

n/a
n/a
0
Bullock
n/a
n/a
0

n/a
n/a
0

THE “WHYS”

There are reasons why the candidates are where they are (and are not), and let’s look at each Tier 1 candidate in turn:

Joe Biden.  Biden has four extremely powerful strengths going for him: 1) he is the best known candidate, after 40 years in the public eye,  2)  he is perhaps the most experienced candidate ever, easily topping a recent claimant of that title, Hillary Clinton, with his 36 years in the Senate, chairmanship of both the powerful Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, two prior presidential runs and, of course, eight years as Vice President, 3) he has a simple, straight-line strategy for beating Trump, simply taking back the lost Midwest states, and 4) he is absolutely clobbering Trump in head-to-head polls, by an average of +12 points on average in two June polls.  Beyond simply leading the Democratic polls, he is well ahead of Warren in her home state of Massachusetts, Kamala in her home state of California, Bernie in next-door New Hampshire and Mayor Pete in next-door Iowa.  Finally, Biden can point to a “Silent Majority” of his own, with a Gallup poll showing that 54% of Democrats want the party to move in a more moderate direction, versus 41% wanting it to move further left.

Weaknesses?  Oh yes, he’s got a few.  No one is truly passionate about Joe Biden.  He is the comfortable old sweater, dependable, to be sure, but will the Indivisible machine really go all out for him?  The youth vote?  He has a track record as long as he is old, primed for attack (Anita Hill, Iraq War vote, crime bill, need I go on?) and he is remarkably out of touch with the activists who seem to be driving the Democratic agenda.  He is a gaffe machine who has already shown that slip-ups are still par for the course.  He is a time-bomb waiting to implode and his strategy – run against Trump and minimize appearances – is not built to last, and that approach could be revised during (or after) the debates.

Bernie Sanders.  Bernie was the one person willing to take on Hillary Clinton, and he darn near pulled it off.  His policies seemed so offbase for his time in 2016, but actually he may have simply been ahead of the curve.  His ideas, roundly dismissed in Democratic leadership circles, are now at the core of the AOC agenda.  He is a stirring speaker on the campaign trail, blunt and energizing, and has pursued the goal of curing income inequality and challenging the elites for decades.  He is as authentic as they come.

But…but…but…has Bernie’s time come and gone?  From a policy standpoint, Bernie is more bumper-sticker than wonk, and Warren run rings around him in the details.  His stubborn insistence on wearing the “Democratic Socialist” label sounds more defensive these days, and you can still imagine Trump having a field day with him in 2020, and relishing the gift of that positioning.

Elizabeth Warren.  As stated, Warren is killing it on the trail, going the unusual route of publishing detailed policy papers on everything from an ultra-millionaire tax to free college tuition to breaking up Big Tech and many, many others.  And she is the real deal – she lives and breathes this stuff, and will answer any question on any subject with professorial expertise and passion.  It’s a strange analogy, but on the GOP side in 2012, I long felt that Rick Santorum was the true blue conservative who just might emerge to challenge Mitt Romney, and sure enough, he did – he was deeply imbued with conservative values and policy positions and made the Herman Cains and Rick Perrys sound like the lightweights they were (Santorum won 11 primaries, ultimately).  Warren is like that.  She embodies the aspirations of the left with the heft of her positions (“I have a plan for that”), and is a fresher face than Bernie (and, even at 69, far younger, too.)

Ah, the left. That is her issue.  She, like Sanders, is running unabashedly for the support of the progressive wing of the party, and that may not even be a good strategy for the primaries (Iowa?  New Hampshire?), much less the general election (forgive college debt…how will that play in Michigan?  Wisconsin?  Pennsylvania?).  Warren scares the heck out of the party traditionalists who can’t bring themselves to believe a true progressive can win.  When has one ever won?  Certainly JFK, Carter, Obama and Clinton were centrists, and LBJ was a special circumstance on many, many fronts. 

Pete Buttigieg.  Mayor Pete is the darling of 2020 thus far, at 37 less than half the age of Biden and Sanders, a generation-and-a-half younger.  He has scored with an incredible something-for-everyone gay-military-Rhodes Scholar trifecta of a resume, and a thoughtful, articulate, personable, low-key-yet-charismatic demeanor on the trail.  Like Warren, he speaks in whole paragraphs, and seems to make perfect sense whenever he opens his mouth, with a sly wit that echoes JFK and Obama.  Everyone likes him, and he is getting even better on the trail day by day.  He keeps rising in polls in Iowa, which means that the more people see him, the better the word of mouth.  Pete is the only “no name” candidate to have made the jump into the first tier. 

But do people really take Pete seriously as a presidential candidate?  He’s a small town Mayor, he’s 37 and he’s gay.  In all respects he is utterly unique as a presidential candidate (Mayor Wayne Messam aside).  Is he really in it to score a high profile Cabinet post, since he would have a difficult path to gaining higher office in his home of, conservative Indiana?  Can Pete convince America that he is ready, and is America really ready for him?

Kamala Harris.  Kamala Harris has not hit her stride as a candidate yet, but, to borrow a sports phrase, she has a “high ceiling” – she is smart, accomplished, well-spoken and telegenic, with a great backstory, and Democrats seem to want her to succeed.  If she can find her groove on the campaign trail – or in the debates – she could move up considerably.

But…she is “Kama-Kama-Kama-Kama-Kama chameleon,” and she truly does come and go.  She has performed unevenly, great at one Town Hall, terrible the next.  She has been vague on the issues (“we should have a conversation about that”) and tough to pin down, walking the fine line with her prosecutor background, between the moderates of both parties, to whom it appeals (who she needs for the general election), and the progressives among the Dems, who dislike law and order types who they believe have put too many minorities in jail.  

Booker, Castro, Gillibrand, Klobuchar and O”Rourke.  These were the other so-called “names” in the race, and they have simply failed to connect on the larger stage.  In the case of Booker, Castro and O’Rourke, they all seem to be more flash than substance, and suffer from appearing to lack both authenticity as well as clear positions on the issues.  Klobuchar may suffer, instead, from too much authenticity, as she truly is too centrist for the progressives and, shall we say, quite undynamic.  She can put people to sleep when they want to be inspired, and the charges of her mistreating her staff, whether earned or not, dogged her in the early part of the campaign.  Gillibrand simply never got started out of the gate, perhaps because New Yorkers are not terribly popular in Iowa.  (Memo to Bill de Blasio:  New York City mayors, even less so.)

The rest.  We are waiting for someone out of this group to follow Buttigieg to prime time, but the eclectic mix of earnest but dull western governors (Hickenlooper, Inslee and Bullock), unknown representatives (Delaney, Gabbard, Moulton, Ryan and Swalwell) and unconventional types (Williamson, Yang, Messam) are hard to take seriously.  They will all get about five minutes of air time next week and what they do with it may seal their fate.  Look for them to swing for the fences and either breakthrough (unlikely) or look extremely silly (get ready for a potential viral moment from this group).  If I had to pick a few who just might make strong impressions, I would go with Yang and his universal basic income big idea, or Montana’s Bullock, the blue guv in a red state.

WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP?

Democrats have indicated in polling that they are more likely to back the candidate they think is most likely to beat Trump, rather than the one that best matches their own views, by roughly a 2/1 margin.  This is one of Biden’s key calling cards and he is stronger than ever, +12 in two polls (on average) in June.  But Sanders does surprisingly well, also, versus Trump, and the others in the big five are gaining on this measure.


Dem Vs Trump
May
June
Biden
+10
+12
Sanders
+8
+9
Warren
+3
+5
Harris
+1
+4
Buttigieg
+1
+3

If you would like to be on the Born To Run The Numbers email list notifying you of each new post, please write us at borntorunthenumbers@gmail.com.