Saturday, February 16, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: The Senators Have Arrived, Next Come the “B’s”


Tom with our BTRTN monthly feature on the 2020 Elections.

The 2020 campaign ramped up considerably in the last month, as the Democratic field nearly doubled from six to eleven, and the GOP field did double from one to two.  And it is entirely possible that both fields could double again in the coming months.
Image result for 2020 vision 
For the Democrats, the key end-date for entering the fray is probably May 31. The national debate schedule has been announced; the first one will be held in June (those early debates will actually be held on pairs of nights to accommodate the anticipated large field).  No Democrat will want to miss that opportunity.   But realistically, with nearly a dozen candidates traipsing through Iowa and New Hampshire (and South Carolina) already, only Joe Biden can really afford to wait too much longer than, say, March 31 to get in the game.

On the GOP side, the calculus for “primarying” Trump is more complicated with respect to timing, as the only likely trigger is the Mueller report.  If it is utterly damning, it could tempt several big names to challenge Trump, and that could be true even if the Dems decide against initiating an impeachment process.


THE FIELD

Pop quiz:  can you name the entire eleven-person-to-date Democratic field?  You can probably reel off the five Senators:  Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker.  You probably would have more trouble with a former Cabinet member and two U.S. representatives; Julian Castro might ring a few bells, Tulsi Gabbard perhaps some, and John Delaney none at all.  And real kudos if you can name any of the other three:  Mayor (of South Bend, Indiana) Pete Buttigeig, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and, most mysterious of all, Marianne Williamson, who is typically described as a self-help author or New Age lecturer, or more informally as “Oprah’s Spiritual Advisor.”  (And a grand bonus for anyone who knows how to pronounce “Buttigeig” – impress your friends with “boot-edge-edge.”)

But there are, of course, many other potentials, including the remaining “B’s - Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Sherrod Brown, Steve Bullock, Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders – as well as others (the “HIJKLM’s”?) such as John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Mitch Landrieu, Terry McAuliffe and Jeff Merkley (and possibly more.)

The pundit “report card” on the five major candidate “launches” generally gave high marks to Harris, Klobuchar and Booker and lower ones to Warren and Gillibrand.

·       Warren, the best known of the group, continues to be bedeviled by her claims of Native American heritage.  She has attempted to counterbalance this struggle with both policy specifics on her far left positioning (which is well-aligned with the current mood of the Democrats), and her Trump-bashing zeal.  But she has not been completely successful in this effort and the heritage issue has been a drag at the outset of her campaign.

·       Klobuchar, on the other hand, was a winner with her staging and seems to be successfully countering the breaking news that she was known for being “abusive” to her senatorial staff.  While a centrist all the way, Klobuchar’s relative youth, personal appeal and Midwestern state strength are giants assets in the field.

·       Harris is attempting to pull off the balancing act with the catchphrase “progressive prosecutor,” a rather oxymoronic positioning reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”  Being a former prosecutor is normally an excellent credential, but not for today’s Democrats who see crowded jails filled with targeted, profiled minorities.  But Harris used her formidable social media presence to get a Trump-esque crowd of 20,000 out for her launch, and her charisma carried it off, albeit while being deliberately light on the policy specifics.

·       Booker did no particular harm with his launch, while Gillibrand did no particular good, which she could ill-afford given her 1% standing in the polls.

On the GOP side, the incumbent, an unassuming fellow by the name of Donald Trump, now has his first official challenger, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who announced earlier this week. 

Who else might jump in if Trump is sufficiently weakened by Mueller?  There are a host of prominent names, including former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, former Governor of Ohio John Kasich, and the brand new freshman Senator from Utah, Mitt Romney.  Flake will probably be content that Weld is in the race, as he had indicated his sole interest in running was simply to ensure that Trump did not go unchallenged.   Kasich, at 66, and Hogan, at 62, would be much smarter to bide their time until 2024 (or 2028).

For Romney, 71, on the other hand, the future could be now.  He is, of course, a known quantity, and I doubt he got back into the game simply to represent Utah.  He has already positioned himself as, essentially, the “moral alternative” to Trump; he is not straying far from Trump on policy – he supported the Wall, for instance.  But he has made it clear that he considers Trump beneath the dignity of the office.  And all he needs is the opening that Mueller might give him.

And then there is Howard Schultz, the ex-Starbucks CEO, who has yet to announce but made a splash by making it clear that if he ran it would be as an Independent.  Since he is aligned with the Democrats on all issues save the debt/deficit (an issue that neither party is concerned with now), it is clear that if he made an independent run, he would siphon votes disproportionately off the Democratic nominee and benefit Trump.  I’m sure he knew that impression might be out there when he floated his balloon, but if not, he sure knows it now.  We’ll see if he goes through with this plan, but the obvious question is:  why would he not simply run as a Democrat?


THE NUMBERS

The polls at this point likely are as much indicative of the “name awareness” levels of each candidate rather than true preferences.  The chart below tracks polling over the last several months, and several key points emerge:

·       Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the clear frontrunners at this point.  What is interesting about the two is their common age (late 70’s) and their virtually polar opposite positioning on the ideological spectrum within the Democratic Party, with Biden the ultimate centrist/moderate and Sanders the progressive “Democratic Socialist.”  Some of the polls ask for a “second choice” and, surprisingly, Biden and Sanders are #2 behind the other, which shows that, awareness is dominating policy in these early days.

·       Neither’s position has been dented in the slightest by the five Senators’ launches in January and February

·       Kamala Harris is the clear winner in the launch stakes thus far, more than doubling her numbers and vaulting into double digits.  While Warren and Booker showed slight upward movement from their efforts, Gillibrand, starting from nothing, got nothing.  Klobuchar’s launch, the latest of the group, is not reflected in any of the polls.

·       Beto better get moving.  He has lost some ground with his dithering and this is not a time to pull a Hamlet a la Mario Cuomo.  The voters may wait for Biden, but it is less likely that they will wait for Beto.




Polls
Potential Candidates
Announced
Oct/Nov 2018
Dec 2018
Jan 1-15
Jan 16 - Feb 15
Biden

25
24
28
29
Sanders

18
17
15
17
Harris
Yes
5
5
4
11
Warren
Yes
5
5
6
7
O'Rourke

9
13
8
7
Booker
Yes
4
4
2
4
Bloomberg

3
2
2
3
Klobuchar
Yes
1
2
2
2
Brown

1
3
1
1
Castro
Yes
0
0
1
1
Bullock

0
0
0
1
Gillibrand
Yes
1
1
1
1
Hickenlooper

0
0
0
1
Holder

0
1
0
1
Yang
Yes
0
0
0
1
Gabbard
Yes
0
0
1
1
Buttigeig
Yes
0
0
0
0
Inslee

0
0
0
0
Delaney
Yes
0
0
0
0
Williamson
Yes
0
0
0
0
Clinton

10
9
12
n/a

Clearly some of the other potential nominees are waiting for Biden to move, and he, in turn, with nothing to gain by an early announcement, has caused them to lose ground to the Senators.  Sherrod Brown occupies more or less the same space as Biden (he is basically positioning himself as “Biden without the flaws.”)   Mike Bloomberg, who has traversed every political party at this point, much be wondering if his crossover messages can ever possibly gain traction in the left-swinging Democratic Party.   And those western governors/ex-governors, Inslee, Bullock and Hickenlooper, have to be calculating whether their long shot efforts can break through.

There have been only two polls in Iowa, with some intriguing variations versus the national numbers (see below).  Harris has vaulted into the first tier here, eclipsing Sanders, who has shown some modest falloff.  Warren also is making inroads, while Beto’s star is fading.  And the northeasterners, Booker and Gillibrand, are not playing well in Des Moines, at least as yet.  It will be interesting to see if Klobuchar’s launch propels her into contention in a neighboring state that should be strong for her; it is somewhat surprising how low her profile is there now, even recognizing that these are essentially pre-launch numbers.


DM Register
Date
Dec. 10-13
Jan 30-Feb 2
Biden
32
29
Harris
5
18
Sanders
19
15
Warren
8
11
O'Rourke
11
6
Booker
4
4
Brown
1
4
Klobuchar
3
3
Castro
1
2
Gillibrand
--
1

And a PPP poll in late January shows that the main contenders all are faring quite well in head-to-head polling versus Donald Trump.   Note that Trump is at 41-42% versus all of them, and the variation among the Dems reflects awareness, with Biden and Sanders at the head of the list.  This is a very ominous set of numbers for Trump, since the 41/42 precisely reflects his approval rating.  It also recalls a recent Washington Post poll that shows that 56% of voters would “definitely not” vote for Trump.  If Trump’s ceiling, regardless of opponent, is 45% or lower, he cannot win in 2020.   And since he is playing only to his base, finding a catalyst for upward movement above 45% will be a challenge.

Dem
Trump
Margin
Biden
53
41
12
Sanders
51
41
10
Harris
48
41
7
Warren
48
42
6
O'Rourke
47
41
6
Gillibrand
47
42
5
Booker
47
42
5

By next month we expect to see some of the B’s make their decisions, and others as well.  Perhaps even Joe Biden, and the race will flip into high-gear once he makes his decision, either way.

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