Thursday, May 16, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Joe Biden Enters the Race and Takes Command

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

The first few weeks of Joe Biden’s long-awaited 2020 campaign were always going to be utterly crucial to his prospects.  Out of the spotlight for some time, would the 76-year-old look too frail or aged to potential voters?  Long a poor fundraiser, with neither big-time Wall Street connections nor a small money Main Street online donor network, would he disappoint with his initial numbers?  And would he resume his persona as the “Gaffing Groper” on the campaign trail, master of 20th century retail politics but woefully out of touch with 21st century sensibilities?
Image result for 2020 vision 
No, no and no.  Joe Biden has passed the early tests of his candidacy – demonstrating vitality, clout and adaptability -- and has emerged as the clear frontrunner in the Democratic sweepstakes, dominating a swelling field that now numbers 23, and may still be growing.


THE FIELD

In the last month, there were yet another five entrants into the record-shattering field. 

Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio all joined the race, along with, Biden, of course.  It has long been said that there is little downside to running for president.  It’s a relatively risk free way to raise name recognition for future runs, increase the odds for a career enhancer such as a cabinet post, a possible path to the Vice Presidency and, who knows, the longshot chance of the nomination itself.  All you risk is a little wear and tear and a viral gaffe that haunts you forever.  What politician thinks they will utterly fail?

So open the door on a campaign with neither an incumbent nor a natural heir, and in comes a herd.  And we still may not be done.  Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, is still mulling a run (and she recently announced she would not run for the Senate in 2020, a blow to those who thought she just might flip a badly needed seat).  And former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is considering an independent run.

The Democratic field now looks like this, with the candidates ranked by the average of the national polls over the last month, led by the two septuagenarians in the field.

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

(We’ve decided to exclude Mike Gravel from the “official” BTRTN count.  While perfectly well-credentialed as a former Senator from Alaska, Gravel is now 88 years old and in our view is running a bit of an quixotic campaign that does not have winning the nomination as a goal, no matter what he claims.)


THE MONTH

The month was dominated by the entrance of Biden into the race on April 25, and his rather flawless performance since.  The prelude to the announcement was far less auspicious, featuring Biden’s unsuccessful “clear the air” sort-of-apology to Anita Hill, who did not go along with the script, instead stating that she “cannot be satisfied” with the apology, and could not be until there was “real change and real accountability and real purpose.” 

However, once launched, the race dynamics changed quickly.  Unlike any of the other candidates, Biden made it clear he was running against Trump, invoking Charlottesville and ignoring the Democratic field.  Suddenly Democrats were reminded that while progressives have been the loudest voices within the party of late, clamoring for change, the dominant voting bloc remains more mainstream centrists.  And practical geographic considerations also were revived, with the Biden boomlet reminding the party that the easiest way to dump Trump would be to simply reclaim the lost Midwest, where Biden is strongest.

Biden has done well in his first weeks of campaigning, with only one gaffe (confusing British Prime Minister Theresa May with Margaret Thatcher) and showing, ahem, a less physical style of retail politics.  He also raised $6.3 million in the newest barometer of political might – the immediate 24 hours after the launch – surpassing Beto O’Rourke for the record on this metric.  And his polling numbers have been strong, as we will describe below.

The other candidates more or less disappeared in the Biden shadow.  Spring sensation Pete Buttigieg continued to impress, but his upward trajectory was halted.  Beto O’Rourke attempted to address the critique of the vagueness of his policies with a – hold your breath - $5 trillion environmental proposal.  Kamala Harris continued to deliver mixed performances, looking uncomfortable and equivocal in a CNN Town Hall (her answer to every policy question seemed to be “we should have a conversation about that”) but tough and solid in her prosecution of Attorney General Bill Barr on Capitol Hill.   Elizabeth Warren continued to unveil bold policy proposals, most recently to address the opioid crisis and forgive the college debt of 42 million Americans.  And Bernie Sanders did a splendid job in a FOX News Town Hall, confounding his inquisitors by drawing, at times, enthusiastic cheers from the audience.

All of it made for excellent policy chatter in the wonk community and grist for close campaign followers, but not one bit of it made a dent where it counts, in the polls, in the face of the Biden blitz. 


THE NUMBERS

The easiest way to see the impact of the Biden launch is to look at the national polling numbers before and after his April 25 announcement.  (There has been no new polling since that date in Iowa, the best barometer of all.)  As you can see, Biden jumped a full +10 percentage points, and is now supported by a commanding 40% of Democrats voters.


Pre/Post Biden Launch
National Polls
April 1-24
April 25 - May 15
Change
Biden
30
40
10
Sanders
23
17
-6
Harris
9
8
-1
Buttigieg
7
7
0
O'Rourke
7
4
-3
Warren
7
8
2
Booker
4
2
-1
Klobuchar
2
1
0
Other/NA
13
13
0

It may surprise you to see that Biden’s ideological counterpart, lefty Bernie Sanders, took the biggest hit, losing -6 points.  You might have thought Biden might have hurt his fellow centrists more.  But this is still largely a name recognition game at this point, and polling to date has consistently shown that Biden and Bernie are the #2 choice of the others’ supporters.  Voters are not as close to the policy positions of the pair (or anyone) as you might think.  And Biden now leads Bernie by +23 points, up from +7.

Beto O’Rourke also took a hit, perhaps less about Biden than his own troubles on the trail, as he has failed to translate his Texas-size charisma into a national following.  The other candidates basically held serve, though Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar slipped ever closer to the irrelevant pack.

As mentioned, there have been no recent polls in Iowa (the pre-Biden-launch April polls had Biden up 23/18 on average over Sanders, with Buttigieg in third with 12%), but there have been post-Biden-launch May polls in New Hampshire and South Carolina, the number two and three stops on the 2020 caucus/primary trail.  Biden holds a healthy lead in both of them.  His dominance is South Carolina is particularly noteworthy because it demonstrates his strength among the Africa-American community there (who comprise about two-thirds of voting Democrats; Iowa and New Hampshire are lily white).  This in turn reveals how the schedule plays well for Biden, as he can use South Carolina to seal the deal (if he wins in Iowa and NH), establish momentum (if he splits), or turn things around (if he loses both).

May Polls
NH
SC
Biden
36
46
Sanders
18
15
Buttigieg
9
8
Warren
8
8
Harris
6
10
Booker
2
4
Klobuchar
2
1
O'Rourke
2
2
Yang
1
2
Other/NA
16
4

Biden’s strong start sets up a far different dynamic than was anticipated.  Essentially it is Biden’s nomination until he stumbles, and he will continue to run against Trump until (and unless) he has to address a real challenge.  Trump is helping carry Biden’s water considerably, tweeting (or re-tweeting) about Biden in a frenzy after the launch, clearly reflecting of the Trumpian view that Biden is the only real threat he faces.

What the rest of the field needs is a catalyst to shake Biden off his perch, and there are three ways this could happen:  1) the gaffe, 2) the revelation, or 3) the debates.  For Biden, the next gaffe is always just around the corner (though what is a gaffe in Trump’s America?).  The “revelation” is unlikely for a man who has been in the public eye for four decades; what else could be unearthed?   
As for the debates, they are fast approaching.  The first two debates will be carried on June 25 and 26 by NBA, MSNBC and Telemundo, from Miami, the two nights featuring a split field.  The criterion for inclusion in the debates consists of national polling levels and donor requirements, and most of the field should be eligible, though Wayne Messam, Marianne Williamson and Seth Moulton may be on the bubble.

The debates can expose Biden, churning up weak spots in his past (Anita Hill, the crime bill, etc.), exposing his less progressive stance on issues, putting the spotlight on his propensity for gaffes and his age gap with most of his next-generation rivals.  Biden does not have much to gain in the debates and plenty to lose.  Look for him to try to rise above the field, tout his experience, reinforce his ties to Barack Obama and not engage with the others on the rostrum.


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.

And the candidate they think has the best chance of beating Donald Trump is…Joe Biden.  A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that 57% of Democrats believe just that, well ahead of Sanders (12%), with none of the rest exceeding 4%.   Even 38% of “very liberal” Democrats believe that Biden is the best chance to beat Trump, over Sanders (12%). 

And head-to-head polling bears this belief out, at this stage.  Two brand new head-to-head polls by Emerson and Quinnipiac show Biden crushing Trump by 10 points.  However, they also show Sanders doing quite well versus Trump, +8, which is a change from a month ago.  The other four candidates included in the surveys are within the margin of error.

May Polls
Dem Vs Trump
Biden
+10
Sanders
+8
Warren
+3
Buttigieg
+1
Harris
+1
O'Rourke
+1

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.