Swing State Pres

Friday, June 28, 2019

BTRTN: Biden Go Seek...Harris Goes on Offense and Wins Big


Steve provides his analysis of the opening two nights of Democratic Presidential debates.

For two hours on Wednesday and another hour on Thursday, the Democratic debates were spirited and energetic, but all seeming to little effect. It appeared that there would be only modest shifts in the hierarchy of the candidates’ standing, as most candidates turned in solid performances and no one committed a train-wreck caliber gaffe. 

Then, just after 10:00 on Thursday, Kamala Harris turned and faced Joe Biden, and the tectonic plates underneath the race shuddered with the force of a 7.0 Richter California quake.

Harris challenged Joe Biden directly on his recent remarks about working with segregationist Senators, and then doubled down on her attack by raising the issue of Biden’s position's on school busing. Harris spoke with intensity and passion about her own personal experiences with race, and with busing specifically:

“There is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a coworker who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination. Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because she—because we were black. And I will say also that—that in this campaign, we’ve also heard—and I’m going to now direct this to Vice President Biden. I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But, I also believe—and it’s personal. And I—I was actually very—it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day... and that little girl was me.

Harris stared coolly at Biden from just a few feet away, with only Bernie Sanders between them. Biden attempted to address the charges, but he was clearly rattled. He spoke rapidly and his voice appeared strained. He tried hard to deflect the issue by blaming Harris’s local community officials. The more he spoke, the more defensive he sounded. 
 
It took all of five minutes for Harris to upend the Presidential election campaign of 2020. She had not simply taken Biden down. She had presented herself as a powerful leader willing to take on the toughest issues. For a party that is desperately searching for the leader who has the guts, gravitas, the personal power, and the savvy to take down Donald Trump, Harris’ tour de force was mesmerizing. The inevitability of Biden’s nomination seemed to drain in real time. 

While that five minute segment was the most consequential exchange in the four hours of debate over two nights, it was not an isolated moment showcasing Harris’s strength. She put her stamp on the proceedings early in the debate, scolding her shouting, interrupting colleagues: “Hey, guys. You know what? America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.” Sure, it was a canned, planned line… but it worked. It was an assertion of authority over all the candidates. Humanity. Candor. Strength.
  
Expect real gains in the polls for Harris. For all the clips you’ve seen of Rick Perry saying “oops” or Lloyd Bentsen saying, “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine,” the number of times that the debates yield a moment of true consequence in the overall campaign are rare. We witnessed one such moment last night. 

Look for gains, too, for Pete Buttigieg, and even for tier three candidate Eric Swalwell. From Wednesday night, Elizabeth Warren was outstanding, and Julian Castro and Bill de Blasio both elevated their standing.

Last night, Harris, Buttigieg, and Swalwell -- each in a different way – were very effective in reframing this as a generational race.  The two older white men at the center of the stage generally performed well, but the conviction, energy, and strength from these younger rivals was visceral. Biden and Sanders are each over 75 years old, and while they are remarkable for men their age, their age was apparent. Biden, in particular, seemed to be struggling to keep up the with the frenetic pace.

Most important, gains registered for these three younger candidates are likely to come directly at the  expense of Biden and Bernie Sanders. Sanders, who turned in a solid performance, is losing momentum to the rapidly rising Elizabeth Warren, who is judged to have been the winner of the Wednesday debate. 

In short, the two old white guys who were the front runners in this race will wake up to a new reality.  And if Biden’s support ebbs in the next wave of polls, it could feed a narrative that he is not strong enough to take on Trump. In five short minutes on a Miami stage, and the direction of the race has careened onto a new course.

For drama and consequence, the confrontation between Harris and Biden was by far and away the most significant moment in the two nights of debate.  Indeed, until that moment, it seemed that that the very strict structure required to manage a debate stage with ten candidates was itself inhibiting organic interchange between candidates, and causing many to begin rudely interjecting comments and shouting over the moderators. 

This shouldn’t have surprised us: Shove ten monster-sized egos sardine-style on a small stage for two nights and threaten to cut off their oxygen supply after sixty seconds, and you are going to get far more hyperventilation, projectile speed-credentialing, and panicky interrupting than anything resembling the reasoned exchange of ideas. 

The frantic pace, hurtling verbiage, and sense that the entire event was played on “lightening round” rules all served to diminish the amount of serious content that could be aired and truly debated. There is no better example of this than when Tulsi Gabbard was asked her position on equal pay for women. Gabbard did not even pretend to address the question and then pivot to her messaging strategy.  She completely blew off the question and went straight to the full-up sound-byte that she wanted to make for the evening: 

Savannah Guthrie: “I want to put the same question to Congresswoman Gabbard. Your thoughts on equal pay?”
Gabbard: “First of all, let's recognize the situation we're in, that the American people deserve a president who will put your interests ahead of the rich and powerful. That's not what we have right now. I enlisted in the Army National Guard after the Al Qaida terror attacks on 9/11 so I could go after those who had attacked us on that day. I still serve as a major. I served over 16 years, deployed twice to the Middle East, and in Congress served on the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Affairs for over six years. I know the importance of our national security, as well as the terribly high cost of war. And for too long, our leaders have failed us, taking us from one regime change war to the next, leading us into a new cold war and arms race, costing us trillions of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars and countless lives. This insanity must end. As president, I will take your hard-earned taxpayer dollars and instead invest those dollars into serving your needs, things like health care, a green economy, good-paying jobs, protecting our environment, and so much more.”

That was her actual, verbatim, complete answer to a question about equal pay for women. Uh, wha?

In this environment of hyper-compressed, well-rehearsed sound-bytes, it’s a safe bet that most ardent fans of each candidate felt that their favorite did as well or better than anyone else. One can imagine people in bars on Grand Street in St. Paul celebrating: “Amy crushed it,” they likely crowed. “Amy just blew the doors off of that place, you knoo, like hands down!” 

No, Minnesota, Amy did not crush it. She did fine. She did not disappoint – like Beto – but she didn’t significantly advance her cause, like Julián Castro, Eric Swalwell, or Bill de Blasio. And last night Kamala Harris made it one helluva lot harder for second tier candidates to merely maintain the status quo.  At a certain point, Klobuchar – and others in her peer set – will have to figure out how to dramatically change the game. But Klobuchar’s candidacy – like most – will live to see the next debate.

In our post on Monday of this week, we divided the candidates into four tiers. We’ll grade out performances by tiers. 

Tier One: The five front runners in the polls... Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and Harris. 

Make no mistake: Joe Biden took a torpedo below the water line last night. Even before his confrontation with Harris, though, Joe Biden’s age was apparent as an issue. He simply looked significantly older than he did in his last public gig as VP.  We had noted in our pre-debate forecast that Biden had a choice between going for the jugular or being avuncular: would he attempt to play it safe and project the aspects of his personality that are wise, measured, above the fray, and presidential, or would he attempt to put forward a lusty, high-octane charisma-fest to prove that he can still mix it up with the kids? 

The answer, unfortunately, seemed to be the worst combination: he appeared to be trying to put on a high-energy performance, but was straining to do so. 

Perhaps more troubling for Biden… in the entire two hours, there was no singular moment in which he made magic happen. There will be no video highlight to show he’s still got game. As the exchange between Harris and Biden goes viral today, the primary visual that many Americans will have of Biden is him in a defensive crouch, unable to successfully respond to a withering direct attack. 

It’s quite the comment on Pete Buttigieg’s remarkable rise that he went into night knowing he was going to be a target for attack, too. He’s a target because of his standing in the polls, to be sure, but also because of his possible vulnerability due to his handling of the police shooting of a black man in South Bend. Buttigieg handled the direct questioning on the topic with humility and honest reflection, and appeared to have navigated that issue well. Throughout the remainder of the evening, he was the Pete Buttigieg cable news viewers have come to know well: thoughtful, richly informed, insistent on peeling away the layers of problems and seeing deeper root causes and unexamined consequences. As expected, Buttigieg did well.

Elizabeth Warren was so good in the opening forty-five minutes of the Wednesday night debate that few seemed to notice that she essentially disappeared for the rest of the evening. Nobody packed more into a 60 second response than Warren… she managed to re-frame each issue, identify the underlying cause, and propose specific policy remedies in less time than it takes McDonalds to hawk a McRib. In the second hour, Warren seemed content to sit on her clear lead and let the playground fight between the anonymous, the desperate, and the moderators devolve into a drone of irrelevance. 

Make no mistake: the sizzling campaign success registered by Warren of late has made life very difficult for Bernie Sanders, her rival for leadership of the party’s progressive wing. The razor-sharp performance by Warren the prior night raised the stakes. Bernie Sanders is an exceptional debater, and he knows the power of a dramatic pause, a high-relief contrast, and a shocking statistic. Still and all, he can sound like a one-note johnny, and last night he seemed to push every issue through his singular filter of income inequality.  Yes, Bernie may have been ahead of his time in 2016, but the ironic consequence is that he feels like old news in 2020. Polling data suggests that progressives are shifting their bet to Warren. Bernie did not do enough last night to stem that tide.

Tier Two: Big Names with No Traction To Date.

Prior to the debate, we identified four candidates who had been expected to be far more formidable than they have proven on the stump so far: Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Booker and Klobuchar put in performances that helped them rather than hurt, but neither performance was a game-changer. 

Beto O’Rourke, however, está en un gran problema… it could be that the reason he broke into Spanish is that he is not all that coherent in his native tongue. O’Rourke rose to prominence with a rhetorical flair that soared on the wings of shared youtube videos, but that gift was nowhere to be found on Wednesday night. The very first question fired at O’Rourke sought to pin him down on a very specific tax policy issue, a savvy move by Savannah Guthrie, as Beto is known to be long on Vanity Fair and short on wonkspeak. O’Rourke fumbled uncomfortably and it seemed to torque his mood for the evening.

Savannah Guthrie: “Congressman, that's time, sir. I'll give you ten seconds to answer if you want to answer the direct question. Would you support a 70 percent individual marginal tax rate? Yes, no, or pass?
O’Rourke: “I would support a tax rate and a tax code that is fair to everyone. Tax capital at the same rate... “
Guthrie: “Seventy percent?”
O’Rourke: “... that you -- you tax ordinary income. Take that corporate tax rate up to 28 percent. You would generate the revenues... “

O’Rourke’s stammering, stumbling reply – and refusal to answer a simple, direct question -- set his tone for Wednesday evening, and his competitors sensed he was rattled and vulnerable. It was as if O’Rourke became the “easy target.” No one dared take on the uber-wonk Elizabeth Warren, so the likes of Bill de Blasio and Julián Castro feasted off the far more vulnerable O’Rourke.  

Amy Klobuchar put in a solid but unspectacular performance. She had a few good moments – particularly when she defended the record of the women candidates and their commitment to women’s reproductive health. But there is a dryness to Klobuchar’s personna – an absense of emotional fire – that makes her recede on the debate stage. It is the Micheal-Dukakis-in-a-helmet syndrome… she spouts policy but does not seem to connect emotionally. She needs to make the jump into the first tier, and we did not see that happening last night.

Perhaps Cory Booker made more headway. He was animated and emotive, and was able to invoke personal stories of life in Newark, New Jersey, to illustrate his beliefs… particularly on gun violence. Booker was most impressive when he bluntly condemned the pharmaceutical industry that is concentrated in the very state he represents. He was also able to illustrate the interrelationship of divergent issues – how healthcare impacts education and retirement, for example – and add urgency to the need to tackle the hardest problems. Booker may enjoy an uptick in the polls, but he, too, did not make a big leap through his debate performance.

If Kirsten Gillibrand did “better than expected,” it may largely be because expectations were so low. Once expected to be a formidable candidate, Gillibrand has barely made a ripple in the public consciousness. Gillibrand was particularly abrasive in the first hour of last night’s debate, as she repeatedly interrupted her colleagues on stage, talked over the moderators who sought order, and sounded whiny and petulant in so doing. In that she was essentially replicating the invasive style of Bill de Blasio on Wednesday night, the two representatives of the Empire State did a pretty effective job of proving to the rest of the country that New Yorkers are every bit as obnoxious as their reputation would suggest. Gillibrand seemed to settle down as the debate wore on, but we doubt that she made any real progress last night.

Tier 3: The “unloved knowns” and the “total unknowns.” 

Tier 3 candidates are the people who urgently needed a break-out performance to rise above a sub-one-percent preference.  

Two stood out head and shoulders above the rest: Bill de Blasio and Julián Castro.
  
When de Blasio first spoke, it was to rudely interrupt and challenge Beto O’Rourke about the latter’s advocacy of private health insurance. At that moment, it appeared that Bill de Blasio’s core thesis was that the Democrats' best chance to beat a pompous, self-involved, bloviating blowhard from New York City is with their very own pompous, self-involved, bloviating blowhard from New York City. It was de Blasio who tore the veneer of good behavior off the spectacle when he brazenly interrupted O’Rourke in mid-answer.  As if flagging down a beer vendor at Yankee Stadium, de Blasio simply thundered over the restrained O’Rourke, and commandeered the platform with a startling, confident swagger. He was further emboldened when the moderators meekly allowed him to hijack the moment.  

What surprised everybody – including, probably, a fair portion of the city he leads – was that de Blasio segued into remarkable personal stories, and how those personal experiences inspire his candidacy. His discussion of his father's undiagnosed WW II PTSD was profound. Of all the candidates, de Blasio seemed most intent on reminder Democrats what the party stands for. By the time the evening was done, de Blasio had done much to make people forget the noisy interruptions. Expect a jump in his polling. 

Julián Castro sensed O’Rourke’s vulnerability and startled one and all by going in for the kill on O’Rourke’s command of immigration law. Castro called out O’Rourke by name, and at one point accused him of “not doing his homework.” Castro had a defining moment was when he was discussing the immigration crisis and the newly released horrifying photo of a father and young child face down, drowned in the Rio Grande River.

“I'm very proud that in April I became the first candidate to put forward a comprehensive immigration plan. And we saw those images, watching that image of Oscar and his daughter, Valeria, is heartbreaking. It should also piss us all off.

There was something Castro’s blunt, crude, vernacular that startled the audience. It instantly made him at once human, strong, and forceful. Castro did very well, and he, too, should enjoy a significant jump in the polls.

The remainder of the “one percenters” did their best to wrest more than their share of attention, but no one really scored. 

Tim Ryan seemed intent on demonizing his own party as a bunch of coastal prep-school elites who are too busy sipping woody cabernets to notice that his Ohio constituents were suffering. While strong and passionate, he took heavy incoming from military veteran Tulsi Gabbard when Ryan appeared to conflate the Taliban and Al Qaedi as the party responsible for 9/11. That was the closest thing to Def Con 1 gaffe that happened either night. 

Jay Inslee’s go-to was the phrase “I am the only candidate on the stage who (fill in topic here).” This worked reasonably well until he tried to go this route on women’s reproductive rights. This teed up Amy Klobuchar’s scorching rebuttal that there were three women on the stage who were doing one helluva lot about a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices. Inslee went soggy after Klobuchar klobbered him.  

John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet were each well-informed, earnest, and credible. In any other year, their performance last night might have led to further evaluation. But this party is looking for a heavyweight puncher who can mix it up with a ferocious, bullying, lying, utterly corrupt scumbag. The cerebral and mild-mannered Hickenlooper and Bennet are going nowhere. 

Tulsi Gabbard had strong moments as she leveraged her military background to make powerful points about foreign policy. However, she was called out on her past behavior relative to the LGBTQ community, and the net of her evening was neutral to slightly positive. She did not do enough to significantly change her trajectory. 

Three candidates bombed.

Andrew Yang, bless his heart, was the only candidate who refused to interrupt others in a desperate plea for mic time. His reward for good behavior? He spoke only a few times all evening, and did not make enough of an impression in any moment to break through.He, too, suffered from "Johnny One Note" syndrome, as he seemed to suggest that his proposal to give every American $1,000 a month was a universal panacea for everything from healthcare to climate change.

We anticipated that Marianne Williamson was the biggest wild card of the 20 candidates, and we thought that her many years of public speaking might make her the surprise of the debates.  Well, yes, she was a surprise all right.  Unfortunately, Williamson’s position at the far end of the stage was a metaphor for the candidate who represented Pluto. She was in sequence goofy, spooky, and loopy. While the other candidates may now go up or down in the polls, Ms. Williamson seems destined to go to return to low earth orbit.

The only candidate who utterly bombed was that really nerdy looking guy way over on the right on Wednesday night… you know… what’s-his-name. I think it was Delaney. Wow, what a whiny jerk! He kept talking over the moderators, kept talking beyond his time allowance, and we can only hope that he falls below the qualification line for the next debate. 

We do always try to include one brief comment in our debate analysis about the moderators. NBC’s line-up did very well with their questions… they were tough, direct, and challenged the candidates on their vulnerabilities. However, the moderators did a poor job of keeping order, and failed to effectively shut down the most egregious violations of time limits and decorum. They have to do better. Kamala Harris was right: Americans do not want these debates to be food fights.

In fact, Kamala Harris was right about a lot of stuff last night.

The Democratic Party is desperate to find someone who is sure to beat Donald Trump. That is the criteria, end of story.

Joe Biden's strong support to date has been because most people believe that he is the most likely to beat Trump. That belief system was shaken last night. 

Harris intuited that the best way to prove that she is the one who can take it to Trump would be to take it to the current front runner. Sure, let other candidates attack O'Rourke or Buttigieg. Harris knew that the only way to position herself as the leader was to take on the leader. 

In that moment, Biden needed to show how he could handle tough attacks, pivot, and fight back. He did not.

With 20 candidates, it seemed like it was going to be hard to declare a single winner.

Turns out it’s not difficult at all.

Round one to the Senator from California.


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Monday, June 24, 2019

BTRTN: Miami Vise: Who's Gonna Get Squeezed in the Dem Debates?


The first Presidential debates of the 2020 campaign season will be held in Miami on Wednesday, June 26 and Thursday, June 27. Steve provides predictions about how the two nights will unfold.

The heat is on, baby. Don Johnson’s in a t-shirt and a turquoise blazer, the orange groves are flush, and the Dems are here in ground zero for global warming. It’s Miami, and it’s showtime! Enough of those CNN town hall love fests, Iowa corn-dog photo-ops, and cute candidate Instagram posts. We’re Democrats -- let’s get ready to grumble!
 
Everything changes this Wednesday and Thursday in Miami. That’s when the Democratic race finally breaks beyond the Axios addicts and MSNBC main-liners. That’s when we finally see the twenty leading candidates – ten each night -- together on a stage before a live audience on a big-three television network. 

For an event happening a full sixteen months before the 2020 election, these debates actually have startlingly high stakes.  We expect record-breaking viewership for an opening debate, as Democrats across the land are already at Def Con One in their urgent search for a sure winner, the candidate who is most certain to soundly thump Trump in November, 2020. 

It is that urgency that makes this debate so important. You can only make one first impression, and in a field of 23 candidates, it’s not wise to assume you will even get the chance to make a second. For that matter, it’s not a certainty that subsequent debates will be anywhere near the ratings bonanza that the opening two promise to be. Sure, it’s just the first debate – well over a year before election – but for some, it’s now or never. Some candidates are going to get squeezed hard in this Miami Vise.

Today, we discuss which candidates have the most at stake in Miami, and how these debates are likely to effect their campaigns. 

One factor that will weigh heavily on the outcome of these debates has already been decided: the Democratic National Committee has assigned ten candidates to each of the two nights through a process that was intended to ensure that the eight candidates faring best in the polls (that is, over two percent) would be divided evenly between the two evenings. The outcome, however, was that four of the five candidates who have had the most success to date – Biden, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg – are all appearing on the same stage on Thursday night.  Of the five in the top tier, only Elizabeth Warren will be on the stage on Wednesday night… which is both good news and bad news for her. Sure, she’ll enjoy more focus as the lone Wednesday star, but she will not be in the mix for what is likely to be the sharper-elbowed Thursday night brawl of the top-tier.

In fact, the Wednesday night candidates are at a distinct disadvantage. It’s likely that viewership could actually be lower on the first night than on the second night, as all the news services make much of the fact that all the bold-faced candidates are on the second night. More problematic: all of these candidates want to be taking direct shots at front-runners Biden and Sanders, but it’s very tough to do that if they are not even on the stage to defend themselves.

So who wins and who loses? We’ll make some bold predictions.

Does Biden go for the avuncular or the jugular? 

The central drama of the two-night play is whether Joe Biden will live up to the expectations he has raised in decisively seizing the status of front-runner in the race. If Biden is judged to have had an exceptional evening, you can bet that MSNBC’s prime time line-up will start doing segments on potential running mates by the following Monday. Biden has big lead in the polls, and if he does well on the debate stage, there will be a yearning to coronate, coalesce, unify, and get on with the business of beating Trump. But the odds of that actually happening are slim.

Biden has a deep well of support in the party, but polling data indicates that his early preference numbers are soft, and largely a reflection of name awareness. Moreover, it will be the first time that many voters have focused on Biden as a 76 year-old candidate, and his age will be accentuated by the relative youngsters who will surround him on the stage. Chastened by criticism of his touchy-feely style, Biden seemed to be trying to be more cautious, but his historic penchant for self-destructive gaffes has already begun to re-surface on the campaign trail.  

This will be the essential drama of the debates, and it is Biden’s Miami Vise. Will Biden attempt to play it safe and project the aspect of his personality that is wise, measured, cautious, above the fray, and presidential – and risk appearing to be low-T, saggy old Grandpa Faux Pas? Or will he bound onto the stage, bursting with sass and wreaking ‘tood, all in a calculated effort to show that he can still mix it up with the kids and has the moxy to take it to the Insulter-in-Chief next fall?

Biden’s performance will be further magnified by the fact that many of the candidates will be playing Biden Go Seek. It is the burden of being the front-runner: any number of competitors will seek to elevate their standing and stature by knocking Biden down. This means Biden will spend the evening taking incoming from all sides and on virtually any topic… from his handling of the Anita Hill hearings to his support of the 1994 Crime bill, from his vote in favor of the Iraqi war to the plagiarism that ended his 1988 campaign, from his very recent real-time triple axel flippity-floppity-flu on the Hyde amendment to his easy-to-misinterpret comment about working well with segregationist Senate colleagues. If Joe Biden were a ship, it would be named the Gaffe Spree.

To date, Biden has aimed his guns directly at Donald Trump, thereby attempting to rise above the partisan bickering of the lesser known candidates. But he will take withering assaults – if not from other candidates, then certainly from the broadcast journalists who have drawers full of “gotcha” questions ready for the big dog. Should he respond to these attacks, or attempt to dismiss it all off with a vague Papal wave? Come Thursday night, we’ll find out whether we are seeing Biden 1.0, 2.0, or some entirely new and buggy software release.

We suspect that Biden – typically – will try to split all the differences, attempting to project gravitas and thoughtful wisdom to one question, and rakish, youthful charm and energetic charisma to the next. One minute he will be projecting his salt-of-the-earth, gritty Pennsylvania roots, and the next moment he will try to define his identity by stapling himself directly to Barack Obama. One minute he will attempt to dismiss a direct attack with the back of his hand, the next minute he will go full machismo by taking it right back at some unknown Congressman who wanted to score debate points at his expense. This Sybil Strategy is dangerous. Yes, Biden is familiar, but he is not necessarily known. More than anything, he must project authenticity and consistency....a sense of being completely comfortable in his own skin. 

The existential risk of being the front runner is that there is only one way to go… down. If Biden does not put forth a decisive show of command and strength in these debates, it throws a bucket of cold water on his momentum and inevitability. The reality is that cable networks get higher ratings if there is an exciting race, so they will reflexively gravitate to the shiny new objects that emerge over the two nights. The Democrats so crave a candidate that can beat Donald Trump that they would have no qualms about moving away from Biden if he is perceived to be damaged goods. It will open the doors for other candidates to get further consideration.

Our bet: Biden will get merely passing grades for a solid, workmanlike performance, but it is impossible to deliver a knock-out punch to 22 opponents. He will leave the door open for a fresh face to burst through. And there are a host of fresh faces chomping at the bit. 

Warren Factions: Elizabeth Ascending, Bernie Fading

Thursday night will also be a critically important night for Bernie Sanders, largely because the mojo in his segment of the party is swinging big time to Elizabeth Warren. Sanders and Warren are competing for the most progressive and ideological wing of the party, and that town ain’t big enough for the two of them. Both have a strong enough following to make it to the primaries, but they will face an epic confrontation in New Hampshire, which neighbors both candidates’ home states. At that point, one – or both – goes home.

It doesn’t appear that the shift in momentum to Warren is because of anything that Bernie is doing wrong… it’s mostly that the Massachusetts Senator has been on a roll. In a party that usually must chose between a policy wonk and a charismatic, Elizabeth Warren is threading the needle, presenting herself  as both. She lights up her town halls with fiery attacks on the elite, the entitled, and the establishment, and yet her simple but effective mantra (“I have a plan for that!”) demonstrates that she has the 3-D Excel spreadsheets to back up the soaring rhetoric.

Here’s what’s particularly problematic for Bernie: Elizabeth Warren is the only A-list star in the Wednesday night debate. So before Bernie even steps behind his podium on Thursday, Warren could well have stoked her own momentum with a killer performance against nine dwarfs. 

Bernie must also anticipate that he will be a target for the journalists who pose the debate questions – and he can expect to be aggressively questioned about whether his branding of “democratic socialism” is a gift to Donald Trump.  He will be put on the defensive, and other candidates will pounce.

Talk about a Miami Vise: to Bernie’s left is a younger, female, high-energy ascending rock star who has stolen his thunder as the party’s leftist policy wonk, and to Bernie’s right is another craggy over-75-year-old white guy who is crushing him in the early polls.  Below him are people like Eric Swalwell and Kristin Gillibrand, who are eager to score a solid punch on a vulnerable front runner. 

In the end, Bernie’s raspy, acerbic, stick-it-to-the-establishment outrage was perfect as a lone voice in the wilderness taking on the party’s anointed Hillary Clinton in 2016, but now it may just sound like a cranky, angry, alienating, risky old fart to a party that only wants to find a candidate who is certain to beat Donald Trump. Bernie has to figure out how to navigate this Miami Vise, or he is going to limp out of Florida with a hyooooooge problem. 

Our bet: Miami is the beginning of the end for Bernie. If Warren continues to close the polling gap with Sanders, she could be on a trajectory to a spot on the national ticket. 

The Not-So-Wild Card: Buttigieg May Steal the Show

People who are still pooh-poohing that a 37 year old gay mayor of a tiny city could be running for President need to come out from under their rock. Pete Buttigieg is not simply exceeding expectations, he is consistently and dramatically outperforming his Democratic rivals.  Wake up, Dems… Mayor Pete is the real deal. He is a category five phenomenon who has an uncanny ability to unfurl gracefully constructed paragraphs in real time on any topic that is thrown his way. If he wasn’t flustered on Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher, or Fox News, it’s hard to see why it would be any different on a debate stage.

It’s a strange thing to say about a guy who is half the age of both of the front-runners, but Buttigieg consistently comes across as the most mature, measured, and thoughtful person in the entire field. Other candidates talk about being unifiers. Buttigieg unifies.

A 37-year-old gay mayor of a tiny town who decides to run for President does not lack for chutzpah. Don’t be surprised if Buttigieg elegantly but deliberately goes after Biden, goading the front-runner into a direct exchange. Pete is not going to do this in a nasty or snarky way -- that would be off-brand -- but Buttigieg is shrewd, and knows that the best place for him to take polling points is directly from Biden. Mayor Pete would want nothing more than endless Youtube video loops of a pitched exchange between him and Biden.

On the campaign trail, Mayor Pete has gone after Biden on the age issue, which is definitely an edgy thing to do if you are a part of your very own oppressed and much-aggrieved minority. To be clear: Buttigieg is not saying Biden is not qualified because he is old, but because the “old normal” no longer works. Buttigieg believes that 2020 is a generational election, and that younger leadership is essential to see new solutions. But the message is clear… are we really going to beat their 73 year old with our 76 year old? It will be interesting to see how Biden handles it, because we can tell you right now, Joe… that fastball is coming at you, hard and inside.

Many Americans will be seeing Buttigieg for the first time on Thursday night, and you can fully expect that a large percentage will be as charmed by him as those who have followed him closely on cable news. The bet here is that while Biden’s performance is considered solid, Buttigieg is the next morning’s lead story. And that is a problem for…

Kamala Harris: Time to Get Moving

The Miami Vise facing Kamala Harris is that she has yet to live up to her apparent potential as a candidate. She is undoubtedly a powerful, serious person of great substance, but of the top tier candidates, she has yet to provide the clear, unique, and compelling rationale for her candidacy. She has staying power, is well-funded, and will make it to the primaries. But there are only two “new generation” candidates in the top tier… Harris and Buttigieg. If – as we anticipate – he is perceived to be the exciting newcomer in the debate, that is a serious blow to her desire to be the candidate of generational change. Harris needs to have a break-out performance, but she has not demonstrated her ability to accomplish this on the campaign trail or the cable news circuit. 

Still, we're betting that she will come out ahead for the evening. The networks love rising stars, and Harris has the poise, camera presence, and gravitas to impress.

The Vulnerables

The conventional wisdom is that there is “no downside to running for President.” That theory holds that a run is great for name recognition, visibility, and can set you up for a cabinet post or even the VP nod. 

However, it is hard to see how that theory is holding up for any of Kirsten Gillibrand, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, or Amy Klobuchar.  

Start with Gillibrand, who set her campaign off on the decidedly wrong foot by announcing her candidacy on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Hey, we love Colbert, but this is not the season for a Democrat to declare their desire to help America’s struggling and downtrodden from the glitzy interview couch of an A-List zillionaire comedic celebrity. Barely a blip in the polls, Gillibrand may emerge from this experience viewed as a far less serious player in the party than if she’d just sat on the sidelines. Gillibrand could well view these debates as do or die, and swing wildly for the fences with big new policy promises or very sharp attacks on front runners. It is possible that a candidate can salvage a flat-lining campaign with a single brilliant moment, but we haven’t seen anything resembling that from Gillibrand so far.

Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar were also expected to be much more formidable candidates than they have appeared to date. Neither has done well in the polls, neither has developed a powerful message, and neither has demonstrated an aptitude for fundraising.  Both will benefit from appearing on Wednesday night, and therefore not fighting for camera time with Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, or Harris. You can count on a Lester Holt or Rachel Maddow to smack these two in the nose by asking them to explain their lackluster performance. The good news – and the bad news -- is that they have each had plenty of time and reason to ponder how to answer this question. Each needs a big night. Booker has far more capacity for the big charismatic moment than Klobuchar, and Booker is far more willing to deliver a hard punch at Biden than the reserved Minnesota Senator. Both could be gasping for oxygen by mid-July. 

It was not long ago that Beto O’Rourke was the great young white hope, the Bobby Kennedy doppelgänger who almost took down Ted Cruz in Texas. Then Pete Buttigieg showed up. O’Rourke has been wobbly since his campaign launch, and is not landing solid punches with his policy statements.  O’Rourke will benefit from the fact that he is on Wednesday night, where he may well be the second most recognizable figure after Elizabeth Warren. He also is well funded and therefore has staying power that others may not. Expect a great deal of energy and passion from Beto, and we suspect he will get a boost from a strong night.

Ain’t No Starting Us Now: Who is (fill in blank), and why is that Person Running for President?

Below the two tiers noted above are what we might call the total unknowns and the unloved knowns. The latter – Castro, de Blasio, Ryan, Swalwell, Hickenlooper – have a glimmer of recognition because they hold serious offices, spend way too much time on cable news programming, have a twin brother that makes them appear more ubiquitous than they really are, or have a weird, memorable name.

Bill de Blasio’s quixotic run for the White House has most people simply perplexed, as it feels like the Second Avenue Subway has been open for longer than he has been Mayor of New York. His mantra is that being Mayor of NYC is the “second toughest job in the country,” which serves only to raise the point that he should prove that he can do the second toughest job before he runs for what is actually the toughest job. 

If anyone in this group is able to significantly raise their stature, our bet is on Swalwell. This guy is on MSNBC so often he must sleep on a cot in their studio, and he is an appealing, youthful, telegenic presence. He just came out for impeachment, and he could make that his issue. Swalwell’s big advantage? He appears on Thursday night, with all the big names. He is smart and a policy wonk, so he might see his golden opportunity as being known as the guy who tripped up Biden.

And then there are a bunch of people you’ve never heard of: Yang, Bennet, Inslee, Delaney, Gabbard, Williamson. Their presence on the debate stage is the functional equivalent of a small advertiser placing a gigantic bet by running a single ad on the Superbowl. These people know that they have one chance and one chance only to elevate their non-existent stature. Look for these people to be heaving improvised explosive rhetorical devices at the front-runners, hoping that they score the direct hit that wounds a major candidate and ends up being shared fifty million times on Instagram.

Just for sport, we’ll bet that from this group, it is spiritual advisor and frequent Oprah guest Marianne Williamson gets the big “better than expected” seal of approval from cable networks. Again, a key factor is simple television presence: Williamson is a seasoned performer, and she – like Swalwell -- is appearing on the target-rich Thursday stage that includes Biden, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg. 

In sum, here’s our scorecard:

Overall Winner:
Pete Buttigieg

Those who will be judged to have done very well and who will gain in the polls:
Warren
Harris
O’Rourke

Those who will hold serve:
Biden
Booker
Castro

Those who will outperform expectations, but it won’t matter on the long run:
Swalwell
Williamson

Those who need to make an impact but won't.
Ryan
Inslee
Hickenlooper
Bennet
Delaney
Yang
Gabbard

Those who will be declared “Losers:”
Gillibrand
Sanders
De Blasio
Klobuchar

Cue that theme song, and let’s see Sonny Crockett in shades. It's must see tv, everybody. Game time, candidates. Take your podiums, and get ready for Miami Vise

Let's see who get squeezed. 

Steve will be back Friday with his post-debate scorecard on the winners, the losers, and the gaffers.

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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

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