Swing State Pres

Monday, November 18, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Changing of the Guard? Pete Ascendant as Warren Flattens in a Wide Open Race

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


THE LEAD

These are the main headlines for the past month of the 2020 presidential campaign, from mid-October to mid-November:

Image result for 2020 vision·        It’s a four-candidate race in Iowa, with Pete Buttigieg nudging ahead of the field, followed  (very) closely by Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden    and Bernie Sanders. 

·        But recent polls show that Warren’s upward dash    in Iowa and New Hampshire may have peaked,     as she comes under attack for her “Medicare for All” policy, which is now defining her campaign (oddly, since it is the only policy plan that she did not author herself, instead she endorsed Sanders’ plan).

·        Biden continues to show resiliency in the face of an uneven run, maintaining the same lead in the national polls he has enjoyed for months, still holding at roughly 30% of Democrats.  He also continues to be the strongest candidate versus Trump in head-to-head polling, particularly in the key red states that must be flipped on the “path to 270” in 2020.

·        Those rumblings of dissatisfaction with the state of the field you heard turned out to be the footsteps of Deval Patrick, who entered the race, and Mike Bloomberg, who met a filing deadline for Alabama, though remains undeclared.

·        Heretofore minor candidates are showing the slightest signs of life here and there, and our eyes are on Amy Klobuchar – is she entering the radar screen in Iowa?


THE FIELD

The Democratic field lost two candidates, notably Beto O’Rourke and, less notably, Mike Ryan, to winnow the field to 17, but then added Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts.  So we are now at 18, still a remarkably unwieldy number at this juncture.  And Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City, met a filing deadline for early primaries and indicated a full decision to enter the race would be made quite soon.  Both indicated they would likely skip Iowa, and Bloomberg might actually take a pass on all four early races and make a play for Super Tuesday.

The Republican field, such as it is, dwindled from four to three with the departure of Mark Sanford, the former Governor of South Carolina.

A full list of the current field appears at the end of this article.


THE MONTH

The race, with 77 days to go before the Iowa caucuses, is wide, wide open.  The “top tier” contenders in Iowa are bunched within seven percentage points, and yet another new face, Pete Buttigieg, is at the top of the polls.  If Iowa is wide open, then so is the entire race.

But that’s not all.  Might some of the other candidates, long plodding in the nether regions of polling, be making moves, at long last?  Amy Klobuchar has hit the 5% mark in Iowa, a modest milestone, to be sure, but perhaps indicative of an opening for her in the “moderate” lane.  Andrew Yang has hit 4% in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and Tom Steyer has done the same in South Carolina.

And who knows…Deval Patrick could make a mark in neighboring (from his home base in Massachusetts) New Hampshire.  And then there is Mike Bloomberg, unannounced and with no real toehold in the crowded field, but a big-name billionaire with strong moderate credentials.

The Democrats have not had a race this wide open since 1992, when the virtual unknown Bill Clinton took the nomination, after having won neither Iowa (which went to favorite son Tom Harkin) nor New Hampshire (which went to next-door Senator Paul Tsongas).

Let’s take a look at the frontrunners.

Pete Buttigieg has jumped to the lead in Iowa, based on three recent polls by respectable pollsters.  (Keep in mind that polls in Iowa do not translate to outcomes as easily as in primary states, because the caucus process is so cumbersome compared to traditional primary balloting.)  Pete is benefitting from his own effortless acumen and charisma, in both the debates and on the campaign trail.  He has focused like a laser on Iowa, which has helped, and he is a fundraising darling.  And, perhaps most importantly, he has positioned himself successfully as a viable alternative to the aging, gaffe-prone Biden and the probably-too-bold-for-the-Midwest Warren (and Sanders).  Pete’s Achilles’ heel remains his lukewarm (at best) support in the African-American community, a weakness that will not be revealed in either lily-white Iowa or New Hampshire but could hurt him down the road.

Elizabeth Warren just may have peaked too soon.  Her electric run straight up the polls over the last six months has ended in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and she has made no progress – at all – against Biden in South Carolina and not much in Nevada.  Warren’s dream is a “knockout blow,” to win both Iowa and neighboring New Hampshire, but her policies may prove too hot for either of these purplish states.  The best issue for the Democrats – the one that fueled their 2018 House-flipping blue wave – is health care, and Warren’s call for Medicare for All is, at best, an unneeded complication, and at worse, a scary vote-repelling alternative in the swing states the Democrats need to win in a general election.  Clearly, having earned the frontrunner spotlight over the past few months, she took some heat (Klobuchar landing solidly in the latest debate), and doubt is emerging that her bold (and expensive) progressive policies are right for the times.

Joe Biden continues to show modest declines in Iowa and New Hampshire but resiliency in Nevada and his personal firewall in South Carolina.  Is “comfortable Joe” in fact everyone’s Plan B at this point, the one who might only be embraced once others are carefully examined and discarded?  We have all known Joe Biden for years, whereas the other candidates, even Bernie Sanders, are relatively new.  They are undergoing intense examination now and will be found either appealing or lacking.  If they pass the scrutiny, they will soar past Biden, but if they falter, he is there, as always, a ready, willing, capable, experienced and likable centrist nominee.  Biden’s strongest credential is his “electability,” as demonstrated by his head-to-head polling versus Trump, which continues to lead the field both nationally and in the swing states.  And from an early state strategy standpoint, he needs to survive intact until South Carolina, where he remains dominant due to African-American support.  Joe needs a Top Three finish in both Iowa and New Hampshire, at the very least, and he can perhaps even get away with a tightly bunched fourth-place finish (New Hampshire is Sanders and Warren country).

As for Bernie Sanders, the good news is that he emerged from his heart attack more or less intact.  He is doing better physically (feeling better than ever and taking better care of himself on the trail) and surprisingly well in the polls, where he has shown no slippage.  The problem is, he has never been able to expand his support beyond his exuberant core, and he still trails Warren in the progressive “lane.”  And it is difficult to see how he changes either dynamic, in particular as progressive boldness is being challenged.  New Hampshire is looming as a showdown between the two progressive neighbors, Warren and Sanders.

Other candidates are showing signs of life.  Amy Klobuchar, as noted, had a terrific performance in the last debate, finally giving a coherent counter to Warren’s in-your-face let’s-dream-big policy pitch.  If Klobuchar is going to make a move, this is the time.  Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang are the non-politician curiosities in the field, and they too are showing signs of life.  So too is the mysterious Tulsi Gabbard, whom Hillary Clinton inexplicably brought to the headlines by suggesting the Russians were grooming her for a third-party run.  Gabbard was slow to support impeachment, and seems to be carving out a niche of support among conservative Democrats – an exceedingly small, nearly oxymoronic group, but a toehold, nonetheless.

Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro have all pretty much been forgotten.  Harris’s numbers have dropped across the board, Booker’s as well except for South Carolina, and Castro will not even be on the stage for the next debate.  Castro has sunk to the levels of Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Marian Williamson and Joe Sestak, who all carry on for no sensible reason.

Deval Patrick entered the race but it is hard to see him making a dent.  While his political base of Massachusetts is next door to New Hampshire, he will have to battle Warren and Sanders for home field advantage and, needless to say, they have strong head starts.  And his deep ties to Bain Capital, and to corporate life in general, do not bode well in these progressive times. 

Michael Bloomberg has wealth, a solid track record, and a centrist positioning, but he is essentially a man without a party.  While Donald Trump, another billionaire (perhaps) who has dabbled in all parties, found a way to hijack the GOP for his purposes, it is hard to see Bloomberg doing the same with the Democrats (no matter how often he denounces his own Dem-detested “stop and frisk” policy).  His 2% showing in Iowa polls, and 4% nationally, are not indicative of a party viewing him as their savior.  And his strategy of dumping the early states and making his bid on Super Tuesday is dubious, to say the least.  Camping out in Nevada and saturating its airwaves might be the better approach.

There is an upcoming debate on November 20 in Atlanta, and ten candidates have qualified:  the Big Four plus Booker, Gabbard, Harris, Klobuchar, Steyer and Yang.  They are running out of time to make a difference, and you may see them turning their sites on Mayor Pete – a difficult target and one who has demonstrated a smooth and effective counterpunch already.

Despairing Democrats, who fear this set of candidates does not have what it takes to take down Trump, should take heart in the outcomes of the few elections that were held in November.  The Democrats, astonishingly, defeated the incumbent Republican Governor of deep red Kentucky, the widely (and wildly) disliked Matt Bevin; flipped both chambers of the Virginia Legislature to achieve a trifecta in that increasingly blue state; defended another Deep South gubernatorial seat in Louisiana by re-electing John Bel Edwards; and across the country, in particular Pennsylvania, made blue inroads in local elections.  These elections, along with prior special elections in 2017, 2018 and 2019 as well as the midterms, all point to a repudiation of Donald Trump.  This long-running performance needs a grand finale on November 3, 2020.


THE NUMBERS

Iowa:  Pete takes his turn at the top; Warren stumbles under harsh scrutiny of Medicare for All; Biden slips a nit again; Sanders holds serve after his heart attack; Klobuchar takes a small step up to the 5% mark.  The top four are quite bunched and the race is truly wide open.

Average of Iowa Polls
Candidates
J/A/S (7)
Oct  (5)
Nov (3)
Buttigieg
9
14
22
Warren
19
22
18
Biden
24
19
17
Sanders
14
15
15
Klobuchar
4
3
5
Harris
9
4
3
Steyer
2
2
3
Gabbard
1
2
3
Yang
2
2
3

New Hampshire:  Biden, Warren and Sanders are tied, with Pete on the rise, and Gabbard and Yang show strengthening pulses.

Nevada:  Biden remains ahead, with Warren and Bernie now tied for second.  Pete is moving up, and Steyer and Yang show modest signs of life.

South Carolina.  Still a Biden stronghold, with no real movement by the others, except perhaps Steyer and Booker (who is focusing here at this point).  Pete is actually fading here, a troubling sign for him.
(Note the columns on these charts vary from state to state, depending upon the availability of polls.)

Average of NH Polls

Nevada Polls

Average of South Carolina Polls
Candidates
J/A/S (11)
Early Oct (2)
Lt.O/ Nov (2)

Candidates
A/M/J (2)
J/A/S (5)
Nov (3)

Candidates
A/M/J (3)
J/A/S (8)
Oct (5)
Biden
23
24
18

Biden
31
25
28

Biden
43
40
39
Warren
19
29
17

Warren
15
16
20

Warren
11
15
13
Sanders
18
20
17

Sanders
18
20
19

Sanders
14
14
12
Buttigieg
8
8
13

Buttigieg
6
4
7

Harris
9
6
5
Gabbard
3
2
5

Harris
8
7
4

Steyer
0
2
4
Yang
2
3
4

Steyer
n/a
3
4

Booker
4
2
4
Harris
8
5
3

Yang
3
2
4

Buttigieg
8
4
2
Steyer
2
3
3






Klobuchar
2
2
3











National.   The picture looks more stable on the national level.  Buttigieg is making very modest progress but likely needs the exposure of an Iowa win (or even Top Three finish) to break through.  Biden has stabilized, Warren flattened after a six-month rise, and Sanders has been undisturbed by either his health issue or the publicity around it.  No one else is showing any movement at the national level – to the extent that matters.  The real challenge is to make an impact in the early states and use that momentum to build delegates throughout the primary process in 2020.

Average of National Polls for the Month at Mid-Month
Candidates
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Biden
29
29
31
37
34
30
30
28
28
28
Warren
7
7
6
8
10
13
15
17
23
21
Sanders
17
23
23
18
17
16
16
17
16
17
Buttigieg
0
0
3
7
7
6
5
5
6
7
Harris
11
11
9
8
7
11
10
7
5
5
Yang
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
3
3
3
Booker
4
5
4
3
2
2
2
2
2
2
Klobuchar
2
4
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
2
Gabbard
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
Castro
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
Steyer
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
1
1
Bennet
n/a
n/a
n/a
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
Bullock
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
1
0
1
Delaney
0
0
1
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
Williamson
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
1
1
0
Sestak
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
Messam
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
0
0


WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP?

This is the core measure of “electability” that thus far has been the calling card of Joe Biden’s campaign (“I can beat Trump”).  Biden combines exceptional head-to-head polling numbers with a simple path to 270 – taking back the Midwest – and on these pillars lays his claim to electability.

Sanders and Warren both do very well versus Trump nationally.  But in swing state head-to-head polls, Biden is ahead by a good +4 margin on average, which looms large when you consider that 10 states were decided by four points or less in 2016.  Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg hold only narrow margins over Trump.

Head-to-Head October/November Polls Dems Versus Trump
Nat'l/State Polls
Biden
Warren
Sanders
Buttigieg
National
Biden +10
Warren +7
Sanders +8
Buttigieg +2
Avg. Swing State
Biden +4
Warren +1
Sanders +2
Buttigieg +0.2

The chart below shows the data swing state by swing state, ranked by blue to red (according to the margin of Clinton/Trump in 2016).  Biden does best in this states, beating Trump in many states that went for Trump in 2016, in some cases by wide margins.  Sanders does reasonably well, but Warren and Buttigieg fare relatively poorly, particularly in those red states that must be flipped on the path to 270.

State
2016 Margin
Versus Trump
Biden
Warren
Sanders
Buttigieg
MAINE
+3
+12
+10
+10
+9
MINN
+2
+12
+11
+9
n/a
NEV
+2
+3
+1
+4
0
MICH
-0.2
+7
+2
+9
n/a
FL
-1
+4
-1
-1
-1
PA
-1
+5
+2
+2
n/a
WISC
-1
+5
+1
+3
-2
AZ
-4
+2
-1
-3
n/a
NC
-4
+3
-1
0
-2
GA
-5
+8
+3
+4
+3
IOWA
-9
-2
-5
-1
-4
TX
-9
-7
-7
-5
n/a
OHIO
-11
+6
+4
+6
n/a



THE GOP RACE

Is there a GOP race?  Not really.   Recent polls – yes, someone is doing them -- have Trump at 87%.  Williams Weld is at 2% and Joe Walsh at 1%.


THE FULL FIELD

Here are the entire Democratic and Republican fields as of today.

Democratic Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls     (10/16 - 11/15)
Joe Biden
76
4/25/2019
Ex-VP and Ex-Senator, Delaware
28%
Bernie Sanders
78
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
23%
Elizabeth Warren
70
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
16%
Kamala Harris
55
1/18/2019
Senator, California
6%
Pete Buttigieg
37
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
5%
Andrew Yang
44
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
2%
Cory Booker
50
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
2%
Amy Klobuchar
59
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
1%
Julian Castro
45
1/10/2019
Ex-Secretary, HUD
1%
Tulsi Gabbard
38
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
1%
Steve Bullock
53
5/14/2019
Governor, Montana
1%
Marianne Williamson
67
1/28/2019
Self-help author
1%
Tom Steyer
62
7/9/2019
Billionaire hedge fund manager
1%
Michael Bennet
54
5/2/2019
Senator, Colorado
0%
John Delaney
56
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
0%
Wayne Messam
45
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida
0%
Joe Sestak
67
6/23/2019
Ex-Representative, Pennsylvania
0%
Deval Patrick
63
11/13/2019
Ex-Governor, Massachusetts
0%





Republican Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls     (10/16 - 11/15)
Donald Trump
73
6/18/2019
President
86%
William Weld
74
4/15/2019
Ex-Governor, Massachusetts
2%
Joe Walsh
57
8/25/2019
Ex-Representative, Illinois
1%



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