Swing State Pres

Monday, December 16, 2019

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Are Democrats Too Exhausted for Disrupters?


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-November to mid-December:

·        Two themes have emerged as the unsettled field continues to jockey back and forth:  do the Democrats need a “mental health break” – rather than radical disruptive change -- in the wake of Trump?  And…are the Democrats headed for a brokered convention?
 
·        Elizabeth Warren’s stall in November has led to a tumble in December.  The big-idea Massachusetts Senator’s support dropped markedly where it counts, in Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as nationally, with her “Medicare For All” pitch, with its $20-30 trillion price tag, now scaring more Dems than it has attracted.

·        Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders held up well this month, as Biden actually improved in Iowa and continued to lead comfortably in Nevada and South Carolina, and Sanders passed Warren to lead in the progressive lane.

·        Pete Buttigieg’s upward surge in Iowa and New Hampshire came to a halt, but he still commands a solid position there, and he also made modest progress in Nevada and South Carolina.

·        Can Amy Klobuchar play the tortoise in a field with no hares?  She is finally scoring in the polls as she travels the centrist lane in pragmatic, “aw shucks” fashion, hitting the 10% mark in the latest Iowa poll, continuing a material rise in her fortunes there.

·        The field narrowed to 16 with big name Kamala Harris suddenly suspending her once-promising but badly flagging effort, and two others dropping out as well.

·        And Mike Bloomberg’s money-saturated start has given him a foot in the door in California and Texas, but whether he can survive skipping the early four states (focusing instead on Super Tuesday) remains to be seen.  Meanwhile, there has been no sign of Deval Patrick since he entered, at least in the polls.


THE FIELD

The Democratic field lost three candidates in the last month, most notably Kamala Harris, who abruptly dropped out in the face of lack of funds and the reality that, since her takedown of Joe Biden in the first debate, she has headed steadily downhill in the polls.  Former Montana Governor Steve Bullock and former Pennsylvania Representative Joe Sestak also gave up their quixotic runs, so we are now at 16, still a remarkably unwieldy number at this juncture.  Happily, no one else has entered the race in the last month.

The Republican field, such as it is, remains at three, with Trump being nominally challenged by William Weld and Joe Walsh. 

The full fields as they stand now are summarized in the chart at the end of this article.


THE MONTH

As the impeachment inquiry grinds on in Washington, the nation seems less riveted and more exhausted.  The inquiry itself may be speedy by historical standards, but the numbing nature of the testimony, the public rancor of our elected officials and the ever-blasting tweet machine of our guilty-as-charged-but-nevertheless-much-aggrieved President have all contributed to a national stupor.  We talk of nothing else, and yet yearn, short-term, for any distraction and, long term, for a government we can calmly ignore as it goes about its business.

Is that what is happening to Elizabeth Warren?  Warren rocketed to the top over the first six months of her campaign, with an idea for everything and a detailed plan on how to restructure America.  But success breeds scrutiny, with scrutiny comes the questions, and it seems the biggest one was:  is this really the time for a structural revolution of American society?  Do we really want yet another “disruptor,” no matter how principled, well-intentioned and thorough Warren may be?  Or are the Democrats saying, in their recent turn away from Warren, that they prefer a quiet era of rebuilding under a familiar face – a Joe Biden, perhaps.  Or a new face with a calm demeanor and more incremental plans, such as Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar.

Pete Buttigieg is going through his own plateauing, and of course it remains to be seen whether, as with Warren, that is a precursor to a decline.  The South Bend mayor, who has enough issues in trying to attract the African-American vote, is now facing questioning around his time at uber-consulting giant McKinsey.  That firm (of which, in full disclosure, I am an alum) has faced an embarrassing set of headlines of its own in the past two years, and naturally Mayor Pete has downplayed that entry in his resume.  But, with the firm’s permission, he disclosed his client list from his time there, and hopes that will put an end to it.

As for Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, the two white-haired warriors have each bucked the odds (and their own sets of bad news) and remain not only viable in the race, but 1-2 in the national polls.  Biden retains a lock on his 30% national level of support, having withstood assaults on his track record on progressive causes, tepid turnouts at his events, less-than-sterling fundraising, and his own war with the English language.   Some large sub-segment of the party wants him: the moderate wing, those desiring stability and sure things, and those who seek the candidate best positioned to beat Trump.

Sanders has his wing as well, the Bernie-crazies who fell hard for him in 2016 and won’t give up.  Bernie survived a heart attack, of all things, which has proved, rather remarkably, to be a boon to both his health (with his new stent and eating and exercise habits) and his campaign.  He has regained the progressive lead over Warren nationally and in each of Iowa and New Hampshire, which is quite an accomplishment – especially since his agenda remains as radical as ever.  Somehow, though, he is getting more of a pass than Warren on his big ideas, which they largely share – as he relentlessly points out with respect to Medicare For All, he “wrote the damn bill.”  Bernie is back and solidly in the mix.

Amy Klobuchar got off to a difficult start to her campaign way back in February, with reports abounding that she was abusive to her Senate staff.  Her performance on the trail and in the early debates was as inspiring as a loaf of bread, and in the wake of Warren-mania she was lost in the small-idea centrist lane.  But she has been steady, landing the best blows on Warren in the debates, and with the scrutiny of Biden and Buttigieg now sees an opening in Iowa.

Barack Obama famously asks all candidates who come to him for advice if they can foresee a path to winning the nomination and the general election.  And by that he means a cold-eyed, reality-based, state-by-state tally of delegates and electors.  We don’t know whether Mike Bloomberg ever approached Obama for such a chat, but one can only imagine the look on the unflappable former president’s face when Bloomberg told him he was going to skip the first four states and spend like a drunken sailor on TV ads in Super Tuesday markets.  Imagine the slight widening of the eyes, the upturn of the brow, the barely perceptible frown.  Bloomberg spent $57 million on the race in his first 11 days in the race, including $3 million in California and $4 million in Texas (the two big Super Tuesday prizes).  For that effort he has garnered 5% of the polls in each, which actually is not that bad (leapfrogging all but the top four in each state) but hardly the numbers of a messiah.

As for the rest, it is hard to see any path or momentum.  Tom Steyer is now neither the richest nor most profligate candidate and, unlike Bloomberg, the ultimate centrist, he is a progressive.  Andrew Yang is hanging around in the polls (especially in New Hampshire) but his signature policy, the $1,000 a month gift to all Americans over 18 years of age, is not in the conversation.   Tulsi Gabbard also has some support in New Hampshire, but it’s a good bet that it is among the single-digit Trump supporters in the Democratic Party.  Cory Booker is all but gone, having failed to qualify for the next debate, ditto Julian Castro, who failed to make the stage last time.  We’ll give Deval Patrick a little more time to make a dent in either New Hampshire (a neighboring state for the former Massachusetts Governor) or South Carolina (and its African-American voter base).  And the 1% or less crew – Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Wayne Messam and Marianne Williamson – should have dropped out long ago.

The next debate is this coming Thursday night in Los Angeles, and the field of qualifiers is a more manageable group of seven:  Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang.  It will be interesting to see who is targeted for attacks the most – perhaps back to Biden?  And can Steyer or Yang finally breakthrough when they are allotted more minutes of air time?

But the bottom line:  there are 49 days to go before the Iowa caucuses, and the race is wide, wide open. 


THE BROKERED CONVENTION

The "brokered convention" is a dreaded term among the old Dem pols.  What if the Democrats fail to unify behind a single candidate and enter the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on July 13, 2020 for their convention without a candidate commanding a majority of delegates?  The standard brokered convention scenario has Mayor Pete winning Iowa, Warren taking “home field” New Hampshire, Bernie’s army storming to victory in the ground-game driven Nevada caucus, and Joe Biden taking the African-American dominated South Carolina primary.  Then Mike Bloomberg garners some support on Super Tuesday and from there it’s a grind.  Key point:  the Democratic primaries are NOT “winner take all” and thus it is very difficult to amass delegates with multiple candidates owning segments of support.  Typically one needs 15% of the vote to earn delegates, and one can imagine two or three candidates achieving that threshold in a number of primaries.

The loser-takes-some quality is one reason why Hillary Clinton could not catch Barack Obama in 2008, and Bernie Sanders could not catch Hillary in 2016.  Even if you win 60/40, it’s hard to catch a frontrunner who is 100+ delegates ahead in a two-person race.  You simply can’t string together material enough “net gains” to close the gap meaningfully.

But in a four or five person race, you have the opposite problem:  the frontrunner can’t amass enough delegates to get near a majority.

The key to this scenario is a simple question:  can Joe Biden win South Carolina if he loses Iowa and New Hampshire?  In some measure, this probably depends on by how much he loses.  If he comes in a distant fourth (or worse) in both, that’s a major problem.  But if he is fourth in a tight bunching, he is probably not hurt much at all.

If Biden wins South Carolina, he might clean up on Super Tuesday, enough to build up that 100 delegate lead and go from there.
And if he loses South Carolina, he may simply be done.  The way to be beat Biden is to generate enough momentum from early wins to knock him off.  If anyone wins three of the four early primaries, that person will be the one cleaning up on Super Tuesday.

But anything can happen.  And a brokered convention has interesting dynamics.  One would think it would come down to horse trading:  someone with fewer delegates yielding to the leader in return for a plum position, the vice-presidency or one of the major cabinet positions, perhaps.  That might work for Pete Buttigieg, but for Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, if they are trailing with a material set of delegates?  What would Bernie or Biden possibly want?  And as for Elizabeth Warren, it is hard to see her in a centrist cabinet.


THE NUMBERS

Iowa:  Surprisingly, there has only been one new poll in Iowa in December, so we have grouped it with the late November poll.  Pete Buttigieg remains atop the field, but with no upward movement, and Joe Biden is now in a virtual tie with him, with Sanders and Warren not far behind.  And Amy Klobuchar is truly coming on with real momentum.

If the caucuses went like this, it would bode very, very well for Pete -- and for Joe Biden.  A close second for Biden would be considered a win at this point.

Average of Iowa Polls
Candidates
Oct (5)
Early Nov (3)
Nov 16-Dec 15 (2)
Buttigieg
14
22
22
Biden
19
15
20
Sanders
15
17
18
Warren
22
18
16
Klobuchar
3
5
8
Yang
2
3
3
Steyer
2
3
3
Booker
2
2
3
Gabbard
2
3
2
Bloomberg
n/a
2
2

New Hampshire:  Sanders and Buttigieg are basically tied here, with a nice bounceback for Bernie from last month.  Warren took a bad tumble, and Biden seems to be fading here as well.  Gabbard and Yang are showing life.

Nevada:  There has been no new polling this month; Biden was ahead last month, with Warren and Bernie tied for second.

South Carolina.  Still a Biden stronghold, as the former VP holds twice the support of Warren and Sanders.  Buttigieg has doubled his support here but it is still in single digits.

(Note the columns on these charts vary from state to state, depending upon the availability of polls.)

Average of NH Polls

Average of Nevada Polls

Average of South Carolina Polls
Cand.
O (3)
 N1-15 (3)
N16-D15 (3)

Cand.
A/M/J (2)
J/A/S (5)
O/N (4)

Cand.
J/A/S (8)
O (5)
N/D (3)
Sanders
20
14
19

Biden
31
25
29

Biden
39
36
35
Buttigieg
9
19
18

Warren
15
16
20

Warren
13
15
16
Biden
21
19
14

Sanders
18
20
20

Sanders
14
12
15
Warren
25
21
13

Buttigieg
6
4
7

Buttigieg
4
4
8
Gabbard
2
3
6

Steyer
n/a
3
4

Steyer
2
4
4
Yang
3
2
5

Yang
3
2
3

Booker
3
3
3
Steyer
3
3
3

Klob.
2
1
2

Bloom.
n/a
n/a
3
Klob.
2
4
2






Yang
1
2
2
Bloom.
n/a
n/a
2






Gabbard
1
1
2
Booker
2
2
2












National.   Elizabeth Warren took a big hit in the national polls, dropping a full five point.  While national polls don’t typically “matter,” this might be the exception.  To the extent that Democrats are tiring of her message nationally, that is not a good sign.  And unlike other candidates who might be able to massage their policy positions, she has little recourse.  Her trademark is the big idea and the detailed policy plan behind it.  Those are hard to swap out for more moderate positions.  It would be a mighty big pullback for Warren to suddenly adopt some form of Medicare for Some, and even find other Medicare variant that has not already been claimed by an opponent. 

Pete Buttigieg climbed +3 points nationally, and Mike Bloomberg entered at the 4% level.   Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have basically been in the same place all year, roughly 30% for Biden and about 20% for Bernie.

Average of National Polls for the Month at Mid-Month
Chng vs. Last Month
Candidates
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Biden
29
29
31
37
34
30
30
28
28
28
28
0
Sanders
17
23
23
18
17
16
16
17
16
17
18
1
Warren
7
7
6
8
10
13
15
17
23
21
16
-5
Buttigieg
0
0
3
7
7
6
5
5
6
7
10
3
Bloomberg
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
4
4
Yang
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
3
3
3
3
0
Booker
4
5
4
3
2
2
2
2
2
2
2
0
Klobuchar
2
4
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
2
2
0
Gabbard
1
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
2
0
Castro
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
0
Steyer
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
1
1
1
0
Bennet
n/a
n/a
n/a
1
1
0
0
1
1
1
1
0
Delaney
0
0
1
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
1
0
Williamson
0
0
0
0
0
0
1
1
1
0
0
0
Messam
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Patrick
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
0
Other/NA
38
30
27
21
26
29
24
22
16
14
11
-3


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 lay his claim to electability.

He can still make that claim.  In head-to-head polling in both nationally and in swing states over the last six weeks, pitting the various leading Democrats versus Trump, Biden continues to do better versus Trump than his opponents (although Sanders does well nationally).


Head-to-Head November/December Polls Dems Versus Trump
Nat'l/State Polls
Biden
Warren
Sanders
Buttigieg
National
Biden +7
Warren +4
Sanders +7
Buttigieg +2
Avg. Swing State *
Biden +2
Warren -2
Sanders -1
Buttigieg 0
 * States polled:  AZ, IO, NH (2), NC (2), NV, WI



THE GOP RACE

The Trump challengers, William Weld and Joe Walsh, are not exactly getting much traction.  The most recent polling (from October) has Trump garnering 87% of the GOP vote, while the two challengers are both at 2% or less.


THE FULL FIELD

Here are the entire Democratic and Republican fields as of today, ranked by the most recent national polls.

Democratic Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls     (11/16 - 12/15)
Joe Biden
76
4/25/2019
Ex-VP and Ex-Senator, Delaware
28%
Bernie Sanders
78
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
18%
Elizabeth Warren
70
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
16%
Pete Buttigeg
37
1/22/2019
Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
10%
Michael Bloomberg
77
11/24/2019
Ex-Mayor of New York City
4%
Andrew Yang
44
11/6/2017
Entrepreneur
3%
Cory Booker
50
2/1/2019
Senator, New Jersey
2%
Amy Klobuchar
59
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
2%
Tulsi Gabbard
38
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
2%
Julian Castro
45
1/10/2019
Ex-Secretary, HUD
1%
Tom Steyer
62
7/9/2019
Billionaire hedge fund manager
1%
Michael Bennet
54
5/2/2019
Senator, Colorado
1%
John Delaney
56
7/28/2017
Representative, Maryland
1%
Marianne Williamson
67
1/28/2019
Self-help author
0%
Wayne Messam
45
3/28/2019
Mayor, Miramar, Florida
0%
Deval Patrick
63
11/13/2019
Ex-Governor, Massachusetts
0%





Republican Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls
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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6 comments:

  1. Amy Klobuchar is the only viable candidate who is under 70. (I don't believe that the country is ready for a 37 year old gay candidate.) She also may be best in the Midwest states that need to swing back to Democratic. Her centrist position should serve her well in the general election - if she can get the nomination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. fortunately, "the country" doesn't vote. YOU do. would YOU be ready for a 37-year old gay candidate? If not, fine, but don't put it on this mythical group of other people. Own it.

      Delete
    2. I will vote for any Democratic candidate who won the nomination, including Mayor Pete! I care about getting the candidate who is most likely to beat Trump. I am not sure who that is yet, but I am fairly sure who it isn't - and that's the gay, 37 year old mayor of a small city. And what I think the voters will do in the general election is very important to my vote in the primary.

      Delete
  2. Was the country ready for a Catholic in 1960? An African-American in 2008? Maybe, maybe not -- but they were ready for JFK and Obama. Actual people. I think if you see Pete in action, that's all you will care about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have seen him on the debate stage and he is articulate and smart. And I admit to thinking that an African American candidate was unlikely to win in 2008. But that doesn't change my view about Mayor Pete. I will vote for him in the general election if he gets that far, but I won't support him in the primary because I don't think he's the best candidate to beat Trump.

      Delete
  3. That's my criterion too...who has the best chance of beating Trump. As of now, that is Biden, subject to change.

    ReplyDelete

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