2020 Democrats: state of the race (March 31st, 2019)

The big news this week is that Mayor Pete Buttigieg, now absolutely the “came out of nowhere and has the potential to make some real noise” candidate, surged into third place in an Iowa poll.

The Iowa caucus is always super important, and sometimes critical, for presidential candidates of both parties. This year is particularly interesting for Democrats given the wide open and large field, but there’s an additional factor: Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.

Sanders, the independent “democratic socialist” Senator from Vermont who is running for president as a Democrat, will be expected to do very well if not flat out win the also critical New Hampshire primary the follows shortly after voting takes place in Iowa. The expectations game will only make doing well in Iowa even more important. That’s to say there will be only so many “tickets” out of Iowa, though the ability to raise money online and thus extend campaigns has changed the equation to an extent in recent presidential cycles.

Let’s put it this way, if Sanders wins New Hampshire (and that’s not to say he’s a lock there — a late February UNH poll had him with the lead at 26% versus 22% for Joe Biden — but let’s assume for this exercise) and finishes in the top three or so in Iowa, there are only going to be a small handful of candidates who look viable post Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, if Buttigieg becomes the “surprise” candidate by finishing… again, let’s say within the top 3 in Iowa as the Emerson poll indicates is at least possible, then you could end up with a relatively small cohort of potential Democratic nominees post Iowa/New Hampshire. For the sake of argument, let’s predict that could be Sanders, Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Warren… and maybe Booker or O’Rourke?

then we get to Nevada and South Carolina, the latter of which is where Biden has been historically popular. It’s not at all impossible that heading into the other delegate rich states on Super Tuesday (March 3rd), you could get Sanders, Biden, and one or two other realistic candidates with a shot at that point. And getting super strategic here, Kamala Harris is going to be banking on “lasting” until her mega-populous home state of California votes, and likewise for O’Rourke (and Castro as well) with Texas.

Harry Enten concludes “Biden is scaring off no one” with relation to this piece, which speculates that former Clinton world adviser and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is leaning toward jumping into the 2020 race. And this was before a bunch of late week bad, potentially terrible news landed at Biden’s door. Pull quote:

  • The hardest hit came Friday, when Lucy Flores, Nevada’s Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, stepped forward to say she was made uncomfortable by Biden’s attentions that year when he was too physical with her at a campaign event.

Matthew Yglesias at Vox likes what he sees in Elizabeth Warren’s appeal to rural voters and farmers in particular, voting blocs that have not, shall we say, been friendly to Democrats in recent decades. Her ability to break through with caucus voters in Iowa will be critical here, so we’ll see if Warren’s progressive, populist policy (PPP?) agenda can bump her decent but not great poll numbers since she announced her candidacy. (The same recent Iowa poll where Buttigieg surged into third place has Warren at 9% and fifth place, with Kamala Harris at 10% and fourth place in between them.)

Meanwhile, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, a former Obama aide, has signed on as Beto’s campaign manager. This has earned high praise from the likes of former Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer (“There is no better strategist or manager in Democratic politics”) and others. Certainly one of those inside politics things, but it will be fascinating to watch how Beto’s campaign maneuvers within the large field.

And speaking of large fields, this piece is tracking the number of candidates, now numbering a lucky 13, who have qualified to take part in the early debates. The list includes Buttigieg and Andrew Yang, the latter of whom has qualified by way of amassing grassroots fundraising as opposed to polling criteria.

It’s important to note that unlike the 2016 GOP debates that had a “kiddie table” debate set aside for lower polling candidates who still qualified, the Democrats will have two early televised debates that randomly split up the candidates. Therefore, Buttigieg or Yang or Tulsi Gabbard (if she ends up qualifying) may take the stage right next to Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris. Will this make any difference down the road? Who knows, but early debates have historically had some real winnowing effect on the field, as Rick “Oops” Perry and Marco “Mr. Roboto” Rubio can surely attest.

This piece looks at the “older voters problem” that the GOP will have in 2020. Pull quote:

  • And the idea that Republican hostility to the welfare state could lead older voters to defect from the party’s base — thereby ending the right’s lease on power — is not entirely hypothetical. In 2018, Democrats worked tirelessly to turn the midterms into a referendum on the GOP’s plans for repealing and replacing Obamacare, which had included cuts to Medicaid that would have been devastating for many seniors. That November, voters over 65 split their ballots almost evenly between the two major parties — which was more than enough to drown Paul Ryan’s gerrymandered majority beneath a rising blue tide.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

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