2020 Democrats: state of the race (April 28th, 2019)

Former Vice President, Senator, and all around old dude who’s been on our TVs forever Joe Biden is officially in as a 2020 Dem. He’s about the 400th Democrat in the race at this point, but to be fair I’ve lost track. Pull quote:

  • The former vice president and longtime Delaware senator joins a historically diverse field of first-time presidential candidates who reflect the party’s yearning for fresh faces and women and candidates of color — a paradox that the 76-year-old white Washington insider is hoping to reconcile through his association with a Democratic president beloved by the party base: Barack Obama.

So what I’ve been really wanting to write for some time is: who’s ridin’ with Biden? 

Two theories of the case for Joe, from Politico Playbook:

  • — ONE: Twitter isn’t real life, and the former VP is more popular among the Democratic voting rank and file than the Acela Corridor conversation would suggest.
  • — TWO: Biden’s station at the top of the polls simply reflects his name ID, and once primary voters get a look at the 76-year-old, bipartisan-touting, gaffe-prone Washington insider, they’ll dart in the other direction.

This Slate piece does a good job of making the case against Joe Biden winning the nomination from the perspective of the other (many) candidates:

  • Biden is something more like a 2016 Jeb Bush: a weak establishment favorite whose time might be past and—should voters deprioritize his top perceived strength, electability—who could soon face the wolves. He leads in national and some earlystate polling, but not by much. The only potential candidates who’ve bowed out because Biden took their space were Terry McAuliffe and Michael Bloomberg. And though he may have far more charisma than Bush did, the financial resources will be harder to come by.

And here’s how Matthew Yglesias at Vox frames it:

  • Mainstream Democrats like other mainstream Democrats. But what it means to be a mainstream Democrat has changed significantly since Biden entered the Senate 46 years ago. As Democrats gear up to take on Trump, the party’s best shot is to do anything possible to avoid repeating the 2016 experience of defending decades’ worth of twists and turns on various issues from the Iraq War to LGBTQ rights to banking deregulation.

William Saletan reviews “10 Questions Joe Biden Needs to Answer About His Views on Race.”

On the electoral front, Nate Silver adds from Twitter:

  • Overall, I think [Biden’s] the frontrunner. We can debate what that means; it does NOT mean odds-on favorite. (He’s clearly an underdog vs. the field IMO.) But he’s ahead in the polls. He’s the biggest brand-name out there. And he appeals to the sorts of Democrats the media ignores.

More from Silver on Five Thirty Eight: 

  • A well-known candidate polling like Biden (about 28 percent in national polls) should win the nomination about 35 percent of the time, other factors held equal.

Biden raised $6.3 million in the first 24 “official” hours of his campaign, putting him just ahead of Beto’s $6.1 million for the lead in this particular race that absolutely no one will care about another 24 hours from right now.

I haven’t written that much about Bernie Sanders to date, though he’s been polling mostly in second place, occasionally in first, in nearly every poll both nationally and in early primary states to date. This Five Thirty Eight piece sums up Sanders’ current status in the race pretty well:

  • To be clear, I think Sanders can win the Democratic nomination. He’s probably the 3rd- or 4th- most likely nominee, in my estimation — slightly behind Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and roughly tied with Pete Buttigieg, but ahead of everyone else. All of these candidates (and others such as Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke) have their own assets and liabilities, so I wouldn’t go to the mat if you put them in a different order.

I’d say that Elizabeth Warren is making the most impressive effort of all the 2020 Dems to date in terms of staking a claim on the liberal/progressive side of the Democratic base. Not only has she stepped out in front of the pack to state that President Trump should be impeached, but she’s delivered a steady stream of detailed and ambitious progressive policy proposals. The latest is to wipe out $640 billion in existing student debt, “funded by a tax on the rich.”  This is also fascinating strategy in that Warren is seeking to cut through the noise to appeal to young people and voters in lower income brackets, both groups of which are not necessarily her natural constituencies.

Here’s a pretty striking tidbit with regard to Sanders and Warren, pulled from a mid-April Emerson poll:

  • 26% of current Bernie Sanders supporters said that they would rather vote for President Donald Trump over Senator Elizabeth Warren, if that were the eventual 2020 matchup

It seems like every week I write something like, “yet another 2020 Dem is now running for president.” Well, this week ain’t not different: Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts is running for president. “Moulton, an Iraq War veteran who led an infantry platoon while serving in the Marines, plans to make foreign policy, national security and defense his key issues.”

Moulton appeared on Pod Save America after his announcement, and I was impressed with his commitment to service (the guy did four tours of duty in Iraq before running for Congress) and his emphasis on foreign policy as a focal point to take on Trump next year.

If nothing else, we’re getting a wide and varied field running for president this time around — and I hope we get some additional serious candidates on the GOP side. This is the first presidential cycle where I personally am hearing from a wide swath of candidates directly this early on, which has mostly to do with catching them on podcast interviews (versus other forums such as Sunday morning shows or late night shows, which I stopped watching many years ago).

A Top Adviser To Beto O’Rourke Has Left His Presidential Campaign” is usually not a great headline or sign for a candidate, with all the caveats that it’s still super early. That said, I’ve been thinking about O’Rourke of late, and I don’t have a ready answer on why he should be the 2020 presidential nominee from the Democratic Party. Reporting has him tacking “more towards the center of the party,” which is probably good for strategic reasons (the liberal “lane” is jam packed with candidates) and practical ones (his voting record as a Congressman from El Paso, Texas is relatively moderate).

There’s a “conventional wisdom” of sorts that says that left-leaning voters on Twitter are seeking a liberal standard bearer for 2020, something along the lines of a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. While this is highly anecdotal, I found the results of a Twitter poll that Jon Cooper, the chairman of DemocraticCoalition.org, to be quite interesting:

  • Which ONE factor do you consider MOST important when deciding which candidate to back in the Democratic presidential primary?

The results, with close to 24,000 votes at the time of this writing: a full 60% selected “ability to defeat Trump,” with “positions on key issues” a distant second at 36%, and “gender, age, race, etc.” at 2%. Whether this tracks with the electorate at large or voters’ true inclinations remains to be seen, but if nothing else it showcases the wisdom — for lack of a better word — of scrutinizing conventional wisdom.

More strident liberals, such as Abby Martin, help to set that conventional wisdom on Twitter, the digital platform that the media industry spends the most time on. Here’s an example from Martin:

  • Obama picked Biden specifically to pander to moderate Republicans. The fact that he is being rolled out to lead us through a slow, painful repeat of 2016 is incomprehensible to me. They don’t even have to try when Americans are this deeply brainwashed

It remains to be seen too whether Biden’s official entry into the race will shift what has been a relatively stable polling environment with the exception of Buttigieg’s emergence — at least for now — as a legitimate contender.

What I’m looking forward to, polling-wise, is seeing how Biden and the other 2020 Dems stack up against Trump in Pennsylvania, which could emerge as the most important swing state in the coming presidential election.

Speaking of Buttigieg: he’s starting to get the scrutiny that front-of-the-pack candidates get. Example, from Ezra Klein:

  • Buttigieg responding to a question about why his web site is devoid of policy plans by saying Democrats shouldn’t drown voters in the minutia of policy is ridiculous. It’s okay to say it’s coming soon. It’s ludicrous to dismiss the value of policy proposals.

And meanwhile, former Republican Sen. Bob Corker, an outspoken Trump critic while he was in office, says that a credible primary challenger would be a “good thing for our country.”

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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