2020 Democrats: state of the race (May 5th, 2019)

Joe Biden is showing a major post-announcement polling bump in five national polls out this week, ranging from a not insignificant 14 to 30 point lead (a Harvard-Harris poll out on Saturday has Biden crushing the field at 44% support to only 14% for second-place Bernie Sanders).

Interestingly, Elizabeth Warren slipped just ahead of Bernie Sanders in the Quinnipiac poll, though both trail Biden badly in that one (Biden: 38%, Warren: 12%, Sanders: 11%). So really the top line story is that Biden has — for the moment at least — transitioned from a “factional” candidate, as Nate Silver puts it, to a front running candidate. In no way does that guarantee or even mean victory for Biden is likely, but obviously being out in front with a healthy lead is a good thing and with it brings the good problems of being the one that all of the many and myriad other candidates are aiming to surpass.

And as Silver himself puts it:

  • Feel like the conventional wisdom is lagging the polls. Today’s data doesn’t suggest a Bernie vs. Biden standoff so much as Biden as a flawed but formidable-enough frontrunner from the Obama-Clinton wing of the party, and 4-6 alternative visions with a decent shot to beat him.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Biden’s appeal of late, and part of it is figuring out who I want to support in the Democratic horse race. I’ve been pretty clear that my top priority is to vote Donald Trump out of office (I offered up Baron the dog as a potential opponent just this morning, in fact). There are appealing things about many of the candidates, and I genuinely like Joe Biden and find him really smart and competent when it comes to foreign policy (even with his vote on the Iraq War). But the age thing bothers me, as does the nagging sense that it’s time to usher in a younger generation of leadership.

It’s often noted that each new president represents a “reaction” to the one before: Obama’s cool professorial demeanor followed George W. Bush’s cowboy machismo, for example. Therefore, I can see Joe Biden representing a “return to normalcy” for many people after the chaotic, disturbing, and democracy-unsettling Trump era. The question for Democrats and the country is: what does normalcy even mean, and is that something we want to “return” to?

As Andrew Sullivan sees it:

  • For those who simply want to defeat Trump at all costs, Biden, for now, seems the safest bet. He can run on a platform deeply informed by the left’s critique of the market, without the baggage of left wokeness or those eager to play into the GOP’s hands and explicitly avow “socialism.”

There’s a lot of outspoken liberals who kind of hate Joe Biden, at least as much when it comes to the notion of the former VP as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States:

  • Still, all this flak, which accurately reflects elite progressive disdain for Biden, has had approximately zero effect on his standing in public opinion. He’s not simply leading in the polls: He has remarkably positive favorability ratios among Democrats (75/14 in the latest tracking poll from Morning Consult), with a diverse base of support that lacks just one component: the young voters least likely to participate in caucuses and primaries (viz, in the 2016 Iowa Democratic caucuses, 64 percent of participants were 45 or older).

And well put, this:

  • At this point Biden can run as a unity/consensus candidate who is the best bet to beat Trump, until something happens that calls that strategy into question. And if that does happen, he can always fall back on the option of running as the factional candidate of Democrats who fear a lefty nominee would play right into Republican plans to depict their party as having lurched off into socialist extremism.

Digging into the numbers on Biden’s support, from Five Thirty Eight: 

  • Biden’s support is driven by older Democrats and by nonwhite Democrats — two groups that aren’t always well-represented on social media or in other forums that sometimes dictate the conventional wisdom about the candidates. Biden had 50 percent of nonwhite voters in the CNN poll, well ahead of Sanders’s 14 percent. In Morning Consult’s poll, Biden polled at 43 percent among black Democrats, compared to Sanders’s 20 percent. Biden had 46 percent support from Democrats age 50-64 in CNN’s poll and 50 percent support from those 65 and older.

Steve Kornacki adds:

  • I think one of the biggest misconceptions out there was that Biden’s pre-announcement support represented his ceiling — that he was universally known and the only place to go was down.

And more from Kornacki:

  • Biden’s been angling for the presidency for decades, but now for the first time will get to run for the Democratic nomination as the front-runner. His potential to stumble is well-documented. He may also get the benefit of the doubt from Dems in a way he never could before.

And David Axelrod:

  • Old CW: @JoeBiden is a fragile frontrunner, hobbled by age, record and excessive touching. New CW: @JoeBiden is a behemoth astride the primary field, the dragon-slayer-in- waiting. Conclusion: CW is usually overdone.

More from Axe, on Warren versus Sanders:

  • …the tentative signs of progress by the “persistent” and policy-laden @Ewarren should add to concerns in the @BernieSanders camp, as they are very much working the same side of the street.

On the issues that Democratic voters care about, an interesting bit from the CNN poll, via Vanessa Yurkevich on Twitter:

  • The most important issues for voters surveyed (in order) are: Climate Change, Healthcare, Gun laws

Adam Best on Elizabeth Warren:

  • Elizabeth Warren is top three in all the latest 2020 polls and moved up to second (behind Biden but ahead of Bernie) in the new Qpac one. She’s dominated the policy primary and it’s encouraging to see voters start to take notice. She should be considered one of the frontrunners.

Harry Enten notes: “Biden’s doing 21 points among better w/ nonwhite Democrats than white Democrats in our poll. Prior polls showed Biden doing very well w/ black voters, a power center in the party.”

Going deeper into that CNN poll, it’s interesting to note that the Democratic party is more complex than a breakdown of “liberals” versus “moderates.” The “somewhat liberal” group also leans strongly toward Biden, though not quite as heavily as the “very liberal” group.

From Nate Silver:

  • How many of the Democratic candidates could effectively articulate in a sentence or two why they’re running? Biden, Bernie, Warren and Inslee do well by that metric. And Yang, I guess? Maybe Buttigieg and maybe Gillibrand, actually. But I have no idea about some of the others.

Blackjack! We have “major” Dem 2020 candidate #21 in Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.  I don’t know a lot about Bennet so will be interested to learn more, but I’m reminded that running for president at any stage and with any level of experience takes a certain amount of bravery, grit, and, well, mega ego. But to be the 21st major candidate to throw your hat in the ring as though to say, “Take a step back, everyone, what you’ve been up to is cute and everything, but I got this y’all,” is pretty amazing.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve been enjoying what seems to be a Pod Save America series where they’re bringing on many of the “below the fold” 2020 Dems. This week it was former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who for me transitioned from another guy running (slotted into the Western governor category along with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee) to someone who impressed me with both his optimism and his bipartisan bona fides as both governor and, before that, mayor of Denver. Like with so many other qualified candidates, it’s going to come down to when and where they have an opportunity for a breakout moment, either if or when a “higher polling tier” candidate stumbles or nosedives, or during some other moment that they might be able to break through the noise to have what we would call a “moment.” And that’s where the early debates are going to become extremely interesting indeed.

And if that’s not enough for you this week, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is expected to announce a 2020 presidential run next week.

Beto news of the week: “Beto O’Rourke’s first substantive policy plan is here, a $5 trillion proposal that aims for net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050.”

And finally, quoting myself on Twitter:

  • I like aspects of many of the candidates. Let’s have some debates, learn more about the candidates, see who can handle the big stage, and who has the right message to take on Trump best. This seems to me be a reasonable approach.

That guy’s good, right?

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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