2020 Democrats: state of the race (May 12th, 2019)

Ed Gilgore asks, “Will the Mountain West Become Pivotal in Future Elections?” In terms of presidential elections, the short answer is “no.” The Rust Belt — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in particular — are most likely to be pivotal to winning the Electoral College in 2020.

The Five Thirty Eight gang recently did a live podcast from Austin, Texas and among other things discussed whether or not Texas would be a “battleground state” in 2020.  While there wasn’t a clear consensus among the panel, Nate Silver made the important point that if the Democratic candidate wins Texas, it’s very likely that it means he or she would have won by a large margin nationally and that the “tipping point” state, or the state that puts the winning candidate over the 270 electoral vote threshold to take the White House, is likeliest to come out of the Rust Belt region.

So, in short, if we’re channeling the late, great Tim Russert, it may well be all about Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania.

Which is where the notion of “electability,” always a squishy term, does get more interesting. If Joe Biden were to come in to help win a single state beyond his home state of Delaware, it would be Pennsylvania. And that’s also why I’m really interested to see polling out of Pennsylvania specifically, lining up Biden versus Trump in addition to as many of the other Democratic contenders as possible.

All of that said, and speaking of nerding out on polling, according to one poll (OH Predictive Insights), Biden is the only Democrat of those polled beating Trump in Arizona (49%-45%). The others — Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, and O’Rourke — all trail Trump between five and nine points. If Arizona becomes a “true” battleground state in 2020, that will have all kinds of implications for strategy, resources, and the electoral map.

All of this polling stuff always comes with the caveat of “but it’s still very early.” Other tea leaves to sift through include endorsements. Five Thirty Eight has put together a 2020 Endorsement Primary tracker, with points allotted based on the the prominence of the endorser: 10 points for a former president or vice president, three points for a U.S. representative, for example.

Not surprisingly, Biden is currently in the “lead” with 80 endorsement points as of this writing. His backers include some real star power within the Democratic Party, including Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, and former DNC Chair (and Pennsylvania Gov.) Ed Rendell. Cory Booker is in second place with 57 points, mostly thanks to a large group of home state New Jersey congresspeople who have publicly backed him.

From there, it’s interesting to sift through other endorsements to see if anything can be made. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has endorsed Kamala Harris (eight points banked!), for example, but fellow California Sen. Diane Feinstein has opted to back Biden. Sens. Klobuchar and Warren have amassed some home state support but little else thus far. Sanders has the backing of some liberal public officials from around the country (including fellow Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy) but only has 22 points thus far.

It’s debatable how much influence endorsements have at all, of course. And the ones that might make the most difference — from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton specifically — may stay on the sidelines until there’s a presumptive nominee. In the meantime, let the caffeine consumption, tea leaf (coffee ground?) reading continue!

Okay, let’s take this into next level nerding out. If you’re like me, this is where it gets good. From my guy Harry Enten:

  • If you were to take an average of polls since the beginning of the year, you’d get something like… Biden 30%, Sanders 18%, Harris 9%, O’Rourke 7%, Warren 6%, Booker 4%, Buttigieg 3%. Last week: Biden 38%, Sanders 16%, Warren 9%, Buttigieg 7%, Harris 7%, O’Rourke 5%, Booker 3%.

I’d say that’s a perfect snapshot of the state of the race, with the trend tilting more toward Biden for now and away from nearly everyone else. In fact, in looking at recent national polls, Biden and Sanders collectively grab very close to 60% support regularly. The “next tier,” those candidates seeing mostly low to mid-single digits at this point (Harris, O’Rourke, Warren, Booker, Buttigieg) are collectively seeing around 25-30% support.

From Matt Grossman:

  • Biden continues taking support from Bernie, suggesting: 1) Left takeover of the Democratic Party was quite exaggerated 2) Many Democratic voters do not see the race as an ideological contest 3) Bernie was benefiting from prior media focus, now Biden is; Pete bubbles also popping:

Nate Silver:

  • The big mistake everyone made was to overestimate what share of Bernie’s vote in 2016 (43%) reflected people on the left rather than some combination of i) the left, ii) the #NeverHillary vote, and iii) people behind him for personality, identity or other nonideological reasons.

More from Enten:

  • I’ll have more on this, but while Biden and Sanders have different coalitions in a number of respects… They share something in common: appeal to non-college whites. This is markedly different from Clinton in 2016 who struggled with this group.

The fact that Biden is able to appeal to non-college whites within the Democratic voting electorate in a way that Hillary Clinton was not plays into part of the reason why Sanders — at least so far — is struggling to gain the level of support that he did in 2016. Again, it’s early and a lot can happen. But the huge and seemingly ever growing field mapped against Biden’s significant polling bounce after his official entry into the race, in addition to a large number of fellow liberals in the race is going to make a path to victory for Bernie Sanders fairly narrow.

Quoting me:

  • At least for the moment, Biden is looking more like a traditional frontrunner with a wide and varied field chasing him.

Greg Sargent thinks Elizabeth Warren is the best candidate to take on Trump:

  • Only one 2020 Democrat fully grasps the threat that Trump poses. And only one of them has offered a suitably detailed and comprehensive response to *all* the challenges and perils of this particular moment. It’s @ewarren.

Pull quote from Sargent’s WaPo piece:

  • Thus, Warren is treating this two-sided coin of authoritarianism and corruption as a systemic problem in need of reform, one linked to the broader imperative of actually “draining the swamp,” as Trump vowed, only to plunge into full-scale corruption himself.

And Ezra Klein sees some similarities between Warren and 2020 Dem and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee:

  • With Warren bouncing back to 3rd/4th, the 2020 Democrat polling at the worst substance-to-popularity ratio is Jay Inslee. His climate policy is way ahead of the rest of the field. His record as governor is impressive. He deserves more attention.

As I’ve noted before, I’d like to see Inslee get more of a look as well. If nothing else, I hope the debates devote a significant amount of time to climate change policy.

Here’s a good backgrounder on Amy Klobuchar  which talks about her family, her “Midwestern celebrity journalist” father Jim, and “reports of a fierce temper.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is the only 2020 GOP candidate making a go at knocking Trump out in the primaries. Here’s a good Politico piece bibbbcovering his history in law enforcement and politicsSome pull quotes:

  • In the 1990s, Weld was Massachusetts’ socially liberal, budget-hawk Republican governor, but in the 22 years since he last held office he has strayed from the center of the GOP. He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and ran as the Libertarian candidate for vice-president in 2016. Now, Weld’s trying to foment a revolt against Trump in live-free-or-die New Hampshire, where an open primary system offers him a chance to lure persuadable independents to the polls.
  • “Bill Weld is the base of the Republican Party 50 years ago, not the current base of the Republican Party,” says Elaine Kamarck, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and author of the book Primary Politics.

I grew up in New York at a time when there were still vestiges of an old guard moderate/liberal Republicanism that you don’t really see today. Sens. Jacob Javits and Al D’Amato came out of this tradition, for example. Weld does indeed seem to hearken back to a different time.

Anyway, to close, this is pretty fantastic:

  • This was Weld’s opening to pivot to an attack on Trump for being attracted to “the autocrats and the despots” like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. “The president, early on, said, ‘Hey, what a tough kid! He is a tough kid! Imagine, he iced his own uncle!’” Weld complains. “This is in tones of admiration! I used to hear a lot of that when I was listening to wiretaps of the organized crime families we took out in Boston.”

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