2020 Democrats: state of the race (June 2nd, 2019)

The rules for who is allowed in the debates for the Democratic nomination is very “inside baseball,” but can potentially have a dramatic impact on how things play out.

The best example of this is from 2016, when the GOP had a massive field with no real front runner early on (if you’ll recall, Trump’s support gradually grew while a series of “boomlets” for other candidates rose only to pop). As with the Dems 2020, the GOP of 2016 decided to showcase 20 candidates over the two initial nights of debates with ten being featured in each. In the GOP case, they chose to give the second night to the ten candidates with the highest polling average, leaving the first night for the so-called JV squad or “kiddie table.”

The early GOP debates helped to shape the field. The dominant story line became Trump bulldozing the field with his now cliched brand of labeling his fellow debaters with nicknames (“low energy Jeb”) and other fun time attacks. But there the desired “winnowing effect” of the debates also took place in other ways.

Most memorably, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie annihilated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (both considered viable presidential nominees at the time) for using the same canned lines about President Obama repeatedly. It really is a beautiful take-down and moment of political theater. Ah, Mr. Christie… such a gifted natural politician, yet so flawed.  And then there’s one of my all time favorites from the 2012 cycle.

Anyway, cut to 2020 and the Democrats have taken a different tack: they’re still going with ten candidates a night over two nights (June 26th and 27th), with the inclusion of the 20 (because there are more than 20 candidates in all, if you haven’t heard!) determined by a combination of poll standings and fundraising criteria. But instead of having a “kiddie table,” the invited candidates will be selected randomly for which night they’ll appear on, with the caveat that candidates with a polling average over 2% will be again randomly sprinkled over the nights to further ensure that we don’t get an “accidental” JV squad debate.

As with many things, I can see this criteria having consequences that we can’t predict as yet. We won’t know the make up of the debates for a few weeks, but they may well have a lasting impact on how the nomination process plays out (or… maybe they won’t, who knows?). For example, even though the “major” candidates polling over 2% will be spread out over two nights, the specifics of this selection could be crucial.

For example, if Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are selected for the same debate, that automatically becomes the “major” debate, with the relative impact that the other debate may get a lot less attention. Further, let’s say that Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg land in the same debate, along with some longer shot candidates like Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper. This then becomes both a major debate and then the de facto “white dude debate.” You could have an old versus young version of this dynamic, or Senators versus non-Senators, etc.

With all of that being said, it totally makes sense that “No One Knows How to Prepare for the Democratic Debates.”

And meanwhile, the stakes for the third debate, set to take place in September, ramp up the qualifying criteria significantly:

  • DNC to raise qualifying threshold for third presidential primary debate in Sept. Now candidates need to hit *both* thresholds, which have doubled: – 2% in 4 major polls – 130,000 unique donors, including 400 from 20 states.

As Nate Silver notes:

  • Bad news for anyone not named Joe, Bernie, Elizabeth, Kamala, Pete, Beto and maybe Amy or Cory or Andrew.

So, really, the winnowing will likely take shape based on this but again, we don’t know what the unforeseen consequences of these largely behind-the-scenes rules (for most) will be.

This New York Times story does a good job of framing the “race within the race.” Pull quote:

  • With a historically large field of 23 candidates apparently now set, Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African-American, are competing with Mr. Biden and other candidates for the support of black voters; Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, who are both under 50, are vying for the mantle of generational change; Senator Elizabeth Warren is encroaching on Senator Bernie Sanders’s support from the party’s left wing; and six women are making the case that it is long past time for a female president.

I think the use of the word “overblown” here is, well, a little overblown, but it’s a fair point that it’s exceptionally rare for a front runner to march to the nomination without some serious competition along the way:

  • Best illustration of the race’s volatility isn’t just the appetite of activists for a Biden alternative – it’s also Bernie’s softness w some of his ‘16 voters. Public + priv polling we got shows Warren encroaching on his left esp w the most upscale & engaged.

I personally would like to see a candidate eventually consolidate the support of the left (and in my view Elizabeth Warren would be an exemplary candidate to pull that off) and then have an active debate with the eventual “centrist” front runner (and while Biden has a very solid shot at holding onto this territory it’s by no means a done deal at this point).

Let’s do some quick hits on some of the candidates:

Elizabeth Warren 

Good NYT piece that fits with the Warren is gradually gaining on Sanders story line: “Elizabeth Warren Gains Ground in 2020 Field, One Plan at a Time.”

  • Ms. Warren still faces the long-term challenge of growing her support to include a broader population of Democrats, including nonwhite voters as well as moderates. And she faces obstacles in multiple directions: In addition to competing with Mr. Sanders for voters on the party’s left flank, she faces stiff competition from other candidates to emerge as an alternative to Mr. Biden, whose centrist campaign could appeal to a broad swath of Democratic voters.

I do wonder how much, “I’ve got a plan for that!” will work as a campaign slogan over the long haul. That being said, the substance of her proposals are indeed notable and could help her to break through. For example, a timely “plan for that” this week involves allowing the Department of Justice to indict a sitting president.

Beto O’Rourke 

Beto to The New Yorker

  • [T]he thirty members of the press, in your face, at the first event, at the second event, at the third, and then day after day after day, and asking almost nothing about anything that we just experienced together in that room.”

Makes you wonder why the press isn’t asking about what happened in the room, bringing original reporting of a unique event to break through the din and what’s largely commoditized reporting… is their job to follow these candidates around to get quotes about the national news of the day?

Mayor Pete 

Pete Buttigieg was on The New York Times’ The Argument podcast recently, arguing that he’s the right Democrat with the right experience for our times. By talking about how as a mayor he makes executive decisions and runs municipal departments that congresspeople don’t have to, and the fact that he’s the only candidate with military experience (save for Seth Moulton), and that he’s the youngest and only openly gay candidate, he does an exceptional job of turning the, “Isn’t this guy the mayor of some city in Indiana?” question on its head.

Kirsten Gillibrand

One candidate who seems like she “should” be more of a player in the 2020 race but to date hasn’t been a factor is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Hailing from Democratic power center New York and successor to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, she would seem to have a natural base to launch a campaign, but this Politico piece looks at her “failure to launch.” As with the rest of the pack, there’s lots of talk about how early things are and how little poll numbers mean at this point.


On Trump’s re-elect chances, Harry Enten notes:

  • I’d be far more sold on the idea that the economy was going to carry Trump to victory in 2020 if he had an approval rating above ~42% with what most observers would argue is a good economy.

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2020 Democrats: state of the race (May 26th, 2019)

This sum up of the state of the 2020 race on the Democrats’ side from The Ringer‘s Justin Charity will likely make a great many people howl with outrage, but it’s interesting at least as a discussion point:

  • Biden suggests an old-school liberalism pitched to nervous centrists who resent Trump, and Sanders suggests a passionate left-wing program pitched to disenchanted voters. The 22 other candidates seeking the Democratic nomination do not complicate the foundational contrast; they simply reinforce the Biden-vs.-Sanders distinction. O’Rourke, California Senator Kamala Harris, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg are Biden, but younger. Warren, the wonky ex-Republican, is Sanders for self-described pragmatists.

A big and as yet unanswered question for Biden is how enthusiastic his supporters are, and how that enthusiasm will manifest not only in keeping on board with the former VP through the primary season (and beyond that too, of course) but how willing and able his core supporters will be to volunteer, knock on doors and make calls, and eventually do the hard work of compelling other less enthusiastic supporters to vote on or before Election Day. Here’s how Amy Walter, National Editor for the Cook Political Reporterframes it:

  • After watching the Biden campaign thus far + Philly rally yesterday, my takeaway is that his candidacy is like one of those ‘casual’ nice restaurants that you go to b/c they have a big menu and everyone in your group can find something they’ll eat. No one is unhappy (“look, honey they have grilled cheese for the kids and I can get a salad), but no one walks away thinking that was an amazing meal or experience. It’s not risky, but it’s also not totally satisfying either.

Both national and early primary state polls have Joe Biden continuing to dominate the 2020 Dem field. A Florida Atlantic University poll for the Sunshine State primary has Biden at 39%, with Bernie Sanders (12%), Elizabeth Warren (12%), Pete Buttigieg (9%), and Kamala Harris (7%) trailing. A few somewhat interesting tidbits to pick through here is a slow but steady uptick for Warren where she’s vying in some polls for the second place slot long occupied by Sanders. Also notable to see Mayor Pete holding his own in fourth place, keeping in mind that he was considered the longest of long shots before entering the race.

Really though, this is a Biden domination story, and will likely remain so pending “big news” of some sort at least until the first Democratic debates at the end of June. The FAU poll also pitted some of the 2020 Dems against Trump in Florida, and not surprisingly Biden fared best, though he came in at a 50-50% tie (The 2000 election says, “What up?“). Florida, a steadily red trending state over the last few cycles, is no longer as crucial to the Democrats’ chances as it once was (with states like Virginia and Colorado trending blue) but it’s another state where if the Dems can lock it in, the odds of their getting to 270 electoral votes spike up dramatically.

From Ronald Brownstein:

  • To topple @JoeBiden another D must find a way to loosen his grip on older voters. In the new Florida (FAU) poll, he’s over 50% w/voters >50. Sanders is in single digits w/them. Even with eh #s <50 that’s a powerful base 4 Biden-reminiscent of Trump’s hold on blue-collar Rs in ’16

And meanwhile:

  • New Monmouth poll shows Bernie Sanders support in 2020 falling from 25% in March to 15% in May

We’ll have to see if that’s statistical noise or if Sanders’ support is waning in favor, perhaps, of Warren (this piece argues that she’s “slowly and persistently… on the rise”)  or Harris.

Speaking of polls, a Quinnipiac poll finds that 54% of voters will “definitely” not vote for Trump in 2020.  That implies that he has to absolutely max out his existing base to pull the same “inside straight” to win again in 2020.

From Harry Enten:

  • Early days yet, but the strong opposition to Trump’s re-elect remains historically high.

Another important factor for 2020 and any election, really, is turnout. And turnout for the 2020 election could be historically high, which could be, well, bad for Trump:

  • According to Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida, turnout for the 2020 presidential election could be as high as 67% — the highest it’s been since at least 1916. If that happens, President Trump will have a tougher fight for a second term.
  • The bottom line: For all of his struggles in the polls, Trump is the incumbent and he has a booming economy. But a historic election turnout could wipe out those advantages — and the early signs suggest that’s exactly what we’re about to get.

This AP story discusses the importance of Hispanics in Democratic primary voting, noting that there simply aren’t many of them in the early voting states (6% of Iowans are Hispanic, for example).  However, with Nevada and then delegate-rich Texas and California voting relatively early in the cycle (the latter two as part of Super Tuesday on March 3rd, 2020), Hispanics may have a greater influence this time around. Those factors will certainly be in the plans and hopes of Kamala Harris (D-CA), Beto O’Rourke, and Julian Castro (both D-TX) as part of the 16-dimensional puzzle to break out of the pack and become a player heading into the post-Super Tuesday part of the primary calendar.

It seems pretty clear that the president is focused (read = obsessed) with two things: the prospect of Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee, and the potential face off of Trump v. Biden in the latter’s native state of Pennsylvania:

  • “Don’t forget, Biden deserted you. He’s not from Pennsylvania. I guess he was born here but he left you, folks. He left you for another state,” Trump said, referring to the Biden family’s move in the early 1950s to Delaware. “Remember that, please. I meant to say that.”

Then, on an equally incorrect and incoherent note:

  • “This guy talks about ‘I know Scranton.’ … He left you for another state and he didn’t take care of you because he didn’t take care of your jobs. He let other countries come in and rip off America. That doesn’t happen anymore,” Trump said.

And in a dispatch from #MAGA country, there’s “relief” that Trump is restoring “the old ways.”

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2020 Democrats: state of the race (May 19th, 2019)

I was reminded of how much of a politics nerd I am this week when I got genuinely excited at seeing a Quinnipiac poll released of Democratic contenders versus Trump in the state of Pennsylvania. Not surprisingly, Joe Biden performed best of the 2020 Dems that were included, boasting an 11-point lead over the current president (53%-42%).

As I noted on Twitter, I think this is where the electability argument gets real. If Biden can beat Trump in Pennsylvania, the odds of a Democrat winning in 2020 go up significantly. To be fair, most of the other Democrats did well against Trump in this poll as well, with Bernie Sanders up seven points (50%-43%), and Elizabeth Warren up three (47%-44%). Beto O’Rourke was the only polled candidate who was down versus Trump (44% for Beto versus 46% for Trump).

Harry Enten notes:

  • One thing that is interesting and the Q-Pac poll from PA shows is that there is a far larger divide in primary vote choice between very liberal and somewhat liberal Dems than somewhat liberal and moderate/conservative Dems.

At some other point I saw this from Enten, which is one of the more fascinating data points I’ve seen in some time:

  • Biden got up to about ~40% after announcing on average… Question is where does that settle… 30%? 35%? 40%?… Knowing nothing else 35% is about a 50% chance of winning the nom…

And I think therein lies why Biden’s post-announcement bump was underestimated. And at least thus far his lead is not deflating at all.

The more I think about the current state of the race (again, always subject to change pending lots of things, including next month’s initial Democratic debates), I see Biden, Sanders, and Warren as the only candidates drawing significant support, with Biden often doubling Sanders support and likewise Sanders coming close to doubling Warren’s in both national and key state polls. And then when you look at the huge and ever growing field coupled with the fact that Sanders and Warren are drawing from the more liberal side of the Democratic base (with some variables under the hood related to Warren drawing more college educated liberals whereas Sanders draws non-college educated liberals), this all plays towards Biden’s current commanding position.

Here’s an interesting dispatch covering Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail in the Rust Belt:

  • Sanders’ pitch to 60 million red-state voters is, Trump lied to you. He believes many of Trump’s supporters are denizens of a pissed-off working class who bought Trump’s promises of better jobs, benefits and security after decades of betrayal from both parties.

And as for Warren, she’s heading into the “heart of MAGA country,” continuing to strengthen her claim as a courageous and pugnacious potential opponent to the current president. 
From Matt Grossman:

  • The pre-entering Biden strengths I noted remain 1) many Dems are not ideologues & identify with Obama 2) other candidates splitting young voters, leaving older voters 3) women & minority voters not consolidating behind women & minority candidates 4) Dems prioritizing electability

It’s an interesting, open question of whether Biden’s long history in public service — through decades of massive change in American politics and culture, and countless decisions and statements and votes — will ultimately “help” or “hurt” him in securing the Democratic nomination for president. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll reports that a full 40% of people ages 18-29 are less likely to vote for Biden based on his Iraq War vote, for example. This could potentially play into Biden’s overall weakness with younger voters (not to mention that, you know, he’s kind of old and stuff), yet however his current overall standing as a legitimate sole front runner at this (as yet very early) point in the nominating process remains. 
Dave Wasserman on Biden:

  • Three best things going for Biden, atm: 1) Bernie/Warren both in, splitting the left 2) Neither Harris/Booker catching fire w/ African-Americans, esp. in the South 3) Dems’ *perception* a mod/mainstream nominee = best bet vs. Trump If any of these change, Dem race will change.

If Biden does snag the nomination, some are starting to beat the drum for a Biden/Harris ticket.

Even with the “it’s super early” caveat aside, we are far enough along in the 2020 cycle that candidates who aren’t “breaking out” (which are, let’s see… almost all of them?) are already looking to recalibrate:

  • “Beto O’Rourke is really the canary in the coal mine here,” said Mathew Littman, a Democratic strategist and former Joe Biden speechwriter. “What Beto is going through now is that he’s been surpassed by Mayor Pete [Buttigieg], maybe Elizabeth Warren, in terms of attention. It’s going to happen to everybody in the race. … Joe Biden today is flying high in the polls. But Joe Biden’s not going to be able to go six months without explaining everything on policy.”

Speaking of Beto, here’s Vanity Fair on how the media “fell out of love with him.”  And on that note, we seem to be in the midst of a full on Beto backlash.

We’ve got yet more 2020 Dems, people! Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is now in the race, joining the Western governor cohort (note: there are many cohorts already) that includes Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. All three are touting their bipartisan get-things-done bonafides, with Bullock presumably trying to throw in the part about doing so while in charge of a pretty deep red state, at least when it comes to presidential politics (moderate Sen. Jon Tester, often talked about as a potential presidential candidate himself, also hails from the Big Sky country).

And oh yeah, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has also jumped in the race.  It’s… not going that well so far.

On a related note, Five Thirty Eight looks at why “Some of Today’s Candidates Probably Won’t Make It To Iowa“:

  • Some Democratic candidates will likely drop out even before the Iowa caucuses, which are scheduled to kick off the voting process on Feb. 3, 2020. And large candidate fields have historically winnowed pretty quickly a month or so after Iowa, though there are reasons to wonder if 2020 could be different.

Nate Silver:

  • My working theory is that the sheer number of candidates running is helpful on balance to the big name brands (Biden especially, probably Bernie, maybe Warren, Harris) and really unhelpful to the well-credentialed candidates in the next tier down (e.g. Booker, Klobuchar, Castro).

I caught an interview with Cory Booker on The Axe Files podcast, and was impressed with his story, his intellect, and his seriousness of purpose. He’s basing his candidacy on justice and inclusiveness, and is attempting to highlight some completely baffling and serious injustices in American society, such as the thousands of prisoners locked up for years on end for marijuana-related charges. In such a crowded field and with middling (at best) poll numbers to date, I’m not sure if Booker will be able to have a “breakout moment,” but I do hope he does get an opportunity to get a closer look from early primary/caucus state voters.

Here’s a good news / bad news thing that I pulled out of a UVA Center for Politics-Ipsos poll:

  • Just 7% of respondents said that if Trump loses the 2020 election, he should ignore the results and stay in office.

That’s good… I guess? But then you put that together with this little gem:

  • About two-fifths of all respondents (41%) — and over three-quarters of Republicans (77%) — agreed that a “deep state” is “trying to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.”

In terms of the Senate, Democrats May Need a Big Presidential Win to Flip it:

  • There is a flip side to this straight-ticket-voting reality: If Democrats win the presidential race decisively, some of those presidential red states could turn blue. In particular, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina are states with 2020 Senate races against Republican incumbents where Democrats think they have a decent chance of beating Trump this time. Add in two states Trump lost last time that have Republican senators up in 2020 (Colorado and Maine), and the odds of liberating the upper chamber from Mitch McConnell’s death grip look a lot better. That means a strong Democratic investment in purplish states with Senate races could pay off doubly.

Speaking of Arizona, from Josh Kraushaar:

  • New polling has Joe Biden leading Trump by 5 (!) in ARIZONA. Trump campaign (and Senate Rs) getting nervous that a huge Sun Belt battleground turning blue.

Finally, a Mayor Pete update! Pete Buttigieg is keeping busy, what with running for president and all, but he found the time to stop by Jimmy Fallon to get some slow jamming on.  Best pull quote:

He’s ready and prepared for a primary battle
His name is worth 800 points in Scrabble 

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files 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.

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.”

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files 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.

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.

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.

2020 Democrats: state of the race (April 21st, 2019)

We now have a 2020 Republican to compete with our incumbent President of the United States (cue the party horn!): former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who from all appearances seems like a sanity-based person with legitimate reasons (“It is time to return to the principles of Lincoln — equality, dignity, and opportunity for all”) and experience to run for higher office. And who knows, maybe he’ll even make some headway in the GOP nominating process, even in these wacky times. Also, he was Gary Johnson’s running mate for the Libertarian Party in 2016, which is kind of interesting. 
I’ll be watching to see if the likes of (now) Sen. Mitt Romney will be willing to take the political risk to endorse Weld for president. Romney, for his part, claimed to be “appalled” by the findings of the Mueller Report just this week. So let’s keep an eye on this, but holding of the breath will not be on the table, if you can dig. 
Washington Governor and 2020 Dem Jay Inslee has proposed a debatefocused solely on climate change, but the Democratic National Committee responded with an “extremely noncommittal statement last night, even as the party emphasized the topic’s importance.”

This seems like an exceptional idea to me, even if it leans into Inslee’s main rationale for running. To me, that’s fine: let’s hear exactly what each candidate has to say about climate change in as much detail as possible.

Inslee was a guest on the Pod Save America podcast this week, and I found him to be an impressive, competent, accomplished, technocratic, mild mannered, Western governor. He’s progressive especially on climate change (a good thing) but has a bipartisan and inclusive tone, and talked about working with Republican opposition in the Washington state legislature.

I came away believing that this is a guy who should get a serious look over from Democratic voters. It could well be that in a crowded field and as a relative unknown with the public nationally (I had not heard of him until well after I moved into the state where he’s the governor, I’m ashamed to say) he’s going to have an uphill battle to gain serious traction.

And in terms of larger numbers of Democratic voters hearing from him and other candidates in the crowded field, the debates are going to be a critical forum. Five Thirty Eight looks at “Who Might Make the Debate Stage?” And here’s a primer on how they calculate who “major candidates” are.

I also heard an interview with Beto O’Rourke on the excellent Axe Files podcast with David Axelrod (not to be confused with Bobby Axelrod from Billions). As expected, Beto was personable and affable and presented a generic progressive-yet-inclusive Democrat vibe, but I didn’t quite come away thinking, “This guy could be the next President of the United States.”

Here are the biggest bets of the 2020 Democratic field so far from a campaign spending standpoint:

  • The early hiring spree, which cost Warren’s campaign nearly $1.2 million in salary plus more on related expenses, amounts to a big bet on what it will take to win the 2020 presidential race. The buildup had Warren spending money almost as fast as she raised it at a time of year when presidential campaigns traditionally hoard their cash, according to new campaign finance filings. But the decision sheds new light on the priorities and strategy behind Warren’s campaign, which believes organization in the early-voting states could make the difference next year.

Also interesting to learn that Kamala Harris’ splashy and successful early campaign rally in Oakland “cost the campaign more than a half-million dollars — but drew 22,000 people and saturation media coverage, providing an early jolt for her standing.”

Speaking of Harris, she is leading the way in attracting donations (those who helped raise at least $100,000) for those who also made big time money donations to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Joe Biden is inching ever closer to a third run at the White House:

  • Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has begun accepting financial donations for a 2020 presidential campaign, an unambiguous sign that he intends to begin his challenge to President Trump within days.

He has also hired “over a dozen senior advisors from the Obama administration” for the 2020 campaign.

Here’s Harry Enten’s take on Biden’s chances:

  • Biden’s biggest obstacles for winning the nomination imho are… 1. Most Democrats don’t say they’d feel comfortable nominating someone over 75. 2. He could be QUITE rusty campaigning. 3. Are people thinking he’s merely Obama? And then will realize he’s not.

Former Virginia Governor and Clinton adviser Terry McAuliffe won’t be running for president, so that’s one off the list.

I almost sent off a politics section without a Mayor Pete mention, but(tigieg) I must note this New York Magazine piece that talks about why the presidential candidate from Indiana may check “so many boxes relevant to this moment.”

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.