10 is a Crowd

Tom Steyer missed the September debate cut. His strategy of advertising in early voting states to get the necessary poll results, which your correspondent knew would work, didn’t.

He’s still one 2% survey short. No new qualifying polls were released in the past couple weeks. He’ll qualify for October, the instant another DNC-certified Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina poll is out.

Which will mean a minimum of 11 candidates, assuming none of the current 10 drop out. Which will mean two nights of debates. That’s October. A long way away if you’re running the Castro or Klobuchar campaign. A long way away if you’re trying to keep the fundraising momentum going for Pete Buttigieg. Or boost Cory Booker up the ladder.

In the meantime, the September debate is a problem. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are finally going to appear on stage together. No possibility for the luck of the draw separating them yet again. This potential duel will take up a lot of oxygen.

Then there’s Biden v. Harris III. Bernie Sanders will take up plenty of space doing what he does. Others will get some time to speak, but there’s no Tim Ryan for positive contrast. All of the random straight white men are gone.

You don’t want to be a candidate at the edge of the stage. Ever. John Kasich made it from stage left to remaining in the 2016 Republican race for a long time, but he only won his home state and never truly contended. He’s a success story.

You can get a television contract from the wings. Rick Santorum’s family is very grateful. You can become Vice President of the United States. Maybe Amy Klobuchar will follow in Biden’s stage marks.

When more than 20 candidates give it a try, being one of the (temporarily) Final Ten is a big accomplishment. South Bend Mayor Buttigieg has gone further than Senator from New York Gillibrand could. HUD Secretary Castro is here, Governor Inslee isn’t.

Beto O’Rourke had a tough enough time distinguishing himself against a lesser debate group. Castro got the best of him in round one. His next effort was better, but not good enough. Beto and most of the other second or third tier candidates will need to learn a completely new approach.

Biden can’t possibly get more slings and arrows than last time. When you have the target on your back, it doesn’t matter if the shooters have 1% or 10% in the polls. He can continue working on improving his existing technique and approach.

Warren and Sanders will likely keep their mutual non-aggression pact in place. It helped them last time. Both have moved up since. It’s not going to hold all the way to the convention, but they’ll reprise their act in September.

Harris won’t surge the way she did after the first debate. She’ll do better than she did the second time. Reversion to the mean and all that. More importantly, she does have proven stage presence and a place toward the middle. There’s a lot of pressure on her, but again, the previous two debates are a good tactical foundation.

This is where we find out if Buttigieg, Booker, or any of the others have what it takes to become a true contender. Several have shown flashes. Many are intriguing. As media attention centers more and more on the top candidates, opportunities shrink.

Viewership for the October debate set will be much less than the first set in June. Fatigue sets in. It’s going to take lots of money and energy for the second tier to build the type of national infrastructure that would let them build on a good result in Iowa or New Hampshire in time for Super Tuesday. Only Buttigieg has the money so far. Time for the Under Age 70 Democrats to step up. Tick tock.

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