We know who the Big Three are. Joe Biden continues to defy expectations of his collapse. Elizabeth Warren strengthens her position daily. Bernie Sanders isn’t going away. I still owe you more detailed breakdowns on their chances.
Bernie still has a tougher path than the other two, but he’s virtually guaranteed to stick around most, if not all the way to the convention. We can’t say that about the next 17 candidates.
In reverse order of what they can gain, here’s where the rest of the field stands:
They Were Never Here: Wayne Messam, Joe Sestak
Remember Mike Gravel’s campaign announcement? Remember his exit? If you did, you may notice when these two go.
Leaving When They Get Bored: Bill deBlasio, John Delaney, Tim Ryan, Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock
Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, and Seth Moulton left to go protect their current jobs or run for a new one. That’s why they’re gone and these guys are still here.
Kirsten Gillibrand was out of money and had an image to protect for the future. None of these four raised much to begin with. Bullock doesn’t want to run for the senate seat up next year in Montana.
Bennet isn’t up for re-election until 2024. DeBlasio is playing hooky from his day job in NYC. Tim Ryan isn’t going to get primaried for his house seat like Moulton and Swalwell and can be on the ballot in Ohio while running for president. Delaney quit his House seat to do this years ago.
None are going to grace a debate stage this fall. So it’s up to their threshold for being ignored.
NOTE: These five. are not of equal quality. Ryan, Delaney, and deBlasio don’t fit the normal profile of a presidential contender.
Bennet and Bullock aren’t dynamic enough to stand out in a large field, and are too moderate for the 2020 Democratic Party, but would be interesting centrist third party candidates if the economy takes a dump and Warren or Sanders gets the nomination.
I doubt either would do it. Too much chance of being blamed for delivering another four years of Trump.
Diversions & Influencers: Tom Steyer, Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang
Again, not all three are created equally here. Yang is polling the best by far. Depending on how the next few months play out, he could be more of a factor in New Hampshire than most realize. He’s not going to win the primary, but any vote for him isn’t going to someone else who needs it.
Yang is also a good candidate, with some dry, understated charisma. We’re going to hear from him again in the future. He may try again in 2024 if there isn’t a Democratic incumbent. He could try a third party effort at some point.
He’d make a great candidate for governor of Washington or something, but he lives in New York.
At some point in the next couple weeks, a DNC-approved poll from Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina will get released. When that happens, Steyer will qualify for the October debate. Which will make said debate get split over two days. Which will create a lot more bandwidth for the second and third tier participating candidates.
He’s got plenty of money to stick around as long as he would like. This week, he announced a plan to tax net worth. The terms are different than Warren’s, but the basic concept is similar.
This guarantees a wealth tax will become a key issue for the rest of the primary, with all sorts of intended and unintended consequences. Steyer is the wrong vessel at the wrong time, but his presence will be felt at least through February.
Williamson isn’t making Yang’s impact and won’t have Steyer’s influence. But she’s not completely irrelevant. Like the others, she can afford to stick around and doesn’t have anything better to do. She already has one qualifying poll result for Debate #4 in October. It’s unlikely Williamson gets the other three in time.
Her presence will impact the requirements for the 5th, 6th, and 7th debates though. The DNC doesn’t want her on stage. Their attempts at winnowing are costing Bennet and Bullock a place. Yang is unavoidable. He’s currently 6th in the Real Clear Politics average.
They’d really like to keep future debates to a single night, with ideally fewer than 10 candidates. The rules will be whatever the DNC thinks will guarantee Williamson doesn’t show up, without blocking Julian Castro. That’s part of the reason why the rules aren’t public yet.
What’s Next?: Tulsi Gabbard, Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke
If there’s a super unlikely but technically possible nominee kicking around, it’s in this group. Far more likely, they’re the group that is hoping to leave the contest with a good future intact.
Castro, Klobuchar, and Beto are in both the September and October debates. Klobuchar isn’t up for election until 2024. Castro and Beto don’t have a day job. They definitely aren’t leaving before November.
If the standards for the debates after October and before Iowa become more onerous, each of the three are at risk of missing out. Most of Klobuchar’s qualifying polls are from Iowa, where the neighboring senator is doing better than her national numbers, even if she’s not making a real dent yet.
While it’s possible her Iowa numbers are being hurt by her nonexistent national pulse, it’s likely in her best interest to focus all of her attention on the first caucus, hope Biden weakens a little, and Buttigieg isn’t viable, so that she can pull together the 15% necessary to get delegates from a caucus precinct.
Normally, Klobuchar would be an excellent veep candidate. She could fulfill the experienced senator role that Biden did for Obama. The catch is the three leading candidates are old white people, one of whom is also female. Given how intersectional the Dem veeptstakes will be, this puts her at a disadvantage.
She’s a very good match for Cory Booker. Unfortunately, he’s the 6th most likely nominee. If nothing else, a respectable showing in Iowa would at least position her for 2024 if Democrats lose next November. Traditionally, the longer a party is out of power, the more open they are to more moderate nominees.
Beto just isn’t a very good candidate yet. He’s not crisp. He’s failed to present a compelling reason why he’s necessary with so many alternatives. His fundraising has slowed. His ground organization in Iowa is weaker than several competitors.
Having said that, he’s a pretty big name. He can get media attention the second he get the slightest sliver of momentum. And he’s acceptable to a pretty wide swath of the Democratic electorate. Candidates do sometimes improve during a campaign.
He really doesn’t want to run against John Cornyn in the senate race next year. Cruz was an easier target, it’s not a midterm year, and losing twice in a row, after exiting the presidential contest would hurt his brand and future prospects.
So, O’Rourke is going to stick around, at least until Iowa and hope the 16 random events that would need to occur to make him a real contender do. Should he start doing a little better, he’s a fairly plausible VP choice, though like Klobuchar, the presumed need for gender/racial balance isn’t helpful for his chances.
Of everyone in the group, Castro is the best VP prospect. He was given a bit of consideration by Hillary Clinton, before she opted for a “safer” choice. Castro has debated well enough and conducted himself smoothly enough that he’d be considered much safer this time.
He’s more than progressive enough to satisfy the activists, but doesn’t quite carry the same socialist brand as the AOC wing of the party, while checking age and racial boxes for the Big Three, along with the gender balance for Warren.
Especially if he can make a couple more debates after September and October, I’d say it’s worth placing a bet on Castro as the VP choice. He’s got the best odds. While there’s no rule the nominee needs to choose someone who ran this time (historically it’s 50/50ish), I have a feeling nobody is going to want to take a chance on someone who hasn’t actively and successfully campaigned this cycle.
It was hard to figure out how to categorize Gabbard. She almost wound up in a group of one. Unlike the other three here, she hasn’t qualified for more debates yet. She does have a decent chance of making it for October. And, if the approved polls were chosen differently, Gabbard would have already qualified.
She and Booker are the only other remaining candidates who need to give some thought about when to worry more about re-election to their existing job in 2020. He can’t be on the ballot in New Jersey for two offices at once. She’s facing a primary challenge in Hawaii.
The combination of struggling to qualify for debates, having to protect her flank back in Hawaii, and being an unlikely VP choice (though demographically she’d be ideal), would lead one to think she could exit soon.
Gabbard doesn’t have a natural constituency in the party. Booker’s polling numbers aren’t that much better, but that’s mostly because a combination of Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg are taking the upscale, educated voters who like him. Peel a few southern black votes away from Biden, and he’s got something.
As many steps as that is, it’s a path. I don’t see something similar for Tulsi. She doesn’t have the money that Steyer or Yang do to stick around and advocate for particular issues. Unlike Williamson, she has a reason to care how this goes and where it leaves her career.
You look at the evidence, and figure, why would Gabbard linger? How could it matter if she did?
First, I don’t think she cares that much about keeping her congressional seat. There isn’t much room to move up in Hawaii either. Tulsi isn’t the sort to wait around and hope Mazie Hirono’s health problems return.
Second, she’s pretty good at this. None of the candidates who have dropped out have made any impact in debates or found any way to resonate with the primary electorate. Gabbard beat Harris over the head in the last debate.
Third, she doesn’t care what the DNC thinks. She resigned her position with the national committee in 2016 to endorse Sanders when everyone else was lined up behind Clinton. At the time I assumed she was positioning herself to pick up Bernie’s torch for 2020.
As it turns out, he’s keeping it for now. But 2024 and 2028 will be here before we know it. There’s no guarantee AOC’s vision is the future of the Democratic Party. Gabbard has a very competitive streak.
If she stays in, she will find a way to impact the race somehow. Tulsi isn’t going to get nominated. She probably won’t be the VP. But we are going to hear from her a bit more, especially if she qualifies for an October debate that would put her on stage with only 5 other candidates.
We’ve left out three candidates:
These are the three that I think could actually get nominated. If you figure there’s a 70-80% chance the nominee is from the Big Three, and a 1 to 2% chance somebody from the Klobuchar-Castro group gets picked, the remaining odds are captured by these three.
In Part Two, we’ll take a much closer look.
Spoiler: I think the odds for each of the three have more to do with how quickly the other two go away than which candidate is stronger or has an easier path.