Time for the end of quarter report card. The criteria is simple. If you’d talked to the candidate and/or their team on June 30, told them their status on September 30 would be as it is now and they would have leapt to their feet clicking their heels together, they get an A. The more subdued than that, the lower the grade.
Spoiler Alert: Kamala Harris didn’t get an A.
Here we go:
Elizabeth Warren (A+):
This couldn’t have gone any better. First, she’s polling better than at the beginning of the quarter, and it’s a slow, steady gain, not a bubble. Second, the gain has come mostly at the expense of Harris, while other hopefuls like Pete Buttigieg have stalled out.
She’s in perfect shape in Iowa. Strong enough position in New Hampshire. Crowds are large, media favorable. Biden didn’t collapse, which prevented any of the newer centrist faces from getting oxygen. But he also didn’t leave her in his dust.
From a strategy perspective, it’s ideal to keep drafting off Biden as long as possible. She’s not having any trouble with name recognition or funding, so why take more fire than necessary.
The final event of the quarter, Ukraine + Impeachment, is likely good for her too. While many will circle the wagons around Biden, it’s better to be the candidate who doesn’t have an adult son who took money from oligarchs and cut deals in China. This plays perfectly into Warren’s attack on large corporations and corruption.
Warren ends the quarter as a 50/50 shot to win the nomination according to PredictIt. I think that’s too high, but it gives you an idea of how successful her last 90 days were.
Joe Biden (B+):
I know, this seems too high. Didn’t he rumble, stumble and bumble through the past three months. Didn’t I just say Warren is dangerously close. Isn’t he an uneven debater at best, who isn’t improving quickly. Yup. All true.
Thing is his poll numbers are at least as good as they were at the start of the quarter. He even got back most of what he lost in the aftermath of the first debate. On June 30, it looked like Kamala may have knocked him down. Instead, she’s the one who might not be around in a month or two.
Biden is not a historically strong front-runner. But we already knew that the day he announced. Any quarter that ends with him in front is a good quarter. He’s not anywhere near the finish line yet. On Warren’s current trajectory, she’d catch up or pass him in national poll averages by the end of Q4.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Biden may have to shake off losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. All he’s done is complete another lap. That lap started with him in the lead and ended that way too.
And while Ukraine isn’t uniformly great for him, Democrats would have hit him on Hunter eventually. This makes it harder for them. It also shows who Trump is afraid of. The best scenario for Biden involves having no credible alternatives to Warren and Sanders. The lack of oxygen now in the race is bad for any of the semi-moderate, would-be challengers.
Bernie Sanders (B):
When the quarter began, he was basically tied with Warren for second. Now he’s clearly in third. Some Iowa polls have him fourth. Most stories about his campaign are negative. Too much dissention, he’s not adjusting, Warren left him in the dust, etc.
Sure, that’s a crap narrative. His poll numbers haven’t moved though. I bet Kamala would trade places in a second. Holding serve is a lot harder than it seems. While Warren is ahead of him, it’s not by a ton. He’s still even with or ahead of her in selected surveys. Bernie has money and plenty of ability to get more. During the quarter, he announced the millionth individual donor of the campaign, a number none of his opponents have reached yet.
The Ukranian eclipse of the campaign doesn’t hurt Sanders either. Voters know who he is, and this sets him up to both tell Joe “he doesn’t care about his damn children” and continue hammering away at corporations and billionaires. Bernie was never going to be the favorite. Each quarter that ends with him in an upper tier is a win.
Tom Steyer (B):
He’s purchased himself a place in the fourth debate. The strategy of concentrating resources on early voting states to qualify worked. What keeps this from being an A is his complete absence from the national conversation.
The standards for the fifth debate in November are harder to reach. Steyer could rely completely on money over the summer, now he’ll need to show some candidate chops too.
Tulsi Gabbard (B):
She’s the only candidate to participate in the second debate, miss the third, but recover to qualify for the fourth. Most importantly, Gabbard has shown she has a perceptible voting base, one that’s getting her some decent New Hampshire polling numbers.
Compared to a candidate like Cory Booker, Tulsi has fewer voters considering her, but a much higher percentage of those thinking about her actually prefer her as their first choice. That’s important for survival.
So is being able to hang in and move forward while missing a debate. The higher barriers for the fifth round may prove insurmountable, but that doesn’t mean she won’t outlast some competitors and show up again later. She’s suffered from having many of her better poll results not count, which may help Gabbard with her non-conformist base.
She will also be able to put a good scare into the DNC if she gives any thought to a 3rd party run. Tulsi doesn’t get an A because she didn’t make herself a contender. But she earns the B for building and maintaining relevance, something most of the field struggled with.
Andrew Yang (B):
The Yang Gang is alive and well heading in to Q4. He’s very likely to qualify for the fifth debate, something Booker, Beto, Klobuchar, and Castro can’t say yet. Only Warren improved her polling in the quarter more than Yang did. His fundraising numbers will be up on what he did during Q2.
He’s less dependent on traditional media attention than most of the second tier, so impeachment is less of a threat to his campaign. So why not an A? First, Yang proved unable to make an impact in debates. Perhaps this will change in October, when only 6 people will be on stage each night. For now, he’s been unable to leverage making debates into expanding his range of consideration.
Second, like Gabbard, he gets a lot of those thinking about him to choose him. Like her, he’s not a contender unless many more consider him. Yang is 6th in the RCP average, ahead of a whole pile of credentialed candidates. This is a very good effort. It’s not a path to the nomination though.
Check back tomorrow to see those who struggled this quarter. Then we’ll finish up on Wednesday with the neutrals.