Who Had a Neutral Quarter?

As interesting as the big winners and losers are, some candidates had a neutral third quarter. If they don’t make it to the nomination, they’ll look back on the summer of 2019 as a missed opportunity. If one should upset the leaders to grab the prize, the story is how they didn’t collapse while others did. While we wait to see which it is, here’s how they scored:

Pete Buttigieg (C+): Could have been worse. Mayor Pete is roughly where he was in the polls 90 days ago. He’s arguably in fourth. He was in fifth. His Iowa and New Hampshire numbers are still better than his national polls. He’s still on the statistical outside looking in.

When he was fifth in July, the gap was between fourth and fifth. Now that he enters October in fourth, the gap is between third and fourth. Buttigieg’s most notable Q2 success was on the funding side. He narrowly led the entire field. For Q3, he managed another $19.1 million. It’s down about 25% from last quarter, and trails Bernie Sanders ($25.3 million), with Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren yet to report.

For the second straight quarter, he raised significantly more than Kamala Harris ($11.6 million.) Mayor Pete clearly has a very dedicated donor base, both large and small denomination versions.

He didn’t do anything wrong. No big fumbles, no bad debates, no clips that are sure to cause trouble in 2020. Mayor Pete just didn’t stand out. The voters weighing him and Elizabeth Warren have lined up behind her so far. If he’s a semi-moderate Biden alternative, few voters have actually moved yet.

Buttigieg didn’t advance with African American voters. Nobody else did either. It’s not like Warren made the leap and he didn’t. It’s not like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris did and he didn’t. Bernie Sanders is still doing well with younger black voters, but past age 40 or so, Biden still dominates.

He’s in double-digits in Iowa, but not up with the leaders. So we start the fourth quarter where we did the third. Many promising seeds, nothing ready to harvest. He spent much of the quarter building his team out. The big marketing push began in late September, with ads and an extended bus tour in Iowa.

He and his team figured they had time. If they surge this quarter, it will prove they were correct. If they don’t, it’s likely too late. We’ll re-code this as a B or higher, or a C or lower depending.

Beto O’Rourke (C):

He’s really a decent candidate now. The problem is he had a bad Q1 when he dithered about launching, and a worse Q2 when he was in. Then Q3 got off to a rough start. The El Paso shooting grounded him, and he’s found his issue (gun control) and more importantly his voice. Does anyone care?

Not yet. His poll numbers dove six months ago and haven’t really moved, regardless of whether he has a good debate or bad, sounds good, or not. So he improved during the quarter as much as any candidate, but at best his campaign ended it where it started. For a variety of reasons, some of his competitors on the same tier may exit in the next few weeks. At least he’ll be ready if there’s an opening.

Cory Booker (C-): He did many things well. Good debates, plenty of interviews. You can argue his most direct threat is Kamala Harris. She face-planted. Booker probably improved his VP suitability. If he wasn’t at 1.5% in the RCP average, you’d say it was a good quarter.

Instead, his numbers are down when the debate requirements are going up. His campaign sent out a funding SOS to bring in enough money to continue. If he’s still a candidate as you read this, it worked. Still, he’s at a huge financial disadvantage compared to the top five fundraisers.

Yesterday, he announced a haul of $6 million for Q3, about half of Harris, a little less than a third of Buttigieg, and less than a quarter what Bernie collected.

John Delaney, Tim Ryan, Marianne Williamson (Incomplete): There’s just not enough interest in any of these candidacies to give them any moves to make. They were irrelevant on July 1 and irrelevant on September 30. None will appear in another debate. Unlike Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard, they don’t have enough of a constituency to potentially impact New Hampshire.

Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, Seth Moulton, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bill deBlasio (Dropped Out):

None of these exits were a shock. None were a mild surprise. Swalwell and Moulton will attempt to stave off primary challenges for their House seats. Hickenlooper is now running for Senate, Inslee trying for a third term for his governorship. Gillibrand has several years before worrying about re-election. DeBlasio goes back to his mayoralty. If this isn’t his final term, it will surprise most of his constituents. All got to play, none were grievously wounded. None benefitted either.

This concludes our Q3 review. Failure to mention Joe Sestak and Wayne Messam wasn’t an oversight.

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