A Few Post-Debate Questions

You don’t need to read another debate recap. Too many people were on stage for too long arguing about things they mostly agree on. Nobody had the kind of horrible, cringe-worthy moment that ends careers. Nobody landed the thirty second shot that makes a president.

Whenever the next one of these is (November 20) is too soon. That preamble of whining aside, after processing what happened yesterday, I have some questions:

Will Biden’s supporters ever care that he can’t speak coherently for more than 8 seconds?

We’ve all learned from the first debate and adjusted expectations downward. When Biden gets ruffled and can’t finish a thought, we shrug. When he sounds like a paternalistic old man, it tends not to matter. Joe means well. It’s not like his supporters aren’t watching the debates. Debate audiences skew older. So does his base.

But good lord. The 8 seconds thing isn’t hyperbole. If you have time to play back parts of the debate, start timing him from the beginning of his answer. It’s 50/50 whether he gets to the 8 second mark without losing his thought, moving into “the fact of the matter is” as a bridge, etc.

This seems disqualifying to me. If he gets nominated, it means holding up a year from now while Trump is trying to bully him. More importantly, it means being able to execute the office of President of the United States five years from now. People make the point that Biden has always rambled and garbled. True.

Again, go to the video. Compare current Biden with 2014. Then ask yourself what he might be like in 2024. If you have someone who wasn’t always the most lucid communicator, and that individual would be north of 80 for half of their presidential term, it’s a legit concern.

When that person is notably slower than the even older man who just had a heart attack standing right next to him….

Does Warren gain another couple points in national polls over the next 2-4 weeks?

This was her first time in the crosshairs. John Delaney going after her in the second debate doesn’t count. Her campaign team couldn’t have paid someone to help her more than he did. Both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar gave reasoned arguments as to why their path was more likely to bring positive change.

Yes, Warren is cleaning up among self-described liberal/progressives. But some of her polling surge is from voters part way between left and left of center. True moderates are going to support someone else unless she somehow winds up in a one-on-one with Bernie Sanders.

For now, Warren has moved well past Sanders among voters on the left, it’s part of why she’s ahead of him. If she retains that and leads by a lot among the left-left of center group, she gets nominated. Each candidate has two different ceilings. What they can garner in a several candidate field, and what they could do one-on-one.

There’s less difference between the candidates in their one-on-one ceiling than their multi-candidate one. Kamala Harris is a factor in a dreamland where she’s only opposing Biden, because many primary voters don’t think he’s a good idea. She’s not presently viable as a multi-candidate contender. Even less so after yesterday.

A candidate in the mid-upper 20s in polling averages, as Warren and Biden are right now, is very well positioned in a several candidate field. Reaching the low-mid 30s by November/early December is commanding. At her rate of increase over the past 6 months, that’s the next point on the plot line.

If Warren gets there despite or because of the extra scrutiny from being an acknowledged front-runner, she’s virtually unstoppable. If you asked me today, I’d say she has a slightly less than 50% chance of being the nominee. Reaching that next level makes it better than two-thirds likely.

Does Klobuchar qualify for the next debate?

Based on the Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight polling, Klobuchar improved her standing the most as a result of the debate. The percentage of voters considering her as an option increased by 55%. Her favorable rating went up the most. After struggling in the first two rounds, she improved the third time, and was darn good yesterday.

More progressive voters won’t agree, but she was never going to win them over anyway. Her odds of winning the nomination remain extremely low, but with several lower-tier qualifiers having a bad night, she’s moved up the list. Klobuchar also made a great case for herself as a Veep possibility, should a relatively moderate candidate win the nomination.

Any of these ambitions are helped by qualifying for the fifth debate. Eight candidates are already in (Warren, Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Harris, Yang, Booker, Steyer.) Klobuchar and O’Rourke each have one of the four necessary qualifying polls. Gabbard and Castro are at zero.

Klobuchar’s one acceptable survey (3%) is from Iowa. A 3% result is worth one point, a 5% result nets 2 points. There won’t be three more qualifying surveys (remember, the DNC doesn’t count all pollsters) from Iowa. She would need a 5% Iowa, plus another 3% somewhere, be it Iowa or nationally. That seems possible.

Does Mayor Pete get a boost in the polls, at least in Iowa and New Hampshire?

The other over-performer was Buttigieg. His consideration went up from 20.3 to 24.8 points, a 22% relative improvement. Unlike Klobuchar, that leaves him somewhere decent. He didn’t suffer from being more aggressive in the debate.

Unlike Castro who saw his negatives increase faster than his positives when he went after Biden in Round 3, the mayor saw his favorables go up by 3.8 points, while his unfavorable number only increased 1.3 points. He’ll make that trade any day.

So far, the rule is Warren goes up within a couple weeks of each debate, and nobody else does. Buttigieg moved up to fourth because Harris keeps dropping, not from gaining himself. He’s not going to have a better debate than this one. There’s no need for him to catch the leaders immediately, but he needs to advance a bit.

I’d be shocked if his national numbers go up by a point or three on average. He’s going to end the month in single-digits. But anything would be progress, and the first time in months that a non-Warren candidate held an increase.

The bigger potential is in Iowa, where he was already at 12%, and New Hampshire, where his moderate approach could register very well with the independent voters who will participate in the Democratic primary. In both cases, particularly Iowa, his improvement may be blunted by Klobuchar’s improvement. There are only so many voters who aren’t way left and aren’t sticking with Biden.

Is there room for him to make progress and Klobuchar to make the next debate?

We’ll know more in 2-4 weeks. Stay tuned for the next update.

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