Did the Debate Matter?

Enough to overpower the Impeachment hearings? Hell no. Today’s revelations will overpower whatever the world remembers from the debate. Yesterday, observers were already burned out from the hearings before the debate started. The universe of people who are super excited about the Democratic nomination contest, but don’t care about the hearings is very small.

And anger over Trump is greater than excitement for candidates who’ve been running long enough to have concerns about them, but haven’t had the primary victories to quiet those fears. It’s an awkward time under the best of times, but this doesn’t resemble the best of times. So you won’t hear much at all about it after today. But the following outcomes are more likely than they were 24 hours ago:

Buttigieg moves forward

No, he didn’t get hit as much as expected. No, this wasn’t the debate performance of the century. No, he’s not going to suddenly have lots of African American supporters. Yes, he still has to worry about Amy Klobuchar in Iowa. Yes, he may lost back some of his recent gains in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But the air won’t leave the balloon the way it did for Kamala Harris. Iowans who liked him on Tuesday still will. He’s seen his national support go from 4 or 5% to around 8% over the past several weeks. The next stop is not 20%. It’s not 15%, but I would expect to see him at 10 to 11% on average by the eve of the next debate about a month from now.

He moved up slightly on PredictIt to 23% odds, right between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. That’s selling Biden short, but the mild advance makes sense.

Biden stays in front

FiveThirtyEight measures debate performance by surveying the same voters right before and right after the event. Overall, Biden did worse than the average candidate, which you know if you watched it. But the amount of voters considering him actually went up a little.

He’s not going to drop because of this. Warren won’t run past him because of this. He will never perform well for a full two hours on stage. It’s hard enough for Biden to get through a single answer without cutting himself off, losing his path, and/or garbling the verbiage.

Doesn’t matter. For all of his frailty, he remains a lucky break in Iowa and New Hampshire away from ending this early.

Bernie levels off

His best efforts aren’t legendary. His worst aren’t that harmful. As Bernie debates go, this was a 25th to 35th percentile outcome. Heading in, he was close to his polling ceiling over the past few months. Would expect his mini-advance to halt, which might have happened even if he was a bit more impressive.

Warren stabilizes

Figure there are five levels to Warren’s support. The foundation is the 5 to 7 percent of Democratic voters who were on board even when she wasn’t looking very viable in January/February. Then there’s another 6 to 8 percent that really do prefer her, and will support her as long as it’s not clear her campaign has little chance of resulting in nomination.

Group Three likes her, but has a few other candidates they feel as or almost as strongly about. If most of them are on board, Warren is very competitive in Iowa, competitive in New Hampshire, and we’ll see where things go from there.

She lost some of Group Four over the past few weeks. This includes liberals who voted for Bernie, still like Bernie, but can be persuaded Warren is more electable. It also includes somewhat more moderate (though clearly left of center) voters who like her attention to plans, would prefer a female nominee, etc. With a majority of these voters, she’s a coin flip at worst to win the nomination.

Group Five would clinch the nomination. Warren hasn’t won them over yet. These are voters who have a favorable opinion and tell pollsters she’s on their consideration list. In some cases, she’s their number two option.

If the debate had gone badly for her, some of Group Three would have melted away and she’d be at real risk of getting knocked out. If it had gone very well, Warren would soon find herself back where she was 4-6 weeks ago. Instead, she’s hanging in, still very capable of winning, but at least a few good weeks away from putting herself in position to be a clear favorite. If I had to bet today, I’d pick Biden.

Klobuchar moves forward (mostly under the radar)

Mayor Pete didn’t soil himself, so she’s not moving past him over Thanksgiving. It’s unlikely her national numbers move up by more than a point or two over the next few weeks. None of the people she’d take support from are going to lose very much. But she was already in the 5 to 6% range in Iowa, and I’d guess the next stop is 7-8%. As long as she’s there by Christmas, there’s enough time for a final sprint to Caucus Day.

Harris dips

It wasn’t a bad debate for her. There’s just no space now.

YangGang gets grumpy

Each debate, Yang gets a little better. He’s very close to qualifying for December. Unlike many of the other candidates, you don’t immediately know how he’ll answer each question. Once again, he got the least amount of talking time. At this point, it’s not a matter of shyness. The moderators stayed away from the firm of Gabbard, Steyer, and Yang.

Gabbard picks fights. Always. Which extends out her time a little. Steyer droned on, and not to his benefit. Yang was more effective than either, but it cost him time. Once again, the numbers show he was able to win over at least some favorable opinion and a bit more consideration. He’s the only candidate I found myself wishing I could have heard more from.

Next time, he and his supporters will be on guard for being ignored again and will make a big push ahead of time to make sure he’s not left out.

Booker quits

His VP audition went very well. He had a very good debate. The idea of Deval Patrick entering the contest as Booker is on the precipice of leaving it is ridiculous. Booker has a year of practice, and he’s the better candidate. He made a direct appeal to supporters or potential supporters to help him make the December debate.

Without impeachment in the air, his closing statement would receive some play. This was just bad timing. Which you can say about his entire effort. Over the next decade or two, we’ll discover how badly Booker wants to become president. Spoiler: I think very badly. Bob Dole ran in a crowded field in 1980 and got 2% in Iowa before dropping out. And he was the 1976 VP nominee. Eight years later he won Iowa. Eight years after that he won the nomination.

We’ll hear from Booker again, but this wasn’t his time.

Tulsi runs as a third party candidate

She’s making absolutely no attempt to appeal to the center of the Democratic Party. She’s making no attempt to appeal to a very big slice. Her negatives are going up way faster than her positives. Assuming she’s a rational actor, we have even more evidence the next step is third party.

Steyer, still not a thing

It’s not like he was bad. But his ads are more effective than him showing up on a debate stage. Unless you’re seeing those ads every day, you’ll forget about him again for the next month.

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