The Post-Kamala Chessboard

Something like a dozen candidates have dropped out. Kamala Harris was the first to matter (apologies to Beto.) Beyond giving journalists a chance to write inside the wreckage pieces, there are enough voters now up for grabs to make a difference.

Sure, she was at 4ish% nationally, and not in double-digits anywhere, but where her 8-10% in California winds up could easily determine who wins there. If Joe Biden gets most of her 5% in South Carolina, nobody is catching him there under any circumstances.

Even more importantly, somewhere between a quarter and a third of voters were still considering her. That number was close to where Pete Buttigieg is, and easily ahead of anyone outside the Top Four. Being next up isn’t as good as being first choice, but it’s something. As Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete had their respective climbs, being a second choice was often a step towards being first.

So, with all of those second or third choice slots now open, who can benefit the most, and who is likely to take the most advantage?

Elizabeth Warren

She’s still dropping in pretty much every poll, and not up in any of them. Most of the defections have gone to Buttigieg or Bernie Sanders. More of her voters than you might think are still considering Biden. But there was also overlap with Harris. If you prefer a female candidate and think Amy Klobuchar is too moderate/centrist, there’s nowhere to go now.

There was not as much crossover with Sanders. At the moment, Warren and Sanders are very close in many states. The combination of being more likely to gain Harris voters, and not having to worry about losing them to her is going to help a lot. Whether this puts her over the top, or just mitigates a continuing slide, we’ll see.

Cory Booker

Duh. But not for the reason you think. If being an African American candidate was a guarantee of anything, Kamala would still be running for the people. Her black supporters will not immediately gravitate to Booker. And even if that happened, it wouldn’t make him a contender by itself.

In order for Booker to qualify for the next debate, he’d need to pull 60-70% of her supporters, and do so immediately. He wasn’t the candidate her supporters were most frequently looking at next, so that’s not happening.

With Deval Patrick’s candidacy DOA, this may help Booker’s fundraising. It’s a bad look for a group that makes up 25% of the Democratic electorate to lack a viable candidate in a race that still has 15 official candidates. Until Andrew Yang and/or Tulsi Gabbard qualify (and they each only need one more favorable poll), we’re looking at a debate stage with 6 white folks. About half of Democrats are white.

It’s not hard to see how Booker could wrangle a few million out of this, and it would make a difference if he can get a few good ads out in Iowa. Yes, Michael Bloomberg is carpet bombing the world, but he’s not focusing on the earliest states. And his standard ads are boring.

The biggest benefit is being a next person up option. With Harris gone, Booker is now the fifth most considered candidate. Others are doing a better job of turning interest into top level support. Klobuchar, Yang, Bloomberg, Gabbard, and Tom Steyer are all converting a higher percentage. That’s why Booker will be watching at least two of them debate from the comfort of his den.

He’s got pretty good favorability numbers. There are some voters who will not choose Sanders unless the other option is Donald Trump. Same goes for Biden. A number of voters are still shaky on Warren. Mayor Pete does not have the public familiarity to survive a poorly timed gaffe or misstep.

Booker is ideologically dead center in the field. He’s neither Sanders/Warren nor Buttigieg/Biden/Klobuchar. This is also why many like him, but none are yet opting for him. But it makes him a really good backup.

I don’t actually think the campaign is strong enough to take advantage. If they were, Booker would be doing better already. At least Harris hit the top tier for a minute. But this is unquestionably good news for him.

Joe Biden

For many African American voters, Biden was the Harris backup, not Booker. If the last couple months of polling is accurate, the veep will both gain more than Booker and cut his downside risk of losing voters to Harris. It’s similar to Warren’s situation.

Booker isn’t likely to survive Iowa. Had Kamala continued, he might have dropped out ahead of Iowa himself. Klobuchar isn’t a reasonable substitute for Biden among southern black voters. She won’t have time to introduce herself and build momentum. And while running in Minnesota has taught her how to appeal to moderate voters, it’s not like she was winning tons of African American votes.

Today, Biden won John Kerry’s endorsement. Yeah, I know, it’s John Kerry. How valuable is the nod from a previous failed nominee? It doesn’t hurt, and the absence of these sort of endorsements was holding up Biden’s fundraising. Also, Kerry is still popular in his home state of Massachusetts and he won New Hampshire.

I have no idea what it would take for Kamala to endorse Biden. She likely wants to wait until she sees who’s likely to win. Being a credible vice presidential choice for several candidates, why risk it? But if Biden does ok in Iowa and/or New Hampshire, and promises her a choice of running mate, Supreme Court, or Justice Department?

A Biden-Harris alignment could quickly crowd out Warren and Buttigieg, and Biden does extremely well in one-on-one polls against Sanders. Turnout numbers for younger voters would have to run 50% over normal to make it even.

Amy Klobuchar

While Booker is acceptable to a few more Democrats, Klobuchar is a more common first choice, especially in Iowa. Voters haven’t yet considered her very electable. I disagree with this. Sure, I’m going to slit my wrist the next time she brings up her Minnesota voting performance, but it’s legit quantitatively impressive.

Until a candidate is drawing enough primary polling support, they aren’t seen as very electable. Warren and Buttigieg both saw their electability numbers improve as their poll numbers did. This isn’t a chicken and egg thing. First the poll numbers started moving up, then the electability.

This created a virtuous cycle where the impression of greater electability moved the next batch of voters from considering to preferring. Klobuchar is one rung away from kicking off a strongly positive news cycle.

We’ve already seen debate moderators decide Yang, Gabbard, and Steyer aren’t worthy of the same attention as more “mainstream/established” candidates. Even if all three make the next event, instead of just Steyer, Klobuchar’s relative position is up. She’s the #5 “serious” candidate on stage.

Harris took up a certain amount of space on stage. Even if her voters don’t go to Klobuchar, her stature will. That will help her win over Iowans who are considering her as an alternative to Mayor Pete or Uncle Joe. This is the whole game for her.

As always, time will tell, but this is how it looks now.

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