Seven Up

The debate contestants for next week are mostly officially locked in. Andrew Yang has qualified. Tulsi Gabbard has decided she doesn’t want to play even if she gets the final 4% survey she needs. Cory Booker has zero hope. We’ll have a field of seven:

Joe Biden

Bernie Sanders

Elizabeth Warren

Pete Buttigieg

Amy Klobuchar

Tom Steyer

Andrew Yang

Mike Bloomberg is starting to get poll numbers that are more than good enough. But he’s skipping all donations, so as long as that’s a requirement, he’s not going to appear. Steyer purchased donors. He literally and intentionally spent more to get them than he got back. It’s strictly for qualification purposes.

It was a long shot that Kamala Harris leaving would help Booker. He wasn’t a common second choice for her supporters. Still, he held out hope that some voters would decide it was important to support an African American candidate. No such luck. He’s at 2% in the Monmouth survey, down from 3%, and 1% with Quinnipiac, down from 2%.

To further the idea that black voters aren’t attached to these particular black candidates, Quinnipiac found Booker has 1% African American support, as does Deval Patrick. We know Mayor Pete is struggling, but he still managed 2%. Bloomberg, though to have a problem because of his “stop and frisk” policies, is at 4%. Meanwhile, Biden scores 51%.

This gives us a very different stage than we’ve become accustomed to. As many have noted, absent Harris, Booker, and Gabbard it’s far paler. It skews older. Mayor Pete and Yang are young, and Klobuchar and Steyer aren’t ancient, but the visual diversity some Democrats were hoping for is now mostly gone. Had Yang missed, that’s all you’d have heard about.

It’s the first time there won’t be at least 10 people on stage. Seven is much more manageable. Ideally, this will lead to longer allotted answers and greater ease of letting most contestants in on most topics. In the previous two debates, Yang, Steyer, and Gabbard were notably less engaged by the moderators. Tulsi managed to get heard anyway, but Yang is consistently trailing his peers in talk time.

With only five “traditional” candidates on stage, Yang should finally get closer to parity. If not, it will be even more obvious. It’s Steyer’s third debate. If he’s ever going to do well at this (hasn’t been awful, just not notable), we’ll see that too. Only one in four of the people who started a campaign are in this debate, so both should feel good about themselves. But for now, both are still mostly a curiosity. A curiosity with enough resources to continue indefinitely and no other pressing obligations.

We know more about the other five than we did yesterday:

Buttigieg is taking on some water. Quinnipiac has him at 9%. Before Thanksgiving he was at 16%. Monmouth also shows 9%. He was at 8% with them last time, but that was Halloween, and in other surveys he gained a lot between Halloween and Thanksgiving, so two new data points that show his progress has stopped and reversed itself.

His Iowa numbers are more important, and we’re waiting on post-Thanksgiving polls. It’s possible Iowans are processing information differently. He started climbing there first, and news about his numbers may have pushed national voters. If that was the motivation for his bump, it’s understandable that it could fade quickly, especially with him taking more incoming.

If Iowans are still favoring him and he debates well next week, this was just a blip. If he’s starting to slide there, and he gets a strong one-two punch from Warren and Klobuchar next week, it’s a real test. Last debate, both went relatively easy on him. I don’t think either can afford to do the same this time.

Looks like Warren is reaching her floor. The previous Quinnipiac dropped her from 28% to 14% in about a month. Now she’s at 15%. Monmouth has her at 17%. She’s trailing Bernie in every national survey (except The Economist/YouGov) over the past couple weeks, but it’s not like the gap is huge.

She absolutely needs to start rebuilding momentum. Sparring back and forth with Mayor Pete about transparency likely isn’t the way. We’ll see next week if she’s found her way forward.

Klobuchar has debated very effectively of late, at least for what her target audience is looking for. It hasn’t moved her national numbers than much yet. Her 4% with Monmouth is a recent national high. We really need to see what Iowa has to say. If she’s in the 8-10% range, all is good, and she’s on track to surge at the end. Still at 5-6% and the clock is ticking pretty loudly.

Previous Iowa winners have been in mid-single digits in mid-December. But not in mid-January. So those numbers will tell us whether she’s trying to make Pete’s life uncomfortable, or needs to take him down stat. Nationally, there’s some overlap between voters who would consider her and Bloomberg. He’s not campaigning or advertising in Iowa, so Iowa data will also give us some insight into how he’s blocking her elsewhere.

Another thing to remember. Bloomberg’s existence gives Klobuchar less room outside of Iowa. He’s taking up space and media attention. She’s gotta win, not just place decently well, to have any chance of raising the money to compete later.

Biden’s national numbers are holding up well. He’s to the upper part of his range, closer to 30% than 25%. And this is with Bloomberg, who was expected to hurt him, actually registering. It looks like Biden was a beneficiary of Harris’s exit. He may have grabbed a few voters back from Buttigieg too.

Given his current strength and lack of lasting trouble when he’s had previous debate gaffes, Biden should feel very good walking on stage. I’d give him some advice about having fun, trying to make sure he’s still sharp and active in the second half, etc., but it’s not like he listens to his own campaign team. Biden is gonna Biden. And it will probably work out ok for him in the end.

Bernie Sanders always sounds the same. It’s his thing and probably his best feature. He also has no reason to change anything. He’s within range in each of the first three states. Most of his voters don’t watch debates. If he can turn out his young voters who don’t often vote, he’s going to have a really good February. Regardless of what happens next week.

Also, I’m still convinced Tulsi is running as a third party candidate. Saying she has better things to do than go to the debate is both on brand and another step in that direction.

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