Candidate Heat Check: Pre-Iowa Edition

It’s time for another look at who’s hot and who’s not. These temperature readings are one part recent data, one part expectations, and one part alchemy. As was the case last time, no candidates are “on fire.” Bernie Sanders is climbing in the polls, and his odds are improving, but until he actually wins Iowa, he’ll have to settle for just being hot (I’m thinking he doesn’t hear that often.) On to the list:

On Fire: Nobody

Hot: Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden

Biden is holding serve. That’s not exciting. He’s not leaping forward at just the right time like Sanders. He’s not the favorite in either of the first two states (though Iowa is a coin flip between him and Bernie.) But FiveThirtyEight’s updated numbers have him at 45% to win the nomination before the convention. There are very few candidates who wouldn’t want those odds at this stage.

Sure, he could lose the first three states, slink in to South Carolina, and win by a disappointing margin. And if that happens, he may well not be the nominee. But if he wins Iowa, this is over. If he wins New Hampshire, it’s over. If he wins Nevada after finishing near the top in the first two, it’s over. There are just too many Super Tuesday states where he’s well ahead.

And then you see a new Florida poll like this one, where Biden is at 41% and Bloomberg is next at 17%. No, StPetePolls.org isn’t going to displace any of the famous polling names. They have a C+ rating from FiveThirtyEight. But which other candidate is getting 41% or leading by 24 points in any survey from any pollster in any other state? Keep looking. There isn’t one. If you have to get off to a rough start to lose, you’re doing just fine.

Bernie’s heat is backed up by the data everywhere. He’s well over 20% in most national surveys. He’s up a couple points on where he was at the beginning of the month, and several ahead of 3 to 4 months ago. He’s now more likely than not to win New Hampshire. There aren’t any states (even Massachusetts) where Warren is guaranteed to finish ahead of him.

Sanders is now the most likely candidate to win each of the first three contests. While he’s not the favorite until he actually wins them, everybody but Biden would trade with him in an instant.

Once again, Bloomberg advanced. When we did the last check, he’d caught Buttigieg nationally. Now he’s ahead. And it’s mostly Bloomberg’s numbers going up, rather than a straight swap of voters. If Buttigieg falters in Iowa and/or New Hampshire, he could then pick up some of Mayor Pete’s core group.

Should Bloomberg continue on his current pace of picking up a point or two every couple weeks, by the time the mid-March contests that he needs to start winning roll around, he’ll be in a competitive spot. Regardless of how much money he’s dropped on ads, he’s beating expectations right now.

So why just hot and not scalding? Because Biden can still end this before Bloomberg has a chance to win any votes. The minute Biden finishes fourth, or dare we imagine it fifth in Iowa, this is a whole different story. Otherwise, a fun mental exercise, but not much else.

Warm: Tulsi Gabbard, Andrew Yang

Neither is advancing quickly enough to qualify as hot. But they are making progress. Gabbard rang in at 8% in a new American Research Group New Hampshire survey. Yang is starting to get to mid-upper single digits in very respected national polls. His overall favorability ratings are still climbing too.

If Gabbard hits double digits when New Hampshire votes, she’ll both move up the heat index and anxiously await an independent run this fall. She has a very limited support base within the Democratic primary, almost entirely restricted to voters who aren’t registered Democrats. Until then, we wait.

Yang is curious. His favorability is increasing much faster than his top level support. That’s not shocking. A voter needs to like a candidate first, then consider, then make a backup, then a first choice, at least if they’re new to them, which Yang sure is. He has qualified for the next debate after missing the most recent. A few of his New Hampshire polls are a little encouraging.

It’s not reasonable to expect him to win the nomination, but the longer he can stick around, the better for 2024/2028, whatever his future political goals might be. I’m surprised that with so many signs pointing in a favorable direction, he’s spinning his wheels in Iowa, where the Yang campaign is nearing the end of a three week bus tour.

He won’t reach 15% viability anywhere more than a few hundred yards from a college campus. If he can somehow hit upper single digits in the first count, that will indicate Yang is continuing to win over new supporters and/or turn out brand new voters. As soon as that happens, he moves up. Otherwise, he remains a fun curiosity, having a good time with his family on the trail, while being very approachable and charming on Twitter.

Tepid: Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer

Steyer gets good news when polls are released for Nevada and/or South Carolina. That hasn’t happened for several days. He continues to run 8th nationally, 8th in New Hampshire, and in low single digits in Iowa. He’s already qualified for the next debate, and overall has exceeded expectations. But Bloomberg is a better version of a similar candidate. So we’ll leave him here pending further developments.

Meanwhile, Klobuchar had a good week, despite being stuck in D.C. Three Iowa polls were released Wednesday 1/29, and she was in double digits in each. She’s getting much closer to the 15% viability threshold. And Klobuchar is probably ok, even if she winds up with more like 13% of the overall vote. Her voters are all AARP card eligible. in the precincts near college campuses, she won’t register at all.

Once she reaches 15%, if there are a few stray Delaney or Bennet voters, Klobuchar is the likely recipient. Even if she falls just short of 15% in many precincts, the announcement of total popular support, prior to the second round readjustment, will give her something to point to and a reason to at least go to New Hampshire. Given where she was a few months ago, and how many more touted candidates have already withdrawn, that’s not bad.

It’s also not enough to get her nominated. She has next to zero support among voters of color or white voters born after Nixon took office. All the momentum in the world isn’t going to get her a strong Nevada or South Carolina result. She needs to beat Biden in Iowa and finish ahead of him and Buttigieg in New Hampshire to even have a conversation about her future as anything other than a VP hopeful.

We aren’t there yet. FiveThirtyEight has her at 3% to win Iowa, and the polling averages still have him with almost triple her support. I think she’s closer. But unless she’s within 3 points of Biden when Ann Selzer’s CNN/Des Moines Register poll drops on Saturday, she’s going to fall short of what she needs. Hence tepid, even with more progress.

Chilly: Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg

If either should pull an Iowa surprise, they’ll move from chilly to on fire in one evening. But the odds are dimming. FiveThirtyEight figures there’s a 72% chance the winner is either Sanders (37%) or Biden (35%). That doesn’t leave a ton of room for these two. And both really need a win to be a credible nomination contender, especially Mayor Pete, now that he’s fifth instead of fourth in national polls, and has the twin challenges of Nevada and South Carolina before February is over.

At a minimum, Warren needs to finish ahead of Sanders, whom she presently trails by 8 points. Buttigieg needs to beat Biden, overcoming a five point gap. Warren got the Des Moines Register endorsement, to add to her shared New York Times nod, but nothing seems to move her numbers right now. Pros say she’s got the best ground game in Iowa. She’ll need it.

If you believe in things like voter enthusiasm (or lack thereof for Biden), Buttigieg probably has the easier task. Biden’s voters are less fired up than Bernie’s, and the mathematical gap is smaller. For the purposes of finishing ahead of Uncle Joe, it doesn’t matter that much whether Klobuchar reaches 15% or not in most precincts. It looks like her voters go at least as often to Biden as Buttigieg for a second choice (with Warren also taking a chunk). If Mayor Pete isn’t already ahead, she won’t solve the problem.

However, if he wants to pass Sanders and finish number one overall, that will require Klobuchar needing to give up most of her support. Even then, Buttigieg needs a very strong follow up in New Hampshire to have any chance at all. Traditionally, winning the first two states is a guaranteed nomination, but it would likely just move him to 50/50. There’s a reason FiveThirtyEight figures he’s a 1 in 20 bet to win a delegate majority before the convention, down from 1 in 8 when they started estimating this a couple weeks ago. Warren’s position is similar.

Icy: Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Deval Patrick

There’s nothing new to say here. There won’t be anything new to say here. Next stop is determining whether I have the energy to write a Requiem for a Candidate piece about any or all of these guys when they drop out in the next couple of weeks.

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