Candidate Heat Check: Pre-New Hampshire Edition

When we last checked temperatures, Pete Buttigieg was chilly. His poll numbers indicated he wasn’t going to get a win in Iowa. At worst, he got a draw, so he’ll measure much warmer this time. Going the other way, Joe Biden’s nomination chances have iced significantly. We have our first “on-fire” designation, awarded to Bernie Sanders. He sorta won Iowa, is leading polls in New Hampshire and has the best odds to win the nomination.

On to the fun:

On Fire: Bernie Sanders (up from Hot)

He’s not quite 50/50 to win the nomination yet, but close. The most recent survey from each pollster to take the pulse of New Hampshire this week has him leading. Iowa went well. You can even argue Sanders is better off with Buttigieg being able to claim some form of victory. There are some upscale, educated voters who toggle between Mayor Pete and Elizabeth Warren, and Buttigieg’s current viability is making it easier for Bernie to distance himself from his progressive alternative.

Nevada is shaping up well. His toughest competition there, Biden, is clearly wounded. The moderate/center-left/more centrist opposition is fragmented between Buttigieg, Biden, Mike Bloomberg, and if she can finish strongly enough in New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar. Meanwhile, the threat of Andrew Yang siphoning off some younger potential Sanders supporters is dissipating.

Bernie had a plenty strong enough debate on Friday, and his opponents were more preoccupied with Buttigieg than the guy who’s leading the next state to vote. Until something changes, Sanders can follow the Trump 2016 nomination formula. Have a dedicated base of roughly a quarter of the electorate. Watch your opponents savage each other and divide the opposition vote. Rinse, wash, repeat.

With over 40% of Democratic primary voters having already picked him last time, it’s even easier for Bernie to execute this strategy than it was for Trump. He just needs a few new voters, and/or a few Hillary voters to come over to him, and he’ll have his majority. On the delegate side, with 15% support in a congressional district necessary, Sanders can reach a delegate majority even if he’s stuck in the upper 30s, low 40s in later round primaries.

If he doesn’t win New Hampshire, the fervor will cool, but for now, the campaign is threatening to Bern down the house. Establishment Dems who think there’s anything they can do to roadblock him should call Reince Preibus. Acceptance is the appropriate stage of grief, should Sanders somehow follow New Hampshire and Nevada wins with a South Carolina surprise.

Hot: Mike Bloomberg (Even)

Biden’s Iowa collapse is unquestionably good for Bloomberg. But Buttigieg’s surge isn’t. Prediction markets love his odds. He’s seen as the second most likely nominee. FiveThirtyEight is way more skeptical, but they see a 1 in 4 chance nobody wins a delegate majority ahead of the convention. That’s Bloomberg’s path.

He’s moved further up in national polls, and is getting results in places like North Carolina. Most of the post-Iowa surveys are from New Hampshire, where Bloomberg isn’t competing. So we don’t know if Buttigieg is starting to catch up to him in national or Super Tuesday polling. The best New Hampshire outcome for Bloomberg is a Sanders win, with Mayor Pete trailing him by at least a few points, and Klobuchar/Biden finishing 4/5 in that order behind Elizabeth Warren.

That would wreck Biden, without making Buttigieg a clear threat to stop Sanders from getting nominated, giving moderate voters plenty of reason to rally around Bloomberg. There are still various further obstacles, but one step at a time.

Warm: Pete Buttigieg (up from Chilly), Amy Klobuchar (up from Tepid)

If we’d looked at this 72 hours ago, Mayor Pete might have registered up with Bloomberg. His New Hampshire poll results spiked immediately after Iowa results started trickling out. If he’d crushed the debate, there was a good chance Buttigieg would have found himself even in the polls with Sanders by now. It was hardly a disaster. He’s still running a strong second. Even the two tracking polls (Emerson and Suffolk) with data entirely after the debate have him around 20%.

We saw in Iowa that his performance beat his polling. Not only did he perfectly game the rules, but his first alignment support was ahead of expectations. If he’s being similarly underestimated this time, Buttigieg is closer to Sanders than it looks. Until that happens, we have someone who has yet to poll well in the next states up, has Bloomberg waiting for him on Super Tuesday, and Klobuchar getting uncomfortably close in New Hampshire.

Speaking of which, things are starting to break favorably for the Minnesotan. She was probably the debate winner. New Hampshire is actually a better state for her than neighboring Iowa, and it looks like voters are not holding her fifth place finish against her. She’s managed to spin finishing close to Biden as an accomplishment, and is on the verge of besting him on Tuesday. Before anyone gets too excited, she needs to show in Nevada and/or South Carolina that she can appeal to voters of color and any voters born after 1970. But for someone who barely qualified for many of the debates, and was barely polling in the top 10 until relatively recently, Klobuchar has made legit progress.

Tepid: Tulsi Gabbard (down from Warm)

Her goals are distinctly different from her competitors. A 5% finish in New Hampshire would be the justification Gabbard is looking for to make an independent run this fall. The third party candidacy may still happen, but polls are showing her voters are beginning to gravitate to candidates with a chance of winning the primary. After consistently registering in her target range until a few days ago, the latest tracking polls have her at 2 to 3 percent.

Chilly: Tom Steyer (down from Tepid), Andrew Yang (down from Warm)

Steyer lost a little altitude at the finish line in Iowa, as voters moved to more viable choices. While he wasn’t expecting to make the same impact in New Hampshire as Nevada and South Carolina, once again, it looks like he’s closing poorly. The most recent trackers have him at 2%. With Bloomberg in his way beginning on Super Tuesday, Steyer is running out of time to make an impact. Joe Biden is not the only candidate hoping South Carolinians aren’t paying attention to who earlier voters are choosing.

Yang finished sixth in Iowa. Based on his position and name recognition a year ago, that’s a big win. But his 5% first alignment support faded to 1% in State Equivalent Delegates after he failed to reach viability in most precincts. Like Gabbard, he’s suffering from New Hampshire voters beginning to focus more on the contenders. How long the Yang Gang stays motivated if he pulls 3% in New Hampshire is the question that will determine how long he sticks around. At the moment, he doesn’t appear likely to qualify for the Nevada debate. And in Friday’s contest, he remained by far the least likely candidate to speak.

He’s made plenty of friends and influenced lots of people, but absent a late surge in New Hampshire, his opportunity to make a Ron Paul like run, and stay a part of the conversation as long as the nomination contest is going, is in question.

Cold: Elizabeth Warren (down from Chilly), Joe Biden (down from Hot)

Aside from a recent Massachusetts survey, taken before her 3rd place Iowa finish, Warren hasn’t led a poll in weeks. Iowa was her best shot to finish ahead of Sanders out of the first four states, and it wasn’t all that close. Now he’s got double her polling support in New Hampshire. She’s trying to present herself as a unity candidate to pull together the far left and center-left, but that only works if she finishes ahead of Bernie from time-to-time.

The debate didn’t help. Suffolk and Emerson are both showing her narrowly trailing Klobuchar for third, pretty much even with Biden. It’s unlikely Warren will drop out on Primary Evening, but Nevada and especially South Carolina set up worse than the first two states for her. If Iowa was the highlight of the first four states, I don’t see how she competes on Super Tuesday. Meanwhile…..

Biden. Is. Trailing. Klobuchar.

We’re this close to saying goodbye to Uncle Joe. Perhaps not with him withdrawing, but with him limping in to South Carolina so badly that he’s not salvageable. He didn’t need to win Iowa. He didn’t need to finish second in Iowa. He could have readily survived a strong third. But a weak fourth wasn’t acceptable. And his poll numbers in New Hampshire are now worse than his Iowa results. Remember, his actual Iowa performance trailed his Iowa poll average.

If Biden squeaks out a weak third, that would count as an accomplishment now. And I’d bet against it. The only person to finish fourth in a contested Iowa caucus and win the nomination was John McCain in 2008. And he won New Hampshire.

Icy: Michael Bennet (Even), Deval Patrick (Even)

Nothing to see here.

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