Is Biden the Next Newt or Rudy?

This isn’t intended as the slam it most definitely reads like. Prior to becoming Trump Era caricatures of themselves, both Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich faced a scenario somewhat similar to what Joe Biden’s team is managing today. They were national polling front-runners a few months before voting began, knowing neither Iowa nor New Hampshire were a perfect fit.

It’s not an exact fit. Biden has led the Real Clear Politics national average for all but a minute since he entered the race. Gingrich leapt to the lead in late 2011 after Herman Cain’s (yes, he was ahead for a couple weeks) implosion. Biden leads almost everywhere outside of Iowa and New Hampshire, Giuliani did not.

But they’re still comparable situations. And they’re becoming increasingly relevant. Over the past couple of weeks, Biden has received an ongoing series of positive results in surveys anywhere outside the first two states. He’s holding or even slightly gaining in support, while Elizabeth Warren is either dropping or barely holding. Continue reading “Is Biden the Next Newt or Rudy?”

Requiem for a Candidate: Beto O’Rourke

There are two candidates the betting markets liked at the start of the year who fell far short of expectations. One is Kamala Harris. The other is the now departed Beto. It’s customary at a time like this to wonder what went wrong. Where the candidate stumbled. When did he lose his nomination chance?

But Robert Francis O’Rourke never had a chance in 2019-2020. Those of us (and I was fooled too) who thought he was a legit contender saw a taller, updated version of RFK, who raised damn near $100 million for his 2018 race against Ted Cruz. Money and media are always important and it seemed like Beto had both.

Turns out, he had neither. After raking in over $6 million on day one, the well ran dry. Competing to defeat a national politician hated by Democrats in a Senate race is hugely motivating. Dueling with many other candidates with high favorability ratings in the party is not. Continue reading “Requiem for a Candidate: Beto O’Rourke”

Older Voters Like the Young Guy

We’ve talked about the irony of the oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders, doing best with the youngest voters and worst with the oldest. His numbers drop with each age bucket. Knowing when a voter was born is far more predictive than finding out their ideology.

The self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist runs better with 28-year-old moderates than 68-year-old extreme liberals. Bernie now has his bizzaro version in the form of Pete Buttigieg. The 37-year-old mayor has surged in to contention in Iowa and is showing more than a pulse in New Hampshire on the strength of voters 65 and over.

Mayor Pete has generally strong favorability ratings with the Democratic electorate as a whole. As does Sanders. However, he’s off the chart with Medicare-eligible voters, scoring at +60% in a recent CNN/UNH New Hampshire polling. In the same survey, Sanders was +68% with voters 18-34.

Among the other contenders, Elizabeth Warren’s appeal is very balanced between age groups, while Joe Biden is heavily dependent on older voters. We’ve known for months that much of Biden’s strength is with African American voters, while that’s a noticeable weakness for Buttigieg.

So in a place like South Carolina, the young upstart is far less of a threat to the former Veep. But voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are almost entirely white, especially if they’re older. Given the order each contest takes place, this puts Biden at extreme risk.

While he’s doing just fine nationally, re-opening a several point lead on Warren over the past couple weeks, Biden has finished fourth in the two most recent Iowa surveys, and third in the most current New Hampshire poll.

It could get worse. Buttigieg has a large favorability lead on Biden in both states in virtually every demographic group. The reason Biden leads him in New Hampshire and doesn’t trail him by much in Iowa is perceived electability.

Of the four leaders, Biden is still considered the safest bet by the most voters, though his advantage on Sanders and Warren is narrowing. He still has the best national numbers in a matchup against President Trump, though again, his liberal competitors are not far behind.

Buttigieg doesn’t have anywhere near the same volume of head-to-head polls, and perhaps due to less name recognition (but maybe not), he’s not as strong in surveys against Trump. The new NYT/Siena College Iowa poll indicates voters are much less confident the Mayor can beat Trump.

If Biden is already narrowly trailing Buttigieg in a survey where most voters are skeptical Pete can go the distance, what happens if some of those fears are allayed?

This isn’t over yet. Yes, Buttigieg has plenty of momentum in Iowa now and he’s a good candidate with a lot more money than Biden. But he’s also avoided much scrutiny. As the Warren campaign would tell him, as poll numbers advance, so does critical attention.

Other candidates will attack him in the next debate. He’ll catch heat from Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar from below and Warren and Biden from above. Booker needs votes wherever he can find them and Klobuchar has very similar breakdowns to Buttigieg, just at a lower level. Plus Iowa is make-or-break for her.

In the October debate, they were a tag team against Warren. The incentives have changed now. It’s possible Klobuchar could do well, without injuring Buttigieg. That would harm Biden further. There are several possible outcomes, and a bunch of them are not great for Joe.

We’ve heard a lot about Biden having the moderate lane to himself and others struggling to dislodge him. It appears the path is even more based on age than ideology and he doesn’t have the seniors locked down anymore. After slumbering through the past few months, the race is getting interesting again.

Third Party Tulsi

Tulsi Gabbard is a bit of an enigma. There’s her meeting with Bashar Assad and seeming defense of the Syrian regime. There’s Steve Bannon saying nice things about her. Russian Television talks about her well in excess of her standing in the nomination contest. She’s also spent most of the past two decades on active duty or in the reserves.

If you want to defend her, there’s plenty to work with. If you think she’s Putin’s take on the Manchurian Candidate, there’s no hard evidence, but she’s sure convenient to his aims, as Hillary Clinton decided to publicly mention recently.

Geopolitical conspiracies aside, she’s made a few non-traditional choices. In 2016, she broke with the DNC and endorsed Bernie Sanders, setting off a bit of a war with then Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz. At the time I figured she was setting herself up as Bernie’s successor for 2020. As we know, there wasn’t a vacancy.

She ran anyway. A whole lot of congresspeople did too. Now Eric Swalwell is out. Seth Moulton, out. Tim Ryan, gone. They’re all focusing on keeping their House seats. Gabbard is all in, announcing last week she will not attempt to keep her seat in Hawaii. Continue reading “Third Party Tulsi”

Poll Pulse

Time to do some fun basic math. There are six polls currently being counted as part of the Real Clear Politics average. All are after the last debate. Each pollster also surveyed at some point in the preceding 4-6 weeks. Some measure weekly, some less frequently. This isn’t a perfect sample, but these are reputable pollsters, many of which count as qualifying results to meet Democratic debate requirements.

The method is simple. Look at new survey. Then look at most recent previous survey from said pollster. Compare the candidate’s result. Then look at the whole list to see who is up, who is down, who is level. Also want to see which are seeing more volatile results. For those who need help qualifying for debates, volatility is good. And we want to catch a situation where a particularly good or bad poll is influencing the overall numbers.

I’m going to ruin this exercise by telling you there are no incredible findings. But then you already knew the race wasn’t exactly galloping in a particular direction right now.

Here are the particulars:

Joe Biden (+0.50 points on average, 4.17 points of volatility, up 3 times, down 3 times)

The numbers support the perception. Biden goes up, Biden goes down, at the end, he’s where he started. For someone at 27-28 percent, the volatility isn’t *that* volatile and the end difference is microscopic. Continue reading “Poll Pulse”


Way back in 2016, Political Action Committees were taken for granted. They existed, and particularly in Super PAC form (where there’s no contribution cap) were seen as crucial. The two major innovations of the 2000s were individual internet contributions and increasingly giant Super PACs.

With modest individual donation limits ($2800 for the primary to a single candidate, and another $2800 for the general election), a candidate either needs to get a few people to give a ton to Super PACs, or have hundreds of thousands of individual donors.

Bundlers are useful too. These are connected individuals who can pull together many fairly wealthy people who will give the individual maximum. But that only gets you so far. At least one of the other two is needed to have a steady flow of income that will last from the pre-primary voting season, through the primaries, and then into a general election.

Barack Obama was a funding triple threat. He did fantastically well with bundlers. He wasn’t allergic to PAC money, and he inspired individual small donors. Part of his 2008 story was flattening Hillary Clinton on the financial side in the primary, before out-resourcing John McCain in the fall.

Not all candidates can inspire individual contributors. Bernie Sanders does. Elizabeth Warren too. Pete Buttigieg has more than half a million individual contributors, a huge number for someone who was basically unknown 8 months ago. Joe Biden does not. Partly this is just him. Biden has never excelled at fundraising. Partly it’s his audience. Continue reading “UncleJoePAC”

The Polls Speak

Greetings, it’s time for a post-debate quick peek at the polls. Sure, it’s a little early, but that’s the whole fun. Plus, I’m comfy drawing a few conclusions already. Here they are:

Buttigieg didn’t get a bounce. But his narrative shifted. It’s *all* about Iowa for him.

Real Clear Politics lists five surveys taken after the debate. His numbers: 6. 6. 6. 6. 6. That’s not a boost. His overall average is 6.3. He’s about a point ahead of Kamala Harris. None of this is new. Mayor Pete has picked up a point, maybe a point and a half nationally over the past few weeks. He’s got less support than he had in late April/early May. Repeat. This is not a surge.

What about Iowa? USA Today has him within striking distance of the lead. At 13%. This is good for him. No question. But an Emerson survey partially taken before, partially after, has him at 16%. Another data point from CBS/YouGov entirely pre-debate is at 14%. The proximal event for him in Iowa was his recent bus tour, not the debate. Continue reading “The Polls Speak”

Bernie’s Squad

If you weren’t aware that AOC (and squadmate Ilhan Omar) recently endorsed Bernie Sanders, you’re likely not hanging out in this particular corner of the universe. You also likely figured this is a good thing for him, but not something that’s going to rocket him to the top of the polls.

One could even argue that losing the endorsement to Elizabeth Warren would have hurt him more than having it will help him. I think this is true. Though you can also argue it may help her in a way to not have it. If Warren wants to play Goldilocks between a too left Bernie and a too centrist Biden, maybe more than one candidate benefits here.

Regardless, it means a couple of other things too:

This is a check on Warren

Bernie is a true believer. Warren is an extremely left-leaning politician. It’s not impossible he could ever temper an answer for political purposes, but how they’re each approaching his Medicare for All plan is very telling. He’s quick to explain taxes will go up for middle class voters, but their premium/deductible savings will exceed the tax increase.

She’s incapable of saying the “taxes will go up” part. Perhaps she remembers Walter Mondale saying he would raise taxes in 1984. His line was “Ronald Reagan won’t tell you he’s raising your taxes, I just did.” Reagan won 49 states. Then he passed major tax legislation that lowered marginal rates. Then George Bush the Elder won the presidency. This isn’t a great memory for older Democrats.

It’s easy for Democratic candidates to talk about raising taxes on upper income voters. It’s now easy to talk about wealth taxes. Admitting a family of four with $58,000 in pre-tax income is going to have a larger payroll deduction is a tax too far for Warren to say out loud. Continue reading “Bernie’s Squad”

Iowa Wants a Choice

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are way ahead in national surveys. Bernie Sanders is the only other candidate in double-digits. This has been the score for weeks. Shhh. Don’t tell Iowa. They seem to have other ideas. A new Emerson poll is out. Pete Buttigieg is third, at 16%, within striking distance of Biden and Warren (each 23%.) Sanders is hanging around at 13%.

Are we sure it’s not a fluke. Yeah, we’re sure. CBS/YouGov ran a survey a week prior and Mayor Pete got 14%. That was double his score from their previous poll taken at the end of August. He’s moving. It follows a statewide bus tour. He was already polling ahead of his national average there.

Biden and Warren were tied at 22% in the CBS/YouGov poll. The CNN/Des Moines Register survey from mid-September had her at 22%, him at 20%. Think it’s safe to say the two are fairly even at the moment. Sanders is all over the place. 21% with CBS/YouGov, only 11% with CNN/DMR. In the past couple months he’s polled as high as 26%, as low as 9%.

This is a four person race. And if Buttigieg does well enough in February, it makes it a four person race nationwide. Having Biden and Warren in the low 20s rather than the high 20s leaves a lot more space for an extra contender. Iowans pay more attention than the rest of us. They take that first voters thing seriously. The Emerson poll indicated 25% of respondents have already seen at least one candidate in person.

As much as the media and the past couple months of national data indicate otherwise, these voters aren’t content with choosing from three septuagenarians. We hear that a moderate like Buttigieg needs to take voters from Biden. That there’s only so much space in that lane. But the numbers indicate Warren and even Sanders are just as impacted by his gains.

Also, if you went back to 2008 and told whomever was near where your time machine landed that a male candidate who is in full favor of a public option for health care, wants to add 6 people to the Supreme Court, abolish the Electoral College, and has a husband was considered too moderate, they’d think you were insane, not from the future.

Buttigieg sounds moderate, especially compared to some of his competitors. He’s well to the left of the Barack Obama who governed for 8 years, at least on domestic and climate policy, the thing 90% of Democratic primary voters are more interested in. More important than ideology, he’s objectively different from the other three, and Iowans want that choice.

He may not get a debate bump nationally, but I’m guessing he will in Iowa, which is going to make this even more interesting when the next survey hits. The majority of the Emerson poll was taken pre-debate. Iowans regularly are willing to support a candidate who isn’t in the national top tier.

When a Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum won Iowa, they didn’t have the financial resources to capitalize going forward. Buttigieg has twice as much money in the bank as Biden and has out-raised him each quarter. His future is squarely in Iowa’s hands. He may not have to win there, but if not, he’s gotta get very close. Even more than most years, the Hawkeye State will tell us how many contenders we have.

A Few Post-Debate Questions

You don’t need to read another debate recap. Too many people were on stage for too long arguing about things they mostly agree on. Nobody had the kind of horrible, cringe-worthy moment that ends careers. Nobody landed the thirty second shot that makes a president.

Whenever the next one of these is (November 20) is too soon. That preamble of whining aside, after processing what happened yesterday, I have some questions:

Will Biden’s supporters ever care that he can’t speak coherently for more than 8 seconds?

We’ve all learned from the first debate and adjusted expectations downward. When Biden gets ruffled and can’t finish a thought, we shrug. When he sounds like a paternalistic old man, it tends not to matter. Joe means well. It’s not like his supporters aren’t watching the debates. Debate audiences skew older. So does his base.

But good lord. The 8 seconds thing isn’t hyperbole. If you have time to play back parts of the debate, start timing him from the beginning of his answer. It’s 50/50 whether he gets to the 8 second mark without losing his thought, moving into “the fact of the matter is” as a bridge, etc.

This seems disqualifying to me. If he gets nominated, it means holding up a year from now while Trump is trying to bully him. More importantly, it means being able to execute the office of President of the United States five years from now. People make the point that Biden has always rambled and garbled. True. Continue reading “A Few Post-Debate Questions”