Requiem for a Candidate: Ross Perot

H. Ross Perot, Reform Party presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996, passed away Tuesday at the age of 89. You’ll see a few obituaries. Invariably, they’ll mention how Perot presaged Trump. This isn’t wrong.

Elements of Perot’s populist message made their way into Trumpism. His “giant sucking sound” reference to NAFTA stealing American jobs, and sending them south of the border, predicted the outcome Trump railed against. Perot got tons of free media via CNN and other cable outlets, going over the heads of pundits, directly to the voters.

The linkage is easy. There’s even a connection through the Reform Party. After Perot’s second attempt in 1996, he stepped away, meaning the party would have an open primary in 2000. Pat Buchanan wound up getting the nomination, but not before Donald Trump contested the California primary.

He would drop out soon after, but the 2016 Republican race was technically not Trump’s first. By the time he rode down the escalator in June 2015, Trump had spent well more than a decade envisioning a presidential run.

If showing the way to Trump was Perot’s only major contribution, he’d be worth more commentary than he’s getting. There’s more to this though.

He was the first businessman to mount a legit campaign for the presidency since Wendell Willkie captured the Republican nomination in 1940. The normal rule was a serious presidential contender must have:

Served as Vice President and/or

Served in Congress, preferably the Senate and/or

Served as Governor and/or

Served as a high-ranking General in a big war

The only exceptions before Willkie were Herbert Hoover, who was a high-profile cabinet secretary for 8 years prior to running in 1928, and Judge Alton B. Parker, tabbed by the Democrats in 1904. There was no precedent for someone with zero public service experience getting picked.

Willkie ran a credible campaign, though he was defeated by FDR in an election that wasn’t very close. This seemed to put the kibosh on outsider candidates. Nobody tried again until the Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1984. He finished third in the Democratic primary, winning two states.

Jackson gave it another try in 1988, and did better, winding up second, with 13 victories. He was joined on the Republican side by televangelist Pat Robertson, who finished second in Iowa, third overall, and won four states.

When Perot became the second businessperson ever to make a credible run at the White House it was a big deal. And unlike the model of a religious leader, which faded after Gary Bauer got very limited traction in 2000, the businessperson as a presidential candidate idea was just getting started.

Steve Forbes ran in the 1996 and 2000 GOP primaries, finishing third in the first of those attempts and winning two states. Herman Cain tried in 2012, and though he was forced out before voting began, due to allegations of sexual harassment, he actually led national polls for a couple weeks in the fall of 2011.

All this set the stage for 2016, when Trump was joined by ex-HP CEO Carly Fiorina, and surgeon Ben Carson. You can argue whether Carson counts as a businessperson, but his candidacy was based on him taking his approach from medicine where he made things happen and applying it to the presidency. He was as likely as Perot to explain via aphorism. So I’m counting him as one of Perot’s political offspring.

At least on the Republican side, some version of Perot is now a regular part of the primary field. The 2008 race is the only contested one since 1992 that did not feature at least one entry from the Perot Family of Candidates.

Beyond messaging and using the media in new ways, Perot did two key things. First, he made it normal for someone with no political experience to run for the highest office in the land, using what they accomplished in their careers as both justification and logic for why they were a better choice than a traditional politician.

After two decades, this was normalized enough that Trump didn’t need to do much explaining for voters to start taking him seriously. Having the highest profile of any Perot Family entrant, he leapt to the top of the polls within weeks of announcing his candidacy.

Second, he made it clear the best path for a non-traditional candidate was through a traditional political party. Perot’s 18.9% share of the vote in 1992 was astoundingly good. He was the first third party candidate in double digits since Robert La Follette ran on the Progressive ticket in 1924.

The only third party candidate to ever get a higher percentage is Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. If the only person to do better is on Mount Rushmore, you probably did ok. Given Roosevelt’s status as a highly popular, recent ex-president, I’m comfortable declaring Perot the most successful third party candidacy in American history.

Between showing the opportunity for a non-politician, particularly one with a business background, and the lack of opportunity outside the existing party structure, Perot created an entirely new pathway to the presidency. Where Willkie was considered a one-off fluke, which passed without imitation, Perot was the beginning of an era.

When reporters get excited at the prospect of Michael Bloomberg running every four years, it’s because of Perot. When Bloomberg decides not to run as an independent/third party candidate every four years, it’s because of Perot.

For better, or worse, and odds are you think it’s very much one or the other, H. Ross Perot was one of the most influential losing candidates since the beginning of the Republic. He’s gone, but should not be forgotten. Just think of Howard Schultz, who overlooked the above lessons and paid the consequences before back surgery put his flailing campaign on hold.

What Matters in Iowa (Part 1–An Overview)

Iowa matters. A lot. The modern primary era began in 1972. Since then, only one nominee in either party has finished lower than third in a contested Iowa caucus. Every nominee who finished third or lower then won New Hampshire. As did almost all second place finishers.

As much as Donald Trump upended the universe in 2016, his early caucus and primary results were extremely normal for a nominee. He finished second, won New Hampshire, and the rest is history.

So anyone expecting to get picked, best finish pretty well in Iowa. And if they don’t win outright, the pressure for New Hampshire ratchets up.

A candidate’s history doesn’t matter. At all. Bernie Sanders currently finds himself third in the Real Clear Politics average of Iowa polls. He’s fourth in the most recent survey. His 2016 virtual tie with Hillary Clinton now only a memory. This doesn’t mean the Hawkeye State won’t feel a Bern again in February. But we shouldn’t expect this just because he connected with voters before.

In 1980, George H.W. Bush launched his national political career with a surprise win over front-runner Ronald Reagan. Though the Gipper won New Hampshire and the presidency, Bush’s Iowa victory helped him get the vice presidency. It made him the favorite for the 1988 caucus.

In which he finished third, with half the support of winner Bob Dole, and trailing TV evangelist Pat Robertson by several points. Past not acting as prelude works both ways. While Dole collected 37.4% of the vote in 1988, he finished with a mere 1.5% on his first attempt in 1980.

This is helpful history for Joe Biden, who collected a rousing 0.9% in 2008. As embarrassing as that was, it should have no bearing on our expectations now. 2008 GOP winner Mike Huckabee, and 2012 victor Rick Santorum, both gave it another try in 2016. They grabbed 2.8%. Combined.

Before you assume Sanders is doomed because he did well last time, it’s not always a rags to riches or riches to rags story. Dole followed his 1988 triumph with another win in 1996. Mitt Romney got almost exactly a quarter of the vote in both 2008 and 2012.

While a candidate’s Iowa history is often misleading, it doesn’t mean the existence of an “Iowa Candidate” is a myth. There are a couple versions of this creature.

Continue reading “What Matters in Iowa (Part 1–An Overview)”

All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 4)

If you haven’t yet, please read:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Welcome to the end of the road. We began with the polling leaders. We conclude with a few candidates who need their cards to come up almost perfectly. This group is quantitatively different from the contestants we aren’t mentioning at all. Those individuals need even more to happen, so we’re skipping them until there are dramatic changes in the race.

Julian Castro:

The debate made Castro a topic of conversation. For 24 hours. Then Harris v. Biden wiped him away as though his duel with Beto never happened. Real Clear Politics lists five national polls taken completely after the debate nights. Castro has a single 3% result. Plus four 1% readings.

This rousing 1.4% average is actually good for 8th place, meaning Castro is in the top third of all candidates. Like I said, he needs a few breaks. One number set speaks to his opportunity and challenge.

Going back to the CNN poll we’ve used in this series, respondents who saw the debate viewed Castro favorably by a 63/12 margin. That’s a solid ratio of over 5:1, with 75% of respondents having an opinion. It’s very similar to Kamala Harris’s favorability in the overall survey, and stronger name recognition than Pete Buttigieg.

The catch is voters who didn’t watch gave Castro 24/16 marks. So a full 60% didn’t know enough about him to know if they like him. Those who think they do were only 3:2 favorable.

You can think of his task as first making more voters aware of him, and second, having those who are aware move him up their list, as he still only wound up with 1% support in this poll. Which voters can he target to do this, and with what issues?

Continue reading “All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 4)”

All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 3)

Note: If you missed Part 1, or Part 2, you’ll want to catch up before reading on.

So far, we’ve confirmed some conventional wisdom. Joe Biden has a base with older, more moderate voters. Bernie Sanders has a base with younger, more liberal voters. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have sunk multiple pylons, but haven’t fully built a foundation yet. If either succeeds at turning their prospects into a real dedicated base, they will be very formidable.

If you had to bet between one of the above four or the rest of the field being the nominee, and the odds were even, I’d vehemently suggest you take your chances with the above four. Off the top of my skull, there’s a 70-90% chance one of them is the pick.

But it’s not 100%. And if it’s not one of them, it will be one of the following :

Pete Buttigieg:

Ten days ago, Mayor Pete was ahead of Harris in more polls than he was trailing her. A few weeks ago, the same was true re: Warren. He raised more money in the second quarter ($24.8 million) than any other candidate. A few million more than Biden. Several million more than Bernie. Twice as much as Kamala.

Warren is waiting until closer to the July 15 deadline to announce her haul. If I had to guess, I’d say it was $8-10 million. This puts Buttigieg in excellent financial position. He’s now ramping up his team. He’s guaranteed to make the fall debate stage. Only 11% of Democratic voters polled by CNN have a negative opinion of him, the lowest number (Harris at 12% is next) of any contestant.

Weighed against the positive above is the 4% poll result. CNN’s numbers aren’t a fluke. The current Real Clear Politics average has him at 5.2%. Where the gap was previously between him and the group below, it’s now between him and the leaders above.

The reason is Mayor Pete’s lack of a base. This begins with the individual issues. He’s positioned himself as more liberal than Biden, more measured than the others. In an ideal world, that’s a Goldilocks situation, where he’s acceptable to most of the Democratic electorate.

It’s also the worst possible way to build a foothold in a contest with this many contenders. He doesn’t have a distinct enough position or approach to most of the items that will come up in debates. The numbers show this.

Continue reading “All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 3)”

All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 2)

In Part 1, we began breaking down how the candidates are building a base for themselves. Joe Biden went through the MRI first. Now on to a few other leading contenders:

Kamala Harris:

Prior to the debate, Harris wasn’t building that much of a base with any group of voters. This has changed. Her lead issue is now race relations. 29% of respondents think she’s best at this, almost double Biden’s second place result. In particular, college educated voters like her approach. A full 38% put her first.

The other three surveyed issues tell a very different story. She trails Warren, Sanders, and Biden, in varying orders on health care, climate, and the economy. It’s a big gap. She has 10% of voters endorsing her on health care, and only 6% on climate and the economy.

Warren and Sanders have staked out ground to her left. Biden is to her right. The ex-VP appears more incremental for voters concerned about moving too quickly. The other two, more committed to aggressive action. This doesn’t mean voters have problems with Kamala’s approach to the other issues. Just that it’s not going to drive their connection with her yet.

While she might not be ahead of her main competitors on most of the issues yet, she is leading narrowly among self-described liberals, sitting at 24%. This compares to 11% among moderate/conservative voters. Her numbers among the centrist voters haven’t moved much (9% a month ago). The liberal support doubled. Promising, but evidence she hasn’t locked it in yet.

Continue reading “All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 2)”

All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 1)

It’s easy to get anxious looking for post-debate poll results. At least it’s easy for me. A new survey from CNN taken 6/28-6/30 has some striking results.

The most visible item is found on the top line:

Biden 22% (down 10 from 5/28-5/30)

Harris 17% (up 9)

Warren 15% (up 8)

Sanders 14% (down 4)

Buttigieg 4% (down 1)

Sure looks like Harris took a chunk of Biden’s support, and Warren removed a bit from Sanders. Mayor Pete now looks adrift compared to the leaders. A month ago, he was bunched with Warren and Harris. Now he’s a statistical afterthought.

I’m still inclined to take him seriously. His Iowa numbers are better than his national. He raised almost $25 million in the quarter that just ended. He’s in a distant fifth place though.

CNN releases survey results with tons of supporting data. This is where I want to root around a bit and see if we can figure out which voters Harris and Warren took from their elderly male opponents. What else is readily accessible? Which voter profiles make up their respective bases?

Continue reading “All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 1)”

When Candidates Attack

If you read this blog you know all about Kamala Harris taking Joe Biden to the proverbial woodshed in the recent debate. In real time, she won the exchange. In the direct aftermath, she won the exchange. But now that we’re a couple days down the road, what was the immediate impact, and how might things develop over the next couple of weeks?

There are three ways this can go:

Hurt the loser without helping the winner

In the Republican debate right before the 2016 New Hampshire Primary, Chris Christie took Marco Rubio apart. Pushing him for specifics and riding him for regurgitating talking points, Christie pushed Rubio into repeating himself on a seemingly endless loop.

Rubio’s post-Iowa momentum stopped cold. He finished fifth, after entering the debate second in the polling average. The distance between second and fifth was five points. This is the ultimate Sliding Doors moment of the 2016 campaign.

I’ve argued before and will many times more that had the Christie-Rubio exchange not happened, Rubio would have finished second with approximately 18-20% of the vote. John Kasich would have dropped out. Jeb Bush likely would have dropped out.

Even with the disappointing New Hampshire result, Rubio finished second in South Carolina, finishing 10 points behind Donald Trump (32.5% to 22.5%), just ahead of Ted Cruz. Bush and Kasich combined for 15.4%. It really doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how a surging Rubio could have won.

In reality, Trump won New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the Nevada Caucuses in a row, setting him up as the big winner heading in to Super Tuesday on March 1. Cruz had won Iowa, with Trump and Rubio following him.

Rubio finished ahead of Cruz twice, and the reverse happened twice. But Cruz had a win and Rubio didn’t. Anti-Trump voters didn’t rally around either on Super Tuesday, and Trump won the majority of states, with Cruz getting three wins, and Rubio one.

Rubio missed by three points in Virginia. Less than ten in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Even the fifteen point gap in Georgia likely goes a different way if Rubio is stronger, Cruz is weaker, and Trump doesn’t have his winning streak.

At this point, the counterfactual contest turns into a virtual one-on-one between Rubio and Trump, at a time before Trump was regularly clearing 40% in primaries and caucuses. The outcome here isn’t certain. Trump may have won anyway, but I think Rubio would have consolidated enough support to win the nomination.

Continue reading “When Candidates Attack”

Debate Recap: (Night Two) The Kamala Show

Other things happened, but Kamala Harris’ evisceration of Joe Biden will get 90% of the replays over the next 24-48 hours. She’ll move up the most in polls. He’ll get the most questions about his viability. This makes for a quicker than usual recap, as the lower tier candidates were buried in the fallout.

Moved Up:

Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Nobody votes for over six months. Marco Rubio had very good debates too. He took Jeb Bush apart pretty well on at least one occasion. Some will say she was too calculated. Too contrived. That she bullied poor Uncle Joe.

But Kamala Harris owned the evening and showed why she was considered a top level candidate by the pros, even when she was fading in the polls. She took an important step in getting more African American voters to consider her as a strong alternative to Biden. Democrats of all ethnicities are more excited thinking about her facing off against Trump in 15 months.

This won’t launch her in to the lead by itself, but she exceeded expectations and established herself as a force to reckon with.

Continue reading “Debate Recap: (Night Two) The Kamala Show”

Debate Prep: (Night Two) The Main Event

When the lineups were announced, this was the night everyone was more interested in. As many as 18 million people saw last night’s contest. That’s about 75% of the audience for Donald Trump’s debate debut in 2015, and the third or fourth highest audience for any primary debate.

Whether they set a new record tonight or not, a large audience is guaranteed. Let’s take a look at how the participants stack up. None of yesterday’s group called out any of today’s contestants by name. The closest was Bill deBlasio talking about “a shooting in Indiana.” The front-running group is free to proceed without responding to any particular comments already in circulation.

Tier 1: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigeg, Kamala Harris

Bernie is going to do Bernie things. He’s a very consistent campaigner, he’s a very consistent debater. Perhaps there’s a new wrinkle, but I’m pretty, pretty, pretty sure Larry David won’t need to do any extra practicing before this week’s SNL.

The other three in the group will determine how the evening winds up. Each have plenty at stake.

Does Joe Biden still have his fastball? If elected, he would be older on his first day in office than Ronald Reagan was on his last. From the clips I’ve seen over the past several weeks, he looks a smidge older and slower than in 2016, let alone 2012 or 2018.

This is a naturally occurring thing at age 76. Go play clips of any public figure who had a career that stretched into their Social Security years. Do so at ten year intervals. It’s striking. Bernie appears mostly immune for now, but he’s a significant outlier. Biden began as an overly energetic individual, and has remained vibrant, so he had room to slow up. But there’s a line, and the public will quickly notice which side he’s on.

Trump is already probing in this direction, but it hasn’t stuck yet. It will increase scrutiny though, and with Biden running on an electability platform, centered around being able to take the fight to the president, he’s one or two flubs away from having to deal with what Low Energy Jeb, Lying Ted, and Little Marco did.

If Biden gets through tonight relatively unscathed, and has a senior moment down the road a bit, it’s more recoverable. More than any particular mistake or gaffe, look for his general processing speed as an indicator of how strong he still is.

Continue reading “Debate Prep: (Night Two) The Main Event”

Debate Recap: (Night One) By the Book

When the history of the 2020 campaign is told, the first Democratic debate won’t take up much time. There were no stunning gaffes. No punchlines pundits will repeat for a generation. A solid effort for most though, and reason for Democrats to feel good about their choices, especially with several prominent candidates waiting to make their debut tomorrow.

Here’s how they finished:

Moved Up:

Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Bill deBlasio

He’s not particularly likeable. He’s not particularly popular in the city he runs. He doesn’t check any of the identity boxes that would give him a natural constituency. He’s very progressive, but nobody is getting to the left of Bernie Sanders. The debate began with zero reason for Bill deBlasio to exist in this contest.

While it’s not yet necessary, he showed he at least belongs on the stage for another round. Interrupting in debates is a necessary skill for all but the strongest of front-runners. You need to interject quickly and strongly, cutting off the moderator and/or opponent. If you try to interrupt, you need to succeed. If you sound like a 9-year-old kid hoping the teacher picks him to answer, you look weak.

At best, deBlasio is now a third tier candidate. He’s a first tier interrupter. And I say this with the greatest of respect. His performance here should ensure he qualifies for the July event. Some more quality interjecting and he’ll have a shot at reaching 2% in 4 national or early state polls, along with 135,000 unique donors so that he can participate in the fall battles.

Tulsi Gabbard sounded crisp. This is an underrated thing. Candidates get 60 seconds to speak in these scrums. Many try to pack 3 minutes of information in. Others fail to have a beginning, middle, and end to their comments. Frequently, a debater decides to spend half their time answering a previous question they were skipped on.

She didn’t rush. She didn’t try to say too much. She didn’t avoid in a ridiculous way. She spent a lot of her time on her signature issue of wanting to move military spending to other uses and end several deployments.

Viewers saw someone who was distinct enough from the other candidates. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight pointed out she led the field in search traffic during the debate, narrowly ahead of Booker. Given where she began the day, a “hey, who’s this” from the public is a win.

Speaking of Booker, he spoke the most. FiveThirtyEight tracked this. The Senator got 2181 words in. The quantity was matched with pretty good quality. He managed to talk about racial issues in a personal way, without undue pandering. Looked forward more than backward.

He already got a bit of extra media attention last week regarding Biden’s comments. This will give him a little extra push. Booker is just a couple more good weeks away from being the Media Flavor of the Month.

If Booker isn’t the biggest winner of the evening, it’s Castro. To begin with, he’s getting a lot of early mentions as a winner. More people watch or hear commentary after a debate than actually see or hear the debate itself. If he’s declared a winner then his perception changes.

Given the importance of identity politics in the current Democratic Party, it seems implausible there wasn’t more excitement about the lone Latino candidate. After all, the GOP put both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz up last time, with one finishing 4th and the other 2nd.

He still has a really long way to go, but his odds of jumping to a solid 4-5% in the polls, and pulling enough unique donors to make sure he qualifies for fall debates just increased tremendously. As much fun as a giant leap is, a candidate who can move up one rung at a time for the next several months is in a good position to compete.

That I’m thinking about possible paths for him to get nominated, however questionable they may be, is a very good indicator of how well this turned out for him.

Fell Back:

Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Jay Inslee, John Delaney

Neither Inslee or Delaney solved the “why is this individual’s presence in the contest necessary” question. Castro was strong on immigration and the benefit of having a Latino candidate. Gabbard made a case for considering a veteran. Inslee was supposed to show up as Captain Climate Change, but instead he wasn’t particularly focused on his main issue.

Perhaps if he’d had a Republican candidate to joust with he could have picked a good fight, but in this group, it was all kinda meh.

Meanwhile, if Delaney wants to get elected to something, his platform and delivery is perfect as the sort of moderate GOP candidate who wins governor races in the northeast. He could be the next Charlie Baker or Larry Hogan. But Democratic primary voters aren’t buying what he’s selling.

Klobuchar made it clear she’s not as liberal/progressive as most of the other candidates. Zero excitement though. Midwestern moderation in tone sounds like a good idea. In practice, Tim Pawlenty (Class of 2012 GOP) and Scott Walker (Class of 2016 GOP) can tell you it leads to dropping out of the race the fall before voting begins.

She needed a good performance as much as anyone on the stage and didn’t stand out at all. If you’re not a front-runner and aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward. A malady Klobuchar, Inslee, and Delaney will each wake up with.

Not Beto. He actually went backward during the debate. There weren’t any terrible moments. But he said nothing compelling the whole time. There were no issues or concepts he owned. The shallowness concern was verified.

Particularly when Castro took him to task on details of immigration policy. Before Beto is imaginable as a real threat, he would need to separate himself from Booker, Castro and Pete Buttigieg. The shooting in Indiana leaves Mayor Pete in a precarious position heading into the debate tomorrow. Beto had an opportunity to make an impression with his voters. That didn’t happen.

He needed to remain clearly a step ahead of Castro among Texan candidates who don’t want to challenge John Cornyn’s Senate seat. If anything he’s now trailing Castro. He needed to look clearly stronger than Booker to make himself a prime alternative for those who want a candidate under 70 with potential appeal to voters of color besides Kamala Harris.

Nope. Since the time he entered, Beto has run consistently ahead of Booker. Expect this to change as soon as the next batch of polls are out. He’ll qualify for the next debate and has a chance to reverse this before he needs to drop out, but thinking about when he might drop out is the definition of a bad outcome.

Stayed in Place:

Elizabeth Warren, Tim Ryan

Staying in place doesn’t mean the same for both. Warren entered the debate surging in the polls. She’s no worse than 3rd place nationwide, and is beginning to place second in some surveys. She was by far the leading candidate on the stage tonight. And she may have won the debate on points.

With her four closest competitors not arriving until tomorrow, her opportunity to move up was limited. However, she could have hurt her position. Or one of the other candidates could have visibly outshone her. Didn’t happen. All clear. Full speed ahead. And every expectation that she’s more than ready to face more direct competition if the draw is more even in July.

Tim Ryan did the Rust Belt thing. He mentioned Youngstown, OH. Flint, MI. Working, or working-class Americans every three words. He stayed resolutely on message. Several others mentioned blue collar workers. Talked about jobs their dads did. But he sold it all the way through.

Beyond remembering it was Al Qaeda, not the Taliban that flew the planes into buildings on 9/11, there isn’t much else he could have done. But Joe Biden still exists. And as long as he exists another few months, Tim Ryan will no longer exist as a Democratic presidential candidate. It’s hard to see him picking up 135,000 contributors in time for the fall debates.

Post-Debate Tiers

First Tier: Elizabeth Warren (unchanged)

Second Tier: Cory Booker (now more solidly here), Julian Castro (up from Tier 3)

Purgatory: Amy Klobuchar (down from Tier 2), Tulsi Gabbard (up from Tier 3)

Third Tier: Bill deBlasio (up from Tier 4)

Fourth Tier: Tim Ryan (almost made it to Tier 3), John Delaney (unchanged), Jay Inslee (down from Tier 3)