Sound Check

Yesterday, your intrepid correspondent forced himself to watch all ten candidates at the CNN Climate Crisis Town Hall. This does not mean I watched all 40 minutes of each. Not even close. A minimum of 7 to 10 minutes, sometimes a lot more.

With no candidates directly facing off, this wasn’t like a debate. But it was a great way to do a sound check. They all had the same amount of time. They all took a couple moderator questions and some from the audience. No artificial restrictions on how long they could take to answer.

Each participating candidate joined the nomination contest more than a few months ago. There are no excuses for not having a message locked in. The rust should be scraped away. I wasn’t expecting perfection, but did assume basic competence, and figured to see improvement from the less experienced national candidates.

Here are my rankings, based on how excited their campaign team should be about how their horse looked, and what it portends going forward:

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This is Still a 12 Pack

Tonight, CNN is subjecting the world to seven hours of town hall programming, featuring the Democratic presidential field. Each of the 10 approved contestants have 40 minutes or so to field questions about climate change from audience members and assorted CNN moderators.

With Dorian doing his worst as he works his way up the Atlantic Coast, the topic is extra timely. For those who don’t have the desire or capability to view all or most of the festivities, sound bites will circulate for the next couple of days, along with punditry galore.

This should fill the rest of the week. By next week, it’s time to think about the debate, which is next Thursday in Houston. These two events will take up most of the oxygen on the Democratic side for the first half of the month.

The same ten candidates are invited to each. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, and Amy Klobuchar. This isn’t an accident.

DNC rules are responsible for the regular debate qualifiers. The national committee is also opposed to any non-sanctioned debates. That’s why the CNN Climate Change Town Hall isn’t a debate on climate change, as suggested by Jay Inslee, back when he still existed.

Other codicils, fine print, and poison pills made it impossible for CNN to invite anyone to their event that didn’t qualify for the official debate. Originally, Harris wasn’t going to participate in the town hall. Then her team decided blowing off the climate event to appear at high-end fundraisers might not be the best optics.

It’s easy to reach the conclusion only these ten candidates matter. Nobody else will get any national bandwidth anytime soon. With the race having a clear polling front-runner, a clear top three, and only five candidates consistently polling around or above five percent, it feels like ten candidates is still too many, not too few.

Almost all of the polls released in the past few weeks are national. No other candidate is consistently pulling more than 1%. If they were, they’d have qualified for the debates and town hall.

But this hides what’s happening in the early voting states. Morning Consult recently released a survey. In addition to national numbers, they broke out combined results for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

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In Case of Emergency, Break Glass

Let’s talk about Cory Booker. Someone needs to. His campaign is lonely. There’s the front-runner, Joe Biden. And the Big Three, which brings Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in. Also the Top Five, including Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, both of whom were previously closer to the leaders than they are now.

Booker is not included in those gatherings. We also have the candidates that just aren’t going to make it. I left him out there too. Where does he fit? What would it take for him to level up? Is it even worth discussing him? Here are some arguments:

Ignore Him: His fundraising is weak

He grabbed $4.5 million in the second quarter. He’s a bit over $12 million overall. It’s not nothing, but well less than Harris ($25 million total.) Buttigieg, Biden, and Sanders cleared $20 million just in the second quarter. Warren got close and has tons of fundraising momentum.

His burn rate is higher than the Top Five. 60% of his money came from donors giving at least $200. We’ve learned from the past few cycles that candidates who pull more from smaller donors have more upside. Partly because they won’t max out. Partly because it indicates a broader base.

The voting calendar gets busy quickly. Super Tuesday, including expensive places like California, is March 3. That’s only a month after Iowa caucuses. And California begins early voting the same day Iowa kicks off the process.

How is an underfunded candidate going to scale quickly enough?

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Who’s Out Next?

We know who the Big Three are. Joe Biden continues to defy expectations of his collapse. Elizabeth Warren strengthens her position daily. Bernie Sanders isn’t going away. I still owe you more detailed breakdowns on their chances.

Bernie still has a tougher path than the other two, but he’s virtually guaranteed to stick around most, if not all the way to the convention. We can’t say that about the next 17 candidates.

In reverse order of what they can gain, here’s where the rest of the field stands:

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Requiem for a Candidate: Kirsten Gillibrand

In the early-mid 1960s, Atlanta was still very much segregated. In 1973, Atlanta elected a black mayor. His name is on the airport now. Things move fast sometimes. And you don’t always realize a barrier has fallen until so many have run past it that in retrospect it seems inevitable.

A bunch of small, halting, irregular steps. And then one day, the Berlin Wall is down. The same thing recently happened with female presidential candidates. Kirsten Gillibrand’s failure is the proof.

Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman to have her name formally entered into nomination at the 1964 GOP convention. She ran in several primaries, but only got more than 3% once. This wasn’t a vanity candidacy. Smith got elected to Congress in 1940, the Senate in 1948, and was a military/national security expert.

Shirley Chisholm was next. The two-term congresswoman from Brooklyn competed in the 1972 Democratic contest, becoming the first African American candidate of any gender, along with the first woman in her party.

Her results were similar to Smith’s. With more primaries available, she got more opportunities, but didn’t reach double digits in any of them. Still, it was another step forward. In addition to being a female pioneer, Chisholm blazed a trail that led to Jesse Jackson, and eventually Barack Obama.

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10 is a Crowd

Tom Steyer missed the September debate cut. His strategy of advertising in early voting states to get the necessary poll results, which your correspondent knew would work, didn’t.

He’s still one 2% survey short. No new qualifying polls were released in the past couple weeks. He’ll qualify for October, the instant another DNC-certified Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina poll is out.

Which will mean a minimum of 11 candidates, assuming none of the current 10 drop out. Which will mean two nights of debates. That’s October. A long way away if you’re running the Castro or Klobuchar campaign. A long way away if you’re trying to keep the fundraising momentum going for Pete Buttigieg. Or boost Cory Booker up the ladder.

In the meantime, the September debate is a problem. Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are finally going to appear on stage together. No possibility for the luck of the draw separating them yet again. This potential duel will take up a lot of oxygen.

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The Economist to the Rescue!

I need to apologize. For multiple days, I’ve been aware of extra poll aggregating data. The Economist has a newish portal for this. Your lazy correspondent finally checked it out today. It’s amazing.

I’ve relied on the Real Clear Politics Average/list to see the mainstream surveys regularly referenced by the media and also used by the DNC to calculate debate qualifications. It’s easy. It’s straightforward. You can quickly compare a new survey to older ones from the same pollster.

For extra texture, there’s the FiveThirtyEight list. They also average the results, but more importantly, they cover all sorts of surveys that don’t make it to RCP. Sure, many of the pollsters are a bit more suspect. But that doesn’t mean they’re always wrong.

Sometimes they pick up outlier polls before similar results hit the mainstream. While the Monmouth result on Monday showing Joe Biden in third place at 19% was a shock to many, there were other signals in the FiveThirtyEight stack that make this a minority opinion as opposed to a single strange result.

You also get some state surveys that aren’t covered by RCP. For example, it’s interesting to me that Bernie Sanders leads a recent poll in Colorado. He did very well in very pro-Cannabis states in 2016, and if the trend continues in 2020, it’s a helpful edge.

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Emergency Poll Freakout

There’s a new national survey from Monmouth. Joe Biden is third. He’s below 20%. There are two ways to look at this:




Let’s see which makes more sense. We’ll begin with the 6.7 on the Political Richter Scale scenario.

Concern #1: Monmouth doesn’t usually hate Biden.

Last time they had him at 32%. Now 19%. The previous result was a couple percent below the RCP average from that part of June. If the same ratio holds, Biden might not be at 19% but he would be in the very low 20s.

A candidate in the high 20s/low 30s, as he’s been in the majority of surveys for the past couple months has a much better chance of getting nominated than someone where this indicates he is. 21% is shaky for a candidate with his name recognition and visibility. 28% is enough to win multiple early voting states.

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Flies on an Elephant’s Back

Bill Weld announced his Republican primary challenge months ago. As of yesterday morning, Joe Walsh is in. Mark Sanford is thinking about it, and will decide in the next week or two. Should Donald Trump be concerned? Break out in a cold sweat? Or mostly disregard?

A primary challenge is deadly. Since primaries were invented in the early 20th century, an incumbent president has never lost a single primary or caucus and gone on to win re-election.

It’s very hard to prevent a incumbent from being re-nominated if they’re determined to proceed. Trump controls the party apparatus. There’s no getting around it. The Republican National Committee and Trump’s re-election campaign are one in the same.

So our question is whether Weld, Walsh, and Sanford represent flies on an elephant’s back, or whether they could do well enough to make it almost impossible for Trump to win in November 2020.

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Requiem for a Candidate: Seth Moulton

You couldn’t have designed a more perfect candidacy. To fail. He’s too centrist. He lacks a national brand. He entered the contest later than most. He’s a straight white male. He’s a Congressman, not a Senator or ex-VP.

One or two of those are surmountable. Not all. With Pete Buttigieg and Julian Castro around, there were more compelling youthful choices. Moulton wasn’t even the most prominent candidate from his home state of Massachusetts.

His congressional district beckons. He’s facing multiple primary challengers for 2020. Several candidates will prompt a Requiem article over the next few weeks. The speed of exit is directly tied to other electoral opportunities. It’s no accident that Eric Swalwell, John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee, and Moulton were the first to get out.

The minute Steve Bullock decides he’d like to run for senator, he’ll get his Requiem piece. Otherwise, he, like already out of office John Delaney, several years before re-election Michael Bennet, and anything to get out of doing his day job Bill deBlasio will persist for a bit.

So we’re done here, yes?

Not yet. One more topic.

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