Debate Prep (Night One): Standing Room Only

Welcome to the logical conclusion of what George McGovern wrought. This is the thirteenth presidential cycle since the Democratic Party changed their nomination rules for 1972 and upended how presidential candidates are chosen by their parties.

In 1968, Hubert Humphrey controversially won the Democratic nomination without competing in a single contest prior to the convention. McGovern led the committee that re-wrote the rules to ensure voters could and would always weigh in.

Understanding his own rules better than his competitors, he won a close nomination contest, defeating Humphrey and several others. At that point, this meant competing in all of the available caucuses and primaries, and taking Iowa seriously.

Jimmy Carter began his 1976 campaign in January 1975, way earlier than anyone else had ever officially launched. McGovern was an underdog, but Carter was virtually unknown. Laser focused on Iowa, “Jimmy Who” finished first and began winning other contests before a few of his more heralded competitors even entered.

This was the last time any serious candidate attempted entering the nomination race after voting began. And Carter inspired an endless stream of little known to completely unknown candidates who camped out in Iowa with the hopes of repeating his miracle.

While nobody has repeated the exact feat, George Bush the Elder and Younger owe their presidencies to the 1980 Iowa Caucuses. After becoming an honorary Hawkeye, Bush upset front-runner Ronald Reagan, winning the caucus. While Reagan recovered in New Hampshire and swept to the nomination, Bush wound up as Veep. Next thing you know, 41 and 43 were a thing.

Now, nobody blinks when a candidate declares for the presidency a full year or more before Iowa votes. With earlier announcements, earlier debates followed. What used to begin in the fall before voting now starts at the beginning of summer.

While candidates made sure to declare before voting, they were continuing to enter the race after debates began. That practice may have ended permanently with Rick Perry in 2012. Slightly late to the show, having missed the first debate, he stumbled through the second, forgot the name of a cabinet agency he wanted to eliminate in the third, and his career never fully recovered.

Department of Irony: He’s currently serving as cabinet secretary for the very entity he couldn’t remember.

Continue reading “Debate Prep (Night One): Standing Room Only”

Home Sour Home (Part 2)

And we’re back. In Part 1, we talked about Elizabeth Warren’s challenges at home in Massachusetts, and by extension, New Hampshire. Of all candidates showing the vaguest of pulse, only Warren and Kamala Harris have a clear issue protecting their home state.

The others are either beyond safe (Biden & Bernie), likely safe as long as they’re otherwise viable (Beto), probably safe until proven otherwise (Buttigieg), or needing to worry about getting to the point where this is something to worry about (everyone else).

If you’ll permit me to make a cross-party comparison, Kamala is showing signs of being the Democrats’ version of Marco Rubio. Like Marco, she’s a first term senator, one who is widely acceptable to primary voters, without being the first choice of very many.

She was considered a top-tier candidate from the moment she made her announcement, in part because said announcement was predicted from the moment she won her seat.

Like Rubio, she has a completely legit campaign organization, and will be at least competitive on the funding side, if probably not the money leader. She’s similarly appealing due to youth and demographics. Marco was actually young, Kamala is young by comparison to Biden, Sanders & Warren.

Many Democrats figure a youngish woman of color is the perfect choice to turn out voters who stayed home on 11/8/16. Very similar to how Rubio was supposed to help the GOP break free of their reliance on older white voters.

As we know, things went in exactly the opposite direction. And the current polling leader, Biden, is effectively the inverse of Harris. Kamala’s mission is to avoid Marco’s fate.

Continue reading “Home Sour Home (Part 2)”

Home Sour Home (Part 1)

It helps to win Iowa. It’s great to win New Hampshire. Winning South Carolina is often decisive. You know what’s an absolute must?

Winning your home state.

Since the modern primary system began in 1972, no candidate lost their home state and then won the nomination. It’s a bad sign if it’s even close.

In 2016, losing Florida caused Marco Rubio to leave the race. Polls in late 2015 showed Donald Trump leading both Rubio and Jeb Bush, often combined, a clear signal that two of the early favorites were in more trouble than their campaigns were willing to admit.

Joe Biden is going to win Delaware by eleventy billion percent. This will happen even if he drops out of the race before his home state votes. Vermont always feels the Bern.

Beto O’Rourke slipped noticeably nationwide in the last quarter. He’s down to 3.6% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, from a high near 10% when he joined the race.

But Texas is supporting their almost-was-a-Senator. He’s averaging 15.5% in the two surveys taken in the last few weeks. This puts him second behind Biden, more than four times as popular as he is away from home.

In any scenario where Beto is remotely competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire, he wins Texas. When he was sitting at 6% nationally in late April, he pulled 22% at home, one point less than Uncle Joe.

We don’t have any numbers yet on Pete Buttigieg in Indiana. I’m very curious to see how he does. If he’s trailing Biden by 5 to 8 points, no big deal, but he should be ahead of the rest.

Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and the litany of others are both lacking polls in their home state, and doing poorly enough nationally that some skepticism at home wouldn’t mean much yet.

Julian Castro’s lower tier status is reinforced by his 3.5% placement in Texas. Perhaps he’s hampered by having served as Mayor of San Antonio instead of having campaigned statewide. Maybe he won’t be taken seriously by Texans until he is by the rest of the country. Or he’s just less popular than Beto. Regardless, he’s got work to do.

We’ve skipped two leading contenders.

Continue reading “Home Sour Home (Part 1)”

Why the World Needs Another Political Blog

Every four years, I start this same quest. To write about the upcoming presidential election as clearly and objectively as possible, offering analysis and thoughts that aren’t published anywhere else yet.

Basically, the ultimate fool’s errand. Clarity is difficult. Objectivity virtually impossible. And what are the odds of saying truly new things?

Each presidential cycle, one or more candidates (looking at you Mayor Pete) say this is the most consequential election in recent history. And one of these times, they’re gonna be right. So if they can say this is that one crucial election, I can say this is the one blog we’ve been waiting for. The one that changes how we look at elections.

Also, I’m making progress. In 2012 I gave up after the Florida primary. In 2016, I threw in the towel during the GOP convention. At this rate of improvement, it’s a solid 50/50 I last until Election Day.

So welcome to the team! Like your favorite candidate, there’s no telling how long this will last or how well it will turn out, but I do have favorite things to talk about:

Polls. They’re fun. Also, combined with other analysis, they’re way more informative than given credit for. You’ll see a lot of posts that have something to do with polling.

Debates. Always a big deal in an open primary. Likely a bigger deal with 20+ candidates. I can’t resist writing previews, recaps, strategy memos, and all kinds of pontificating about why Candidate X must say Y or face extinction.

Primaries. We’ll track Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina individually. Plus the various Super Tuesdays. Each cycle has a couple of turning points. Maybe we can anticipate them early.

History. There’s a limited sample size in presidential elections. It’s not like we’ve done this 10,000 times. The modern primary system only dates to 1972. Still, there are various clues we can find in the recent past that relate to the present.

Data. Polls are a form of data, but nowhere near the only kind. If there are numbers to play with that give us something to look for or at, it’s worth discussing.

I have my candidate preferences. They sometimes change, but they always exist. If I do my job correctly, you won’t be sure what they are. When I talk about what a candidate should do next, that’s separate from whether I hope they actually do it. I’ll try to point out my biases as best I can.

Within a week or two, I’ll be posting at least once a day. Until then, I’m aiming to get a couple posts up before the Democratic debates kick off the next phase of the race.

Talk to you soon!