How Bernie Wins (Part One)

A year ago, I thought Bernie Sanders had almost no chance at the nomination. You only get to be an insurgent once. He pushed Hillary Clinton in large part because he was the only vessel to protest her coronation. Many other candidates had taken up key parts of his platform. It was a victory for his cause, but hurt his odds.

Even before Joe Biden signed up, Bernie’s poll numbers were in the mid-high 20s at absolute best. That’s not good for a candidate with 100% name recognition who finished second last time. This was before Elizabeth Warren became a serious contender too.

Every so often, he winds up with a 9% Iowa poll result, or 12% nationally, the sort of thing that makes it seem like we shouldn’t even talk about him as an upper tier candidate. Also he’s 78. And had a heart attack. He seems to have no interest in seducing the press or broadening his coalition.

Yes, he has money. But so do Warren and Pete Buttigieg. And Biden may not need very much. Plus he has the Super PAC now. It’s hard to imagine Sanders having an easy time at a contested Democratic Convention.

Last time, Bernie did best in states holding caucuses. Lower attendance gave the true believer Berners more impact. After his Iowa virtual tie and Nevada loss, Bernie won the rest. This time, most of those caucuses are now primaries.

So how does he do this? Continue reading “How Bernie Wins (Part One)”

Where is Mayor Pete’s West Virginia?

Pete Buttigieg is hardly trying to be the first first. Al Smith became the first Catholic major party nominee in 1928. JFK broke that barrier for winning candidates in 1960. The African American barrier fell in 2008, a woman won the national popular vote in 2016. Donald Trump was a first too. A president who had never held elective office, nor served as a military general.

Mayor Pete wouldn’t be the first out of nowhere candidate to win a nomination under the current primary system either. “Jimmy Who” knocked down that wall in 1976. But he is trying to combine being the first openly gay nominee/president with having had zero national public footprint before running.

To add an extra degree of difficulty, Buttigieg currently has zero support among African American Democrats, so he’s trying to do all of this without the help of a key constituency. This is why Deval Patrick and those who will fund him are under the illusion his candidacy is useful. Continue reading “Where is Mayor Pete’s West Virginia?”

When Donors Have Money Burning Holes in Their Pockets

First it was Mike Bloomberg. Now maybe Deval Patrick. As if the Democratic field wasn’t large enough, a second possible candidate who ruled out running months ago is on the verge of officially changing his mind.

Again, the stated reason is concern with the present field due to Warren/Sanders being too far left and Joe Biden being as washed as the evidence suggests. Getting scared at this stage of the race isn’t unusual.

Nine months ago, the candidates were shiny and new. Beto O’Rourke was an exciting contender, Kamala Harris a betting favorite. Biden wasn’t the Messiah, but people did think he might still be partially coherent.

Now, they’re dented and scratched. Bernie had a heart attack, Warren has managed to wait too long explaining her health care plan, propose $50 trillion in costs for it, and claim she can pay for all of it without charging middle class voters a dime.

Continue reading “When Donors Have Money Burning Holes in Their Pockets”

Bloomberg?!?!?

Just when you thought there was a shortage of men born in the 1940s running for president, Mike Bloomberg is primed to fly in for the rescue. Apparently Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Bill Weld are not enough. Like the other two Democrats on this list, Bloomberg would spend part of a first term past the age of 80.

Much as I’m sure he’s looking to help satiate my curiosity about how old of a human can survive in the most stressful job ever invented, the reason for Bloomberg’s latest maybe he will, maybe he won’t venture is concern over how far left Elizabeth Warren and Sanders are pulling the Democratic field on economic issues, and the more than decent odds one of them could win the nomination.

This is a perfectly reasonable concern. A majority of Americans oppose eliminating private medical insurance. Recent swing state polling by the NYT/Siena College shows Sanders and Warren in a very precarious position against Trump. Even Biden leads by only a small margin in those key states, and Bloomberg isn’t the only one wondering if Uncle Joe can go the distance.

So enter Bloomberg, stage right. What are we to think of this? Continue reading “Bloomberg?!?!?”

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”

UncleJoePAC

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”