Photo (ABOVE): @JoeBiden / Twitter
Written by Ben Szioli
Last week, November 27th, I published a summary of the 2020 primary elections up til now. A week passed, and it’s time to update that summary.
Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE): Biden showed this week that though his campaign is absurd, it isn’t in crisis. Biden still leads the polls, and he is sort of re-booting his campaign. The slogan is “No Malarkey!” Seriously. Biden and his wife are embarking on a bus tour of Iowa to back it up. While the bus trip has been mocked widely online, it still represents a change of approach for Biden, who initially ran a silent campaign similar to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
While Biden’s campaign isn’t in crisis, it also isn’t… in touch with reality, per se. This week, footage recirculated on Twitter of Biden speaking at a public pool in Wilmington, DE, in June. During his remarks, Biden mentioned 1) children playing with his leg hair when he used to work at the pool as a lifeguard, 2) his love of “kids jumping on [his] lap,” and 3) a probably made-up encounter with a gang leader named Corn Pop.
It only got worse on November 30th, when Biden nibbled his wife’s fingers as she spoke at an event. Business Insider and other outlets characterized Biden as “inexplicably” biting her, but to be fair, she was waving her hands near his face, and I guess he was trying to be funny? Given criticism Biden has taken for his weirdly tiny personal bubble, biting someone unannounced is a bad look.
Senator Bernie Sanders (VT): With Bernie polling in second place since November 21st and Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) still declining, it’s safe to put Bernie in second place in my rankings this week.
Outside of an appearance with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, the candidate himself has been quiet. However, surrogates like Ariana Grande have been visible lately. In a turn of events after the mild media blackout that plagued the early Sanders 2020 campaign, pro-Sanders articles [New York Times, Vogue, HuffPost] have begun to pop up in the news.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA): It’s been another rough week for Warren.
The Good: Warren pivoted to attack former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who makes an excellent foil for her business-y progressivism. By positioning herself against a billionaire who is making the largest direct ad buy by a campaign in history, Warren hopes to represent a democratic foundation that a new administration can be built on.
The Bad: After backing off Medicare For All [for a public option that looks an awful lot like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s Medicare For All Who Want It], Warren came out tied for third in the newest poll of New Hampshire. New Hampshire is an important New England stronghold, especially for Democrats. In the previous link to the Boston Herald, note the tone of absolute contempt Warren received from a home-state newspaper. A loss in New Hampshire combined with an icy reception in Massachusetts could put her in danger of losing her home-state primary – an electoral death rattle. Senator Sanders faces the same risk, but with Vermont much more safely locked down.
The Ugly: Republicans are ramping up their personal attacks on Warren, with a Fox News host reviving the “Pocahontas” nickname on Fox and Friends. Warren has taken criticism for claiming Native American heritage that for all intents and purposes, she now admits she doesn’t have. Due to the Republican smears, the Native American issue has been off-limits for Democrats, but come general election time, everything will be fair game.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN): Far from making a meteoric rise, Buttigieg has just now cleared 10% in the polls. Former Vice President Biden’s downfall seems inevitable and Senator Warren is receding, so clearly Buttigieg could sneak into third place. However, his polling peak comes amid criticism for his record on race (and his city’s), which he only compounded with gaffes.
Buttigieg was also criticized by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) for a Buttigieg campaign ad opposing universal student debt forgiveness. It’s real rich to see, basically, class warfare – the wealthy being excluded from public services – from a candidate who claims left-wing candidates are too oppositional to win in 2020. As opposed to Buttigieg, Senator Sanders and Representative Ocasio-Cortez support a debt forgiveness plan that treats education as a right for everyone, rich or poor. Means-testing debt forgiveness by forcing debtors to prove they aren’t rich, Ocasio-Cortez argues, only makes the program less likely to succeed.
Senator Kamala Harris (CA): It’s never good when journalists eulogize your campaign before you even drop out. Harris suspended her campaign on December 3rd, days after the publication of the New York Times article linked above. Harris had been approaching her all-time polling average low of 3.5% before dropping out. Over the past few months, the Harris campaign fell apart, the staff was cut to the bone, morale was nonexistent, and the campaign manager took the blame. Harris’s departure should pressure Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN), Senator Cory Booker (NJ), and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (TX) to end their campaigns as well.
Andrew Yang: Yang had a good week overall. He is beginning to be treated as newsworthy, though often somewhat negatively. Some of this negative coverage may be appropriate, though; particularly in light of his documented history of gender pay gap complaints. Yang has also attracted coverage of his controversial comments on racial jokes.
Nevertheless, Yang opened campaign offices in Iowa this week, a big first step, and his polling remains steady, at more than 3%. His end-of-month fundraising email generated $750,000 in twenty-four hours as part of a successful push to raise $2,000,000 in a week. Give Yang another debate appearance or two, and he might enter the top tier of candidates.
Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (NY): Video circulated this week of Bloomberg speaking to the International Monetary Fund, a neoliberal financial institution uniting nearly two hundred nations. In the video, Bloomberg argued pretty passionately in favor of preferentially taxing the poor (for example, a soft drink tax). His reasoning was that “higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves.”
The actual policies Bloomberg is describing (in perhaps the most disturbing way possible) are sin taxes – taxes on harmful or, in his example, unhealthy behavior. But rather than viewing sin taxes as an incentive influencing the free choices of the poor, Bloomberg seems to view these taxes as a way to herd people against their will. You can frame the policy either way, but that framing exposes a lot of your thinking.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN): Klobuchar continues to hang around 2% in the polls, and little traction is building for her. Still, Klobuchar seems content to remain one of the bottom-most candidates still qualifying for the debates. But like all the other Senators, Klobuchar may soon be compelled to serve as a juror in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Sitting in the hole that her campaign is sitting in, Klobuchar may not be able to balance the election with an impeachment trial. She may soon drop out, especially since Senator Harris has already done the same.
Senator Cory Booker (NJ): Booker is still having money trouble, appearing on Face the Nation just this Sunday to plead for donations. And a pro-Booker Super PAC that struggled to raise money (which Booker totally didn’t want backing him) closed up shop this week. Booker is still struggling to qualify for the December debate. With the December 12th deadline approaching quickly, he may soon be left out in the cold.
Tom Steyer: Steyer has risen a bit in the polls: his average is moving in the direction of 2%. His campaign is in overdrive, literally harassing people with ads. In spite of that, Steyer made a savvy move this week, challenging former Mayor Bloomberg to back a wealth tax or drop out. This could potentially position Steyer as “the good billionaire” and Bloomberg as “the bad billionaire,” reversing their polling positions. However, since Bloomberg is barely polling better, such a reversal of fortunes would hardly help Steyer.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI): It looks like the bump Gabbard received from former Secretary of State Clinton’s attack has now faded. Gabbard continues to make little impact in the news, even compared to other candidates in the lower tier. Winning is out of the picture, so leveraging her endorsement is probably the best Gabbard can hope for. However, the value of that endorsement is declining, and it’s unclear how Gabbard could leverage it in the current state of the race. Of the top candidates, Sanders is the only candidate on good terms with Gabbard. But whether she endorses him this year or not, Sanders is likely to appoint Gabbard to his administration if he wins, anyway. Time is ticking, then, for Gabbard to drop out impactfully.
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (TX): Castro is barely treading water above a 1% polling average. Come December 12th, he may miss yet another debate, and he may drop out.
Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam (FL): Messam also suspended his campaign on November 27th (shortly after publication time for the first State of the Race). This is convenient, because I kept forgetting him anyway.
Former Representative Joe Sestak (PA): On Sunday, December 1st, Sestak ended his campaign, which most people didn’t know had begun. Farewell, Delco Joe.
Governor Steve Bullock (MT): On Monday, after taking criticism from the Montana GOP for governing from out of state while campaigning, Bullock dropped out and returned home.
Former Representative John Delaney (MD): Delaney, who somehow was polling lower than former Representative Sestak, tried to beef up his campaign this week by posting his ab workout to Twitter. Submitted without comment.
Marianne Williamson: In a public appearance, Williamson acknowledged she will likely not qualify for another debate but reaffirmed she will continue to campaign, regardless of fundraising or early state polling.
Incumbent President Donald Trump (FL): While Trump never actually ends up in a tough spot as a result of his behavior, he’s certainly coming close with his recent interventions in favor of relatively obviously guilty servicepeople under investigation. Veterans and military leaders are unnerved by what they perceive to be overreach from the Commander-in-Chief. Leaders are also concerned about the message sent by circumventing the military’s internal justice system.
Not to be dramatic, but from Eastern Europe to Latin America to China, military support has made and broken governments. While an armed forces coup à la Bolivia won’t happen in the United States, loss of veteran support can doom a Republican. Trump seems to know this, reflected in his occasional surprise visits to troops when the election gets rough, and in other policies that he believes curry favor with the military, like parades and special interest bills.
Trump is also facing a loss this week in Georgia, with Republican Governor Brian Kemp set to reject Trump’s favored appointee to Georgia’s vacant Senate seat. This scuffle is probably not terribly significant, because Republicans tend to rally, even in the face of scandal. See: Greg Gianforte, Brett Kavanaugh, and of course, Trump’s 2016 election.
Former Governor Bill Weld (MA): If he weren’t behind by a margin of like 85 points, you’d think Weld was a contender. The guy is on a successful talking tour in the media, criticizing Trump’s immigration policy, drumming up opposition among voters, and trying to find an angle to win the primary. Weld hopes to utilize the ”New England knockout” strategy that Senator Sanders is following against Senator Warren in the Democratic primary, but in reverse: Weld intends to draw blood by beating President Trump in New Hampshire, and then springboard into a surprise win in Weld’s home state of Massachusetts.
As unlikely as it is, Weld is correct that such a coup would upend the race. And while the polls show him down by an insurmountable margin, voting rarely turns out so lopsided in reality. In a similar situation, wildly unpopular Senator Bob Menendez (NJ)’s embattled no-name primary opponent took 38% of the vote in blue New Jersey, despite running basically no statewide campaign and garnering no media attention.
Once people got into the silence of the voting booth, they saw the inevitable winner, Senator Menendez, and they protest-voted for the only other name available to click. Weld hopes to be that name in the 2020 Republican primary. I could see him collecting 20-30% of the vote simply by inequality of turnout – underdog Never Trumpers turning out disproportionately in comparison to the average Republican, who might stay home from the primary out of a false sense of security.
Former Representative Joe Walsh (IL): Walsh is aiming for the classic “everybody wants me to run” gag by touting anecdotal voter support in early voting states. It rarely works (for example, former Secretary of State Clinton’s insistences this year), and sure enough, it doesn’t seem to be helping Walsh here. Like former Governor Weld, Walsh may make an unexpected impact in the primary based on uneven turnout, but he can’t do that if he only attracts one news story per week. Weld is projecting the appearance of a lively campaign, whereas Walsh is projecting the appearance of a radio host shooting off from time to time.
Roque de la Fuente: This week, de la Fuente continued to execute a surprising ground game, registering for the ballot in Missouri, Utah and Idaho. He vowed to appear on the ballot in every state holding a primary. So far, de la Fuente has registered in twelve states. His campaign manager is also legally representing a Michigan man in a lawsuit seeking ballot access in the state for de la Fuente. In a press release linked above, de la Fuente’s campaign said internal polling places the candidate at 19% support among the under-45 crowd. If accurate, this would be a good reason for de la Fuente to take himself seriously in the early stages of an under-reported and under-polled primary.
The Curious Case of Senator Mitt Romney (UT): Romney drifted further from a potential presidential run this week, joining President Trump for yet another demeaning, awkward meal, which he described as “delightful.” Given the reality that Romney could save or doom Trump in a potential impeachment trial, Romney is backing off his past aggression, referring to his relationship with the President as “cordial and cooperative.” It’s become hard to imagine Romney mounting any resistance to Trump at all.
Senator Mitt Romney (right) looking like a wet dog at dinner with President Donald Trump (left) in 2016 [Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images]