Written by Ben Szioli
Welcome back to State of the Race. Our first installation, published on November 27th, covered the race up until that point. Then last week, on December 4th, I released an update based on the prior week’s news. Now I’m going to do the same thing again, a week later.
THE KEYS TO THE WHITE HOUSE
First, here’s an interesting segment I’m going to bring up from time to time. If you can’t tell from my laser focus on RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling averages, I’m a “numbers person.” I studied social science, and I’ve seen how metrics can shed light on people’s actions, if not predict them. Especially, especially when people are observing a statistic and responding to it, statistics can be predictive of behavior.
Not all behavior is predictable, of course. History has shown, however, that some behavior is – for example, the performance of baseball players and teams. Statistician Nate Silver got his start in sabermetrics, after all. Silver (and others) found opinion polling, and thus voting, to be similarly predictable. Silver has a mixed record on election predictions, but he has done a lot to influence how polling is averaged and analyzed today.
Dr. Allan Lichtman, on the other hand, makes much more accurate predictions. Dr. Lichtman, a historian, is famous for the 1996 book The Keys to the White House. Co-written with the late physicist Dr. Vladimir Keilis-Borok, the book lays out thirteen “keys” to predict if the incumbent party will win the US presidential election. The keys are based on earthquake forecasting techniques that Dr. Keilis-Borok used in geophysics research. The Keys to the White House is consistent with the result of every election from 1860 until the book came out. It also correctly predicted the result of every subsequent election .
As the election progresses, I’ll keep track of the Keys to the White House to try to predict the outcome. Lichtman will issue his own forecast as the election gets closer, of course, but we can follow the keys in the meantime.
Since the Republicans are incumbent, they have a disadvantage. They need to hold on to at least eight keys to earn Lichtman’s prediction. The Democrats will seek to peel away six or more keys (leaving Republicans with seven or less) in order to win the advantage.
Click “Details” to see the thirteen keys and their current status.
- After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the US House of Representatives than after the previous midterm elections: This is false, and it always will be.
- There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination: So far, this is true, but it could change, as I will discuss [far] below.
- The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president: This is likely going to remain true.
- There is no significant third party or independent campaign: So far, this is true.
- The economy is not in recession during the election campaign: This is true currently, but recession fears flared up a few weeks ago, and they could do so again.
- Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms: This will likely be true unless there is a sudden recession. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank’s data, Obama’s economy averaged around 1.5% growth in his first term and 2.3% in his second. So far, Trump’s economy is averaging around 2.6%.
- The incumbent administration affects major changes in national policy: I would say this is true. Trump reshaped the judicial landscape with appointments and reversed Obama administration policies by executive order.
- There is no sustained social unrest during the term: This statement is definitely, unchangeably false.
- The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal: This statement is false and getting falser by the day.
- The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs: I’m inclined to say this is false. Trump’s foreign policy has been a disaster, and the embarrassment he has suffered at UN and NATO events is real.
- The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs: Whether you want to say it was the MOAB bomb detonation or the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Trump can claim a major military victory this term.
- The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero: Like it or not, Trump is regarded as charismatic, though perhaps not a national hero, by a majority of voters.
- The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero: UNKNOWN
This tallies up to…
- Republicans: 3/8 keys permanently locked down | 5/8 leaning
- Democrats: 3/6 keys permanently locked down | 1/6 leaning
- Unknown: 1 key
This means currently, the election is going just slightly in the Republicans’ favor. If everything holds, Trump would be expected to win re-election. That means that the Republicans need for the economy to hold steady, for the Green and Libertarian parties to remain quiet, and for Trump’s nomination to continue to go relatively unchallenged. It also means that the Democrats need to secure Key #13, a charismatic nominee, to have a realistic chance of wresting away the Keys to the White House. We must ask of each Democratic candidate, then: are they capable of rising to that challenge?
With that, our weekly summary begins.
Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE): Uncle Joe’s polling continues to oscillate neatly between 26 and 30% in the RCP average, despite another week of gaffes. At a campaign event in Iowa [yes, Iowa; the one that’s really important to win], Biden got into a screaming match with a voter. The voter was an older man with concerns about Biden’s son serving on the board of a Ukrainian oil company. Biden’s response began, verbatim, “You’re a damn liar, man.” And it only got worse, which has become the unofficial Biden 2020 slogan. My favorite line from the rant was, also verbatim, “Get your words straight, Jack.” Also noteworthy is that Biden challenged the man to a push-up contest and an IQ test. What a time to be alive.
Biden’s second egregious comment seems to have flown under the radar of mainstream outlets. In an interview with Axios, Biden delivered a stinging criticism of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN). “Mayor Pete obviously has had difficulty garnering black support in his home city,” Biden said. That’s a zinger. But if you rewind a little bit, you can see how Biden led into that comment. It isn’t pretty. The question he was fielding was about how voters would receive a gay politician in the general election. Biden at first declined to answer, but then on second thought, he did. His exact quote is as follows:
“Well, look. I think you know that I’m the first guy to come out nationally for gay marriage […cross-talk…] I told [President Barack Obama (HI)] ahead of time: If I ever got, I wouldn’t press it, but if I got asked the question – I didn’t have to evolve anymore. I knew where I was for a long time. So I think the fact that Mayor Pete is, uh, is gay and married; I–I–I give him, uh, you know, I–I give him great compliments for that. I–I don’t have any problem with that. But I think that the fact is that unrelated to that, Mayor Pete obviously has had difficulty garnering black support in his home city, and it’s simply because it relates to a lot of other things.”
Stuttering through the sentence “I don’t have any problem with that” before discussing a gay person is an example of answering a question that wasn’t asked. And that’s often a sign of a guilty conscience. Just saying.
Biden is pretty much fine, though. He took a shot at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) on the 6th, a classless move from someone who is campaigning for a job that will involve closely working with Representative Ocasio-Cortez. Biden also dropped a campaign ad to seize on President Donald Trump (FL)’s well-publicized international humiliation.
And finally, diverse endorsements are the final bulwark that Biden holds against his challengers. More than two dozen Puerto Rican politicians endorsed him this week, as well as Former Secretary of State John Kerry (MA), who was previously seen as likely to enter the race. And Philadelphia’s progressive District Attorney [you can decide for yourself if that’s an oxymoron] Larry Krasner issued a really great anti-endorsement, saying of Biden, “We’ve got the dumbest guy.” Does District Attorney Krasner have sway with anyone who would even consider voting for Biden? I’m not sure, but what a quote.
Senator Bernie Sanders (VT): Bernie is LIVING right now. He’s rapidly risen back to 18% in the RCP average. His rise hasn’t slowed down, continuing in the direction of 20%, a threshold Sanders threatens to cross for the first time since the debates began. And a somewhat under-reported poll showed Sanders winning California this week. Despite a lack of recognition, Bernie continues to surge.
He’s focusing his energy on Iowa, the first contest of the primary season. Sanders is polling as a frontrunner in Iowa, but it’s not a big lead. This week, Sanders improved his position in the state, receiving an endorsement from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the largest progressive group in Iowa.
Sanders bulked up his staff in Colorado this week, which favored Sanders in 2016 but now will vote on Super Tuesday for the first time.
The climate change action organization Sunrise Movement also scored Sanders 183 out of 200 on climate issues this week, the highest of any candidate.
And Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (CA) endorsed both Warren and Sanders, arguing that the Democrats should nominate anyone but a moderate.
Last, Bernie was accused of being a Russian asset by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (NY), who finally just went and said it. It was clear when Clinton her book What Happened that she doesn’t know what actually happened and that she believes Bernie colluded with Russia. The question is, why now? And the answer, I’ll get to later, when we discuss The Curious Case of Former Secretary of State Clinton.
Senator Liz Warren (MA): Warren is courting Senator Kamala Harris (CA)’s donors in the wake of Senator Harris’s departure from the race (discussed later). Warren also dangled her openness to the idea of an all-female presidential ticket with Harris.
Nevertheless, Warren’s polling average has fallen off a cliff. It stood at 27% in October but is down to just 15% today.
Warren’s fellow Massachusetts (former) Senator, John Kerry, endorsed Biden this week, which Warren shrugged off. Several Pennsylvania figures have lent their endorsements to Warren already, so it’s hardly cause for her campaign to panic.
In positive news, Warren’s medical record is clean, and she is beginning to ramp up her operation in Arizona. And she was the only candidate to receive an A grade from the activist group Indivisible. Not bad.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN): Buttigieg is actually in a significantly faster freefall than Senator Warren is. It seems that prospective voters, with an eye on Buttigieg’s polling, have realized that Buttigieg can’t push much further than 12% support. Like rats from a sinking ship, opportunistic partisans are fleeing to different moderates. This, in turn, spooks more voters and perpetuates Buttigieg’s tailspin. Endorsements from random Obama aides aren’t softening the blow.
Another factor in Buttigieg’s decline is criticism he has received for his murky past with McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm that has overseen corporate restructuring resulting in losses of countless jobs. This week, Buttigieg released his list of clients, which was uninteresting. The list did contain Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a health insurance company that hired McKinsey to “reduce overheads.” Buttigieg claims that his position on that project was entry-level.
Senator Kamala Harris (CA): Harris dropped out this week, triggering a panic at the prospect of an all-white December debate. The media scoped out Senator Cory Booker (NJ) and Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (TX), trying to satisfy the demand for a candidate of color in the debate. Neither candidate qualified. However, completely mooting this discussion was Andrew Yang, who qualified for the debate on Tuesday. The establishment doesn’t want to take him seriously, but Yang is ready to step up and replace Harris – as a contender, not as a checkmark for diversity.
Andrew Yang: Yang is still on his way to becoming a top-tier candidate, but the party is going to make him drag it there, kicking and screaming. On Tuesday, Yang learned that he qualified for the debate through a dramatic mid-interview intervention from his manager. It was picture-perfect – to the point that you’ve gotta wonder if it wasn’t a staged photo op – but it still earned Yang a media splash that’s been a long time coming.
Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (NY): Bloomberg is taking on the role of Comic Book Billionaire Villain in this primary, which the centrist wing of the party seems to be comfortable with. That’s pretty weird, since (opinions about Bloomberg aside) we now have Biden, Buttigieg, and Bloomberg in the race. All three of those candidates represent basically the same wing, which is, again, weird. Conventional wisdom says that this tactic will split the centrist vote and pay off for Sanders and Warren.
I could see any one of the three centrist candidates splitting the vote out of arrogance, but not all three. And I would expect the party to put its foot down. Instead, the candidates are purposely fighting to maximize their vote share, and the mainstream wing of the party isn’t putting up any resistance. You might say, “It’s quiet… too quiet,” but then you’d likely be attacked by martial artists. Instead, let’s just say the silence is unnerving, and keep watching.
Bloomberg has been everywhere this week: in Madrid for a UN conference, running his massive ads, trying to smooth things over with minorities, rising in the polls, and debuting a gun control program. He’s also captured support from Former Governor Jerry Brown (CA) and the coveted endorsement of Former White House Press Secretary Anthony Scaramucci.
Bloomberg’s message is contradictory, and doomed. He says, “We’re going to be everywhere,” but he isn’t contesting early voting states. Combine this with the ethical tangle that comes with owning a news outlet and running for office, and Bloomberg actually looks way less well-positioned than his 5% polling average would suggest.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN): This week, we watched yet another episode of Everybody Hates Amy. Despite the outcry for a centrist female candidate, nobody really considered Klobuchar at all. She’s even made the December debate, with the potential to continue appearing in the future. Still, it seems unlikely that she will suddenly pick up support when the support was nonexistent through all the ups and downs of the campaign. Impeachment is also looming, which threatens to take Klobuchar off the campaign trail for weeks.
Senator Cory Booker (NJ): Booker announced today that he will miss the December debate. With fundraising barely improving for Booker, he is going to continue to tread water without a real plan to get back into the running. The loss of Harris from the race may keep him around a little longer, but I’m not sure how long that will be. Booker has done outreach to black voters [in person and through ads], called for greater diversity in the primary, and told supporters in Iowa that the structure of the elections denies voters “the choices that they are telling us they want in February.”
United We Win, a super PAC that Booker totally, really doesn’t want supporting him, has been running ads promoting Booker as a pro-cannabis candidate. This could be a smart tactic, based on a Data for Progress poll showing that a marijuana legalization platform could attract third party voters, and by logical extension, new voters and independents as well.
Side note: I’m curious to see through this election how much of an impact independents and new voters actually have. There are so many barriers to primary voting and voters are so apathetic that I’m skeptical independents can be convinced to register for the Democratic primary in overwhelming numbers.
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (TX): Castro also has a marijuana plan, which he touted on the anniversary of the end of Prohibition.
Castro is still worse off than Booker. I consider Castro a much more inspiring and genuine candidate, but nobody consulted me. With less in the bank, less polling support, and less outreach to former Harris donors and supporters, Castro is set to be left behind.
Tom Steyer: Steyer is truly incompetent. He is being badly out-organized by Bloomberg, a former Republican who is known for having a law-and-order policy that stood to the right of Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani [who is now Trump’s addled, embattled lawyer]. Steyer’s top asset is a bunch of expensive internet ads that he ran 12 months ago, and the fact that he somehow made the December debate. Because he can self-fund his campaign, Steyer has no incentive to drop out at any point. Billionaire Bloomberg and multi-millionaire Former Representative John Delaney (MD) also fall into this self-funding category, with all the time and money in the world to stay in the race.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI): I hate to bring gender into this [but frankly, the Democrats have already done that, whether I like it or not]. Nevertheless, I have to say: Gabbard is a walking, talking incarnation of the William Congreve quote, “Hell [has no] Fury like a woman scorn’d.”
This week, Gabbard moved to New Hampshire to quarterback her operation there, though she maintains her residence in Hawaii. She’s calling for a people’s party to replace the current Democratic Party. She’s skipping the December debate (which she didn’t qualify for anyway). She’s trying to pull out of Syria. There’s a power about her right now.
Still, Gabbard is cursed for her opposition to the DNC in 2016. Even now, the mainstream media is gearing up to accuse Gabbard of colluding with Russia because of her apparently unusual internet reach. It’s just beginning.
The Curious Case of Hillary Clinton: On that subject, let’s talk about some mainstream reporting that came out this week on the topic of Clinton. Harvard-Harris published a poll that included Clinton as a candidate. Why? I have no idea.
This poll (though who knows how many unfavorable polls may have been run and then buried before arriving at this result) showed Clinton winning within the margin of error – statistically tied with Biden, with Sanders behind them at 12% and Warren at 9%. That result is absolutely laughable, since we know the progressive wing to be larger than 21% of the party. This implies that Sanders and Warren’s bases would shed more than a third of their members (their polling averages add up to roughly 33% at the moment) to Clinton.
No less than Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon had a plausible explanation: Clinton is waiting to enter the race late and “save us” from whoever is leading at that time. It sure does look like that, since there are clearly moves being made behind the scenes to facilitate a potential Clinton 2020 campaign. It might also explain the Three Musketeers strategy between Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg.
Senator Michael Bennet (CO): This week, Bennet mustered some wonderfully tepid criticism of Buttigieg, telling Fox News “I think I’m far more experienced than he is.”
Bennet is putting all his effort into New Hampshire, trying to establish himself as a top- or middle-tier candidate when the dust has cleared. Good luck with that, I guess. Maybe that gives us an expiration date for his campaign.
Former Representative John Delaney (MD): As I said earlier: with a net worth of $200+ million, Delaney can fund his campaign almost as endlessly as Bloomberg or Steyer. That’s why he’s comfortable calling for a junior varsity debate between the candidates excluded from the debate. He needs any excuse to lengthen his campaign at this point, whereas others will have to face the financial facts eventually.
Marianne Williamson: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. First, Williamson wrongly claimed that Trump had posthumously pardoned Charles Manson. Then, she claimed that some guy Jim Turner was advising her on vaccines. [Williamson is essentially anti-vaccine.] Williamson was humiliated when Turner subsequently told the press he is not a doctor, and that he neither works for the campaign nor officially advises it.
To top it all off, she has begun to tell audiences that she may drop out before Iowa. It was fun while it lasted.
Former Governor Deval Patrick (MA): Is he still running? I have no idea. Just kidding: yes, he is. But that’s pretty much all there is to say about it. He’s still here.
Incumbent President Donald Trump (FL): Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) officially endorsing articles of impeachment this week, Trump’s doing fine – in the primary. In the general, the results are mixed, but generally negative. On Tuesday, an Emerson College poll showed Trump leading the top Democratic candidates in Iowa. However, a Quinnipiac poll released the same day showed Trump losing nationally to each one of those Democrats.
The GOP continues to move to suspend the primary elections, and a South Carolina judge approved one such cancellation this week. Florida also closed its primaries to independents, restricting the turnout of new voters who might be drawn to vote against Trump.
Trump is now preparing to apply this logic to the general election, as he considers skipping the general election debates. Trump’s third-rate strongman routine is really ramping up now. We’ll see if that lands him another four years, or if it cuts his term short somehow.
Former Governor Bill Weld (MA): Weld is now tied with Former Representative Joe Walsh (IN) at around 2.5% in the polls to Trump’s 85.5%. While that may sound hopeless, it represents an improvement for Weld [and Walsh], and a slight recession for Trump. Weld also secured ballot access in his home state of Massachusetts on Thursday, without which he couldn’t possibly compete.
In a big slight, this week, the North Carolina Republican Party excluded Weld and Walsh from the ballot. The party claims that Weld and Walsh do not meet the standard for being included, implying that they are not “generally advocated and recognized in the news media throughout the United States or in North Carolina.” Considering that I have documented two weeks worth of Bill Weld news media, it is clear that Weld does in fact meet that qualification. With Walsh being a radio host, he meets it, too.
Former Representative Joe Walsh (IL): As the election wears on, Walsh is only being vetted more and more, and the results aren’t pretty. He will likely remain marginalized. It’s hard to imagine him even improving in the polls, since his brand is toxic and he has no base.
Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente: De la Fuente is wild. The man apparently ran for Senate in nine different states in 2018. Yes, all of them. And while de la Fuente is running for President in 2020, he is also running for the House seat in California’s 21st Congressional District. And so is his son, a Democrat. And neither of them lives in California.
The Curious Case of Former Ambassador Nikki Haley (SC): Mitt got bumped from this slot this week. It’s time to talk about Haley. Haley has a complex relationship with Trump, which went from outright opposition in 2016 to vigorous support today. If you look at the trajectory of Republican Trump critics, it usually ends in retirement. So while we can’t know what Haley is planning, it sure looks like she is cozying up to Trump in order to build support. Support for what? A presidential run, of course.
Haley could be preparing to challenge Trump or, far more likely, is preparing to campaign in case of Trump’s departure from office. Supporting Trump during the beginning of the campaign wouldn’t actually make sense if Haley intended to enter the race and oppose him in the end. Unifying Trump’s base with mainstream Republicans is only possible in an election without Trump on the ballot.
This week, Haley was attacked by pretty much everybody for comments she made about the Confederate flag. When she said people viewed the flag as a positive symbol, outlets reported it as if Haley said she viewed it that way. The subsequent corrections to the record were tepid, and Haley will probably struggle to generate enough publicity to put this issue behind her.
Yet, still… it looks an awful lot like a presidential campaign, doesn’t it?
[Updated 12/13/2019 to include Republicans]
 Critics point out that technically, Lichtman predicted a Gore win in 2000. Their reasoning is that it’s close enough, because Gore won the popular vote. However, this actually doesn’t matter, because Lichtman was correct no matter what. Mathematically speaking, Gore also would have won the Electoral College – if he continued to contest the results in Florida. Sure, Lichtman’s model couldn’t predict Gore conceding. The model was nevertheless correct to predict that in a vacuum, Gore would win both the popular vote and the Electoral College.
Others also argue that it was a technicality when Lichtman correctly predicted Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, since Trump did not win the popular vote. However, unlike Bush in 2000, Trump handily won the Electoral College. This may sound like a double standard, but in both cases, Lichtman’s model correctly predicted the Electoral College result that would be implied by the popular vote itself. The human factor merely overrode the numbers in 2000.
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 It’s not clear from the original source whether Yang actually said this himself. The headline implies that he did, but the quote does not appear in the article. It’s possible that Yang said the quote to the reporter, with the quote omitted from the body of the article for some reason. Grain of salt.