12/27/19: State of the Race, pt. 5

Photo (ABOVE): DonkeyHotey / Flickr

Written by Ben Szioli

Since last week’s debate, the three Democratic frontrunners have remained steady in the polls, while fourth-place South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN) recedes under pressure from Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) to his left (the wine cave controversy) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN) to his right (during the debate). This in turn has benefited Senator Klobuchar as well as, to a lesser degree, Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. Former Mayor Bloomberg, Klobuchar and Andrew Yang are now headed toward the 5% mark and beyond, while Mayor Pete is falling downward from 8%. It remains to be seen whether any of these candidates will trade places in the polls.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF JIM CRAMER

Do we all know Cramer? Do we all remember Cramer? Mad Money Cramer? The man has run a TV program about finance for almost fifteen years now, dishing angry advice on the market. Cramer has always delighted in bucking expectations, arguing against popular stocks or suggesting investments counter to traditional wisdom. So when Cramer hosted Senator Warren on his show in late January 2019, it was the beginning of a love-hate relationship between the market guru and Warren, a market regulator. They sparred over policy that affects shareholders and discussed ways to address corruption. Then, the race went quiet for months.

This month, Cramer has jumped into action, “criticizing” Warren several times for her unfriendliness toward the market. I use shock quotes, because, well, his criticisms are pretty constructive; and he all but admits that he’d like to see Warren win the nomination.

I believe Mr. Cramer sees the writing on the wall, and now knows that Trump is the wrong candidate for investors. This leaves Cramer, an iconoclast, looking to unconventional sources for a candidate who can win both the nomination and the general election. Warren’s tough reputation aside, her policies are a gift to investors, who will be able to say that they cleaned up their act under a President Warren. Cramer must know this. That would allow shareholders to justify continued profits with less scrutiny. In other words, Warren would give Wall Street a slap on the wrist in exchange for getting them off the hook with angry Americans. It’s no surprise that a clever market expert would support Warren; she would be good for profits.

THE KEYS TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Remember the segment The Keys to the White House from State of the Race, pt. 3? It’s come back into play this week. In the Republican primary, second-place Former Governor Bill Weld (MA) has secured a position at the top of his home state’s ballot. This is important because it’s an advantage, however slight, for Former Governor Weld in a state that would be vital for him to win if he wanted to argue for his campaign’s viability. With the exception of Former President Richard Nixon (who in 1978 lost California to a fellow Californian, Former President Ronald Reagan), no major party candidate has lost their home primary but still won the nomination.

If Weld were to win his home state, that would likely affect Key to the White House #2: a competitive primary. As discussed back in Week 3, the Keys are currently just barely under the Republicans’ control. If Weld made this election into a real contest, Key #2 would go to the Democrats, and the balance of the election would shift in their favor – according to Dr. Allan Lichtman’s model, at least.


More on each candidate:

DEMOCRATS

Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE): Biden still sits at 27% in the national polling average and is starting to rise again, partly based on the continuing strength of his nationwide endorsements. His newest endorsement comes from Connecticut’s new governor (as of this year), Ned Lamont.

Beyond his consolidated party support, Biden has little to nothing going in his favor. Second-place Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) is also on the rise, clearing the middle of the field to emerge as a strong runner-up. Dying healthcare activist Ady Barkan, a supporter of Senator Sanders and an endorser of Senator Warren, criticized Biden for his role as the only 2020 Democrat candidate who has been unable to meet with Barkan to discuss healthcare policy. And Former President Barack Obama (HI)’s attack on old white men, no matter what Biden says, was directed at Biden as well as Sanders and others.

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Senator Bernie Sanders (VT): Bernie is sitting even at 18% in the polls, but the FiveThirtyEight polling average hasn’t been updated since Christmas Day, so it could change when new polls come in. A recent poll showed Sanders beating Trump more handily than Biden would. Perhaps this is the beginning of a media narrative that Bernie is heading into first place. Once it starts to look that way, the speculation machine will fire up, and people will predict his victory just so they can claim to be right later. Those predictions will influence polling respondents’ perceptions of the likely winner and change their polling patterns.

Sanders will likely approach Biden from below in the polling average until the point when it becomes legitimately neck-and-neck. If you compare this pattern to the polling peaks of Senator Kamala Harris (in July), Warren (in October), and Buttigieg (in December), you’ll see validating similarities. In all three of the previously mentioned cases, the candidate ascended into a near tie with the candidate ahead of them, and then tumbled back down when they failed to advance in the standings. Polling respondents didn’t buy the story that the candidate had moved ahead, so they responded to polls in a way that reflected that lack of confidence.

Warren’s polling curve shows the inverse: she tied Sanders in July and then moved solidly ahead of him when it became clear to voters and polling respondents that Warren had swapped spots with Sanders. Sanders, in turn, has just leap-frogged Warren in the same fashion, sending him upward for a possible confrontation with Biden.

Certain portions of the media are determined to stop Bernie, evidenced by CNN publishing an outdated poll (discussed below under Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro) showing that Bernie, who is in second place in Iowa, was in fourth place – weeks ago. And Wall Street Journal published this joke of an article, arguing that Iowa is a three-way tie between Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Warren. Warren sits in distant fourth place in Iowa currently (14%); with Klobuchar at an even more distant fifth (6%). The real three-way tie is between Buttigieg (20%), Biden (19%), and Sanders (18%). There’s little to say about that, besides that this is journalism so dishonest as to reflect nothing truthful about the world.

Shaking off the blackout campaign, Sanders raised more than $1 million on the day of the December debate, crushing his rivals. The energy is at an all-time peak. Sanders has the highest favorability rating of any candidate. Funny, though, how media outlets never list Sanders as leading the polls by himself. They always mention that he and the second-place candidate are leading together – as if Bernie’s first place is just as good as Biden’s second place.

Bernie also received an important endorsement from Michael Moore, the famed documentary filmmaker, who was mocked for more than ten years before the world collectively realized last year that he was completely right about almost everything, the entire time.

Finally, the Obama crew clarified that Former President Obama will support Bernie if he wins the nomination, contrary to anonymous reports circulated in previous weeks.

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Senator Liz Warren (MA): Warren’s polling average remains steady at 15%, but the fallout from her attacks on Buttigieg should come back to bite her soon. Her descent seems inevitable to continue, as her choices now are to attack and appear divisive, or to be attacked and appear doomed.

Politico revealed the depth of Warren’s establishment ties this week, publishing a report about the demands Warren made of Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (NY) in exchange for fealty and an endorsement in the 2016 campaign. Obama has also reportedly been supporting Warren in talks with Democratic donors. This makes sense, as Former President Obama has indicated from the start that he intends to support all Democrats, and he has clearly lived up to that with his recent clarification that he would support Sanders if nominated.

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South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN): Falling to 8%, Buttigieg has polled in the cellar this week; or rather, the wine cave. After promising on December 9th to open up his fundraisers, Buttigieg held a closed-door fundraiser at a “wine cave” on December 15th. This wasn’t publicized much until Warren called attention to it before the debate. Most people would call what Buttigieg did “blatantly lying,” but he’s youthful and spry, so he can get away with it – sort of. The polling effects are becoming a problem, and Buttigieg was burnt badly by Klobuchar’s attacks on his electability at the debate.

Attacking Warren for once fundraising at a wine vault shows that Buttigieg’s campaign misses the point of what was wrong about his actions. This is only compounded by the fact that Buttigieg was caught releasing a partial list of fundraising bundlers that omitted important party figures. And rather than substantially change his fundraising tactics, Buttigieg has continued to rake in Wall Street donations while running a contest to try to drag down his average donation size and obscure his campaign’s problems.

Buttigieg is offering some kind of prize to whoever makes the smallest unique donation to his campaign. The example given by his campaign? $1. Multiply that tiny outlier of a donation by however many thousand people will fall for this con, and Buttigieg can drag his average donation size way down, arguing that ordinary people have suddenly begun to support him. Buttigieg seems to think we are all stupid.

But hey, at least Kevin Costner endorsed him, right?

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Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (NY): Bloomberg is still being Bloomberg. His antics for the week include more ethically questionable journalism, more expensive ads, and prison labor! You can’t make this stuff up. A healthcare plan and an endorsement from Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (PA) aren’t helping Bloomberg overcome anything, although his polling has ticked upward.

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Andrew Yang: Yang continues to run a smooth, positive campaign. His favorability has spiked as a result. Yang touted his friendship with Senator Cory Booker (NJ) this week, discussed Vice Presidential possibilities, and agreed with Bernie on racial disparities in maternal mortality rates. These are smart moves to show that Yang is willing to play nice. It will help the party accept him, and it may land him an administration job for the next presidency, if not a chance to win the nomination.

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Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN): Klobuchar was probably the winner of the December debate. Her performance wasn’t mindblowing, but she managed to attack Buttigieg without appearing divisive, which is vital. Actual attacks don’t work. We saw that with Senator Kamala Harris (CA), with Former HUD Secretary Castro, and we are seeing it now with Buttigieg and Warren. By standing up for herself without standing against the party, Klobuchar established herself as a centrist contender in a lot of people’s minds.

Riding on that success, Klobuchar raised $800K immediately following the debate. She also announced a slough of female New Hampshire endorsements and a bus tour of Iowa. The lessons from Biden’s ridiculous “No Malarkey!” tour probably saved Klobuchar significant embarrassment: it’s easy to imagine a world where Klobuchar’s bus has some inane Midwestern slogan scrawled on the side.

She also addressed impeachment, indicating that the proceedings are unlikely to keep her out of the race. Klobuchar is ready to step up to the next tier. But are polling respondents willing to put her there?

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Senator Cory Booker (NJ): Following Buttigieg’s lead, Booker released his own list of bundlers, although he included only larger bundlers of $50,000 or more, and like Buttigieg, he also used a jumbled URL slug to make the page less searchable online. Among the more positive names? NJ natives Jon Bon Jovi and Governor Phil Murphy.

Booker continues to fight President Donald Trump (FL), referring to himself as “a baller.” He has also continued to rally against the debate rules that are excluding him from the stage. However, Booker himself has run into an opponent: a primary challenger for his Senate seat. This raises the possibility that he will lose both his Senate seat and the presidential primary, and it could force him out of the race early to focus on saving his political career.

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Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI): Tulsi has gone off the deep end. After defending her “present” vote on impeachment as “an active protest against this […] zero-sum mindset that the two opposing parties have trapped our country in,” Gabbard joined Republicans in calling for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) to send the approved articles of impeachment to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) before Majority Leader McConnell has agreed to impartial trial procedures. Such a move would likely result in the articles being dismissed without consideration: a gross, partisan Constitutional violation.

This has led to praise from President Trump, and calls for Gabbard’s resignation from Former Governor Neil Abercrombie (HI). In light of Representative Jeff Van Drew (NJ)’s party switch in order to facilitate a “yes” vote on impeachment, it makes sense to call for Gabbard’s resignation from the party, if not from the seat to which her constituents believed they were electing a Democrat.

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Tom Steyer: Steyer has actually come roughly into a tie with Gabbard, benefiting from Buttigieg’s struggles. Steyer’s bizarre campaign (which began with him taking to the airwaves to call for an early impeachment) has continued to be bizarre. Rather than an ally or an adversary, Steyer suggested that our foreign policy treat China as a “frenemy.” And Steyer’s campaign was accused of data theft, which is more common than you’d think.

In positives, Steyer has captured an important aide from Senator Harris’s defunct campaign. He has also increased his staff in Iowa, a state where he needs to outperform Bloomberg to stand a chance at being the “top billionaire” in the race. Bloomberg is still not really contesting the early voting states.

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Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro (TX): Castro seems to be appealing to voters further left than he previously had appealed to. On December 22nd, he made an important move, chasing downtrodden Buttigieg to the left by criticizing his healthcare plan. Arguing that Buttigieg had promised Medicare For All and then flipped his position, Castro said this “raises a legitimate question of what is influencing him.”

Lots of people have been thinking this. But in a race that focuses around uniting a fractured party, no one has been willing to throw the first stone. Sanders talks about his plans and not his opponents. His opponents talk about each other, but not Sanders. Castro is making a move to break that detente and elevate a more progressive candidate. Perhaps Castro is just fighting for an ideological position in the race. Or perhaps, he is trying out for a nomination as Vice President if Sanders or Warren should decide against a female running mate.

The very next day, December 23rd, Castro tweeted in support of Sanders. CNN published an outdated poll showing Sanders in fourth place in Iowa, whereas current polls show Sanders in second place. Choruses of “Bernie Blackout” have become annoying, even though they are accurate. You can only bear to hear voters complain about unfairness for so long, even if they are right. It was refreshing to see Castro attack this issue objectively, with no particular love for Sanders; just honesty.

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Former Representative John Delaney (MD): John Delaney is fading into obscurity, but his massive pile of cash has buoyed his polling performance and allowed him to keep fighting despite the obvious reality that he will not win.

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Senator Michael Bennet (CO): Impeachment is dominating Bennet’s life now. While other candidates such as Warren and Sanders have indicated their desire to campaign amid the impeachment proceedings, Bennet seems to be eager to push his fellow Senators out of the race. This can’t be a winning strategy, since such pressure would clearly harm Bennet, Booker, and Klobuchar sooner than it would harm Sanders or Warren.

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Marianne Williamson: Nothing doing for Williamson this week. She’s come even with Bennet in the FiveThirtyEight polling average, but the margin of error is huge. Certainly, it is nowhere near sensitive enough to make meaningful distinctions between the performances of candidates who poll below 1%. All we can do is watch to see if someone breaks that 1% mark and moves into the same mid-tier range as Castro and others.

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Former Governor Deval Patrick (MA): Patrick has earned a surprise spot at the top of the Massachusetts Democratic primary ballot. Interestingly, while he tops the Democratic ballot, Former Governor Bill Weld (MA) tops the Republican ballot. The state of Massachusetts insists that the order was determined by a random drawing, despite two former state governors topping the bill.

While Former Governor Weld might benefit a bit from appearing first out of four names on the Republican ballot, Patrick is less likely to benefit. Patrick is polling dead last among the fifteen Democratic candidates, and there are lots of more famous names to choose from if a voter has a change of heart in the ballot box.

Like Weld, Patrick hopes to use New Hampshire to spring into a favorable position in his home state. However, with Patrick being a relatively obscure figure, he has few advantages in New England. He is also being outshined in his home region by Vermont’s Sanders and fellow Massachusettsian Warren.

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REPUBLICANS

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Incumbent President Donald Trump (FL): This week, Christianity Today, founded by Trump supporter Billy Graham, published an editorial calling for Trump’s removal from office. The hyper-conservative outlet National Review also published an editorial arguing (less forcefully) that Trump’s actions objectively qualify him for removal. However, the Republican primary hasn’t been polled in over a week, so there’s no telling how Trump’s polling has been affected by these developments.

All indications are that polling will remain positive for the President. Trump’s campaign actually prompted its supporters to follow the polls more closely in 2020, after Trump frequently derided polls as inaccurate in 2016.

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Former Governor Bill Weld (MA): Weld earned a victory in North Carolina, winning a spot on the ballot alongside Trump and Former Representative Joe Walsh (IL).

Weld reiterated his intent to focus on New Hampshire, where he plans to show that Trump can be hurt and even beaten, much like Spartan King Leonidas’s line from the historical action movie 300, “even a god-king can bleed.”

Weld would take his battle to Massachusetts, headhunting this time and not just looking for blood. With Weld appearing at the top of his ballot, he has the best possible chance of pulling this off. It remains to be seen if “the best possible” will even be remotely good.

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Former Representative Joe Walsh (IL): Joe Walsh keeps repeatedly shooting himself in the foot. This time, he’s spurned the Trump voter base by insisting that he “[does] want to hurt him,” referring to Trump. In a party that has ejected every Never Trumper that they could find, admitting to a desire to sabotage the party is an absolute loser of a strategy.

Still, when you are polling at 5% compared to your opponent at 85%, there aren’t going to be many variations, no matter what happens in the race. You’re looking at a guaranteed score of “a lot to a little.” So that being said, Walsh’s polling may not respond to any of these controversies and missteps. Regardless, it’s certain that he will not increase his vote share the way he is trying.

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Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente: de la Fuente has been quiet again this week, continuing his lawsuit to try to get onto the Minnesota ballot, and little else.

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The Curious Case of Former Ambassador Nikki Haley (SC): Haley was active again this week, eliminating any doubt that she is aiming to be the next Vice President. Backing up Former Energy Secretary Rick Perry (TX) (who claimed that Trump is “the chosen one”), Haley insisted that God sometimes places people like Trump in the world “for lessons and sometimes […] for change.”

This is a disturbing comment, considering that it comes during the same week that Haley discussed her relationship with Trump by saying, “You may not agree with his style, and I tell people that all the time: his style is not my style. But his results are my results. Those are the things we want.” In other words, Haley is cozying up to Trump’s results while claiming to fix his rough edges. This could be a perfect approach to earning the Vice Presidential nomination that slipped between Haley’s fingers in 2016, in light of her friction with Trump and his base. It also could be the perfect approach to a theocracy. Who knows?

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