Pre-Iowa: State of the Race, pt. 9

Photo (ABOVE): David Lacasse / Flickr

Pre-Iowa: State of the Race, pt. 9

Written by Ben Szioli

Sitting in the parking lot of Westmont train station Friday night – I kid you not – I watched a guy in a neon vest struggling to cut loose a red-tailed hawk that was somehow tied to the train platform, while a cop looked on in shock and disinterest. As I watched the bird flailing, I couldn’t help but think it made a great metaphor for Former Vice President Joe Biden‘s campaign. And before I could ask myself what exactly that even meant, a train went by and I remembered I had to go.

But it stuck with me. What a pitiful sight. I have no idea how the hawk got up there. Certainly nobody asked the hawk to go up there. It’s been beat to hell and someone needs to cut it loose, but that’s still a powerful animal. You don’t want to end up in his talons – or rather – its talons.

So what did the guy in the vest and the cop do? They let the hawk flap itself tired and then tried to cut it loose as it dangled there. And that’s what both Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign, as well as establishment candidates like Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN), intend to do to Former Vice President Biden on Monday during the Iowa caucuses.

The idea is that Biden’s high polling average may fail him, the same way that polling betrayed Former Governor Jeb Bush (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary. High polling numbers don’t help if what underlies them is mere name recognition. In the face of actual voter turnout considerations, Biden may fall short in Iowa. Every other candidate seeks to fill the void that he might leave in that case, and it’s not clear who is best poised to benefit.

And that brings us to our candidates:


CNN just can’t keep its hands totally clean. Under constant attack for serving as a near-official DNC mouthpiece, you’d think they would work hard to avoid the appearance of impropriety. And then they do things like decide at the final hour to cancel the most important Iowa poll, run by CNN and the Des Moines Register, as well as polling firm Selzer & Co.

According to CNN, a complaint about procedural irregularities was made by a representative of the Buttigieg campaign. This raises questions as to whether the Buttigieg campaign was privy to the result of the poll when they made the complaint, as well as whose idea it was to withhold the poll.

Allegedly, a polling firm worker had a system glitch and initially omitted Buttigieg’s name from the list of candidates, before re-reading the list with Buttigieg’s name included. Someone then made the incredibly specious decision to hold the result based on that irregularity, and it’s hard not to wonder if it was CNN rather than the polling firm that made the choice. Senator Sanders led the previous iteration of the same poll.

Procedural problems can cause a nightmare for data collection. However, it’s unusual to hold the result of a finished poll over a procedural concern, rather than adjusting the data to account for it or releasing the poll while noting the irregularity. It was a single botched interview, resulting ultimately in the respondent hearing the correct list of polling options. Two media outlets and one of the campaigns seem to have noteworthy roles in this poll being thrown out, rather than the polling firm, and that’s not good. One can only wonder what the result being hidden is, though it’s easy to guess why.

● ● ●


Former Vice President Joe Biden (DE): There’s been little change for Biden since the last State of the Race. His polling is holding steady as Sanders closes in from below.

Biden made a pretty big mistake in Iowa this week, shoving a Tom Steyer supporter at an event. Pressed about pipelines, Biden told the man to vote for a different candidate and pegged him as a Bernie supporter. It was a bizarre and arrogant incident, and one that won’t play well in Iowa.

Making one last messaging push before Iowa, Biden on Thursday criticized Sanders as not being a Democrat. That’s a really ridiculous thing to say, because while Sanders was elected as an independent, Vermont has no party affiliations, so Sanders could not possibly “be a registered Democrat” any more than he currently is. And Sanders has caucused with Democrats for decades, now holding a Senate leadership position for them as the Senate Outreach Chair, which would necessarily make him a Democrat.

This is yet another weak establishment attack that misses the reality of Bernie’s public image and is unlikely to succeed. People support Bernie precisely because he isn’t a typical Democrat. Criticizing Sanders on those grounds is merely a way for Biden to fall back on support he’d already secured, from people who never would have supported Sanders to begin with. Biden subsequently walked the comment back, but the damage was done.

● ● ●

Senator Bernie Sanders (VT): Sanders continues to climb this week. It seems as if his rise is reaching a peak, but with Iowa here, that doesn’t matter much to him. All bets are off after Monday.

Today, a South Carolina poll showed Sanders within 5 points of Biden (24%-19%, with Steyer earning a whopping 17% to take third place).

Bill Maher, of all people, said that he favors Bernie because only Bernie has a movement of motivated supporters behind him. That strikes me as true. While Biden has some passionate and vocal supporters, and he polls well based on name recognition, his ground game is nothing compared to Sanders’s.

And this week, a Sanders supporter-made video featuring a speech by rapper Killer Mike went viral. With diverse media figures behind him and a five-year-old campaign structure in place, Sanders has the energy to maximize turnout in the election and, more importantly from the Democrats’ perspective, to maximize turnout for the down-ballot House and Senate races.

● ● ●

Senator Liz Warren (MA): Criticism over Warren’s handling of the impeachment trial has begun this week, with whispers that the House Democrats’ case was undermined by a leading question she asked Justice John Roberts.

Warren’s embattled troubles don’t stop there. She currently polls below 15% in Iowa and New Hampshire, and if that result held, it would mean that Warren would enter Super Tuesday without a single delegate. It’s hard to see a campaign being viable in those circumstances, though strong national polling still makes Warren seem like a strong 3rd place candidate.

Shockingly, Maher, mentioned above, spoke some degree of sense on the topic of Warren’s proposed Secretary of Education nomination process, calling it “crazy stuff.” The “crazy stuff” he is referring to is that Warren, seriously, intends to have a nine-year-old trans child vet her choice.

This is a five-headed hydra of a bad idea: it combines all the downsides of 1) having a single trans person vet the nominee instead of a representative group, 2) having a child vet the nominee, 3) putting off weird game-show vibes like many of Warren’s other messaging campaigns, 4) putting off weird nepotistic vibes – political access for people in Warren’s personal circle – that plague Washington in general, and 5) handing ammunition – nay, ordnance – to Republican spin doctors who want to paint the Democrats as radical morons.

It also, going along with Warren’s tokenization of young girls (which I discussed in an early editorial criticizing Warren), reflects a tokenization of gender in general. Warren has made gender a focus of her campaign, but it’s an individualistic, non-intersectional focus on gender.

Warren still doesn’t get the way her gender-heavy campaign is actually alienating to trans and non-binary people. She still doesn’t actually acknowledge non-binary people as she continually focuses on cis women as the heart of gender issues. Support to trans women is given performatively. Liz still ain’t it.

● ● ●

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg (NY): Bloomberg’s high national polling will soon cease to matter. He is underperforming his national polling average in all four of the early states. Only in South Carolina does he even break 5%. Those four big losses should erode any serious support Bloomberg has before Super Tuesday. With all his eggs in one basket, Bloomberg needs to come up big on Super Tuesday. Falling short would likely spell the end of his campaign, as his national polling seems to already have hit a peak and four losses between then and now are unlikely to help.

Bloomberg is also being dragged out into the daylight by the Democrats, who have removed the donor threshold requirement to make the debates. This means that Bloomberg will likely qualify for the February debate, putting him in the position of either admitting he doesn’t want to debate or attending a debate that he was purposely avoiding. Either of those outcomes will harm his position in the race, particularly his polling.

The Sanders campaign spoke out against this debate change, calling it an attempt to “buy” the nomination. I’m not sure that I see it that way. Being called out on the debate stage would only hurt Bloomberg. He’s hiding behind some really well-made ads right now; running a campaign that basically doesn’t address its own candidate. Every other candidate in the race should look at this as a good thing, since Bloomberg, the outsider self-funding his own escapades, currently has no accountability.

The timing of the debate, shortly before Nevada and South Carolina, where Bloomberg is poised to perform the highest, does raise some concerns that it could boost Bloomberg at just the right time, or rather, just the wrong one.

Stil, the most likely scenario I can see, assuming Bloomberg qualifies for the debate based on polling, is that Bloomberg will enter the February debate wounded and be dominated by the frontrunners, sending him back to Earth.

● ● ●

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (IN): Buttigieg’s chances of picking up delegates in Iowa and New Hampshire are fading quickly, and his chances of picking up delegates in Nevada and South Carolina are gone. A poor showing in Iowa, in particular, would spell the end of Buttigieg’s viability as a candidate. In fact, Buttigieg pretty much needs to pull off a surprise win in Iowa, or at least place higher than Biden, in order to have a real chance to win the nomination.

Buttigieg’s campaign, as mentioned above, had a fishy role in the withholding of the final Iowa Poll from CNN. Surely it doesn’t go up much higher than the Iowa state campaign. It’s hard to complain, without a specific accountable person to blame. The board is tilted, but we just have to acknowledge the tilt and move on.

● ● ●

Andrew Yang (NY): Yang is polling strong at 4% right now, but he also isn’t polling any higher than 4% in any of the first four primary contests. That means that Yang is officially out of momentum, with no chance to pick up delegates, and therefore no way to win over significant numbers of new supporters. If he’s acting rationally, Yang will drop out after a no-show in Iowa, but with his diehard support base, he could also keep running as long as he wants.

However, with an eye on the exit, Yang has begun to warm up to Sanders, suggesting again that Yang supporters might be favorable to Sanders.

● ● ●

Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN): Klobuchar spoke out in the face of the public’s negative reaction to a purported Iowa voter-sharing pact between her and Biden. Klobuchar insists that no such pact exists, and I believe her. The idea stinks of the sort of rumors that occur when armchair spectators begin to play politics like it’s a sport. I suspect that her supporters, and more so Biden’s, merely wish they could make such a pact come into being.

Klobuchar is heading into Iowa pretty strong, surging to more than 10% in the polls. This isn’t good enough to earn delegates for certain, but it puts Klobuchar in striking distance, should she pull off a surprise. If saying that you are a Midwesterner has any benefit whatsoever in Iowa, then Klobuchar has unquestionably claimed that benefit. A good showing in Iowa could keep Klobuchar in the race, but a shortfall there could also push her out.

Klobuchar faces calls to exit the race already, over a botched case she worked as a district attorney. As in many mishandled trials, Klobuchar’s office was eager to secure a conviction in a murder case. In their zeal, they convicted a man who, according to the perpetrators, wasn’t even present.

The family of the man, Myon Burrell, is now calling for Klobuchar to drop out. Klobuchar’s campaign is trying to smile it away, suggesting that a new trial be held if the family has new evidence. I doubt this will end Klobuchar’s campaign outright, but it joins a lot of baggage that will weigh her down post-Iowa.

● ● ●

Tom Steyer (CA): Steyer is polling in fourth place in both Nevada and South Carolina, giving him a reason to stay in the race at least until Super Tuesday, or shortly before it. His chances in South Carolina are bolstered by an important black women’s group endorsement and a new poll showing a delegate-worthy 17% support level in the state.

In Iowa, though, Steyer is poised to earn less than 5% of the raw vote and therefore doesn’t have the faintest chance of collecting delegates. Super Tuesday then brings Steyer’s home state of California, where his polling is nearly subterranean. A loss in California should send Steyer packing, if he’s still in the race by then.

● ● ●

The Curious Case of Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (NY): The truth finally rears its hideous head: Clinton is angling for a Vice Presidential nomination. I don’t know if this is anything besides a power trip, but it raises the frightening possibility that former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon was right back in Week Three when he predicted that Hillary would step in to “save the Democratic Party” from Bloomberg or Biden.

I don’t know precisely what Bannon meant by that, but it seems as if he was in the right church but the wrong pew, so to speak. Clinton isn’t going to jump into the race to beat Bloomberg or Biden and “save the party”; she’s going to jump into the race to join Bloomberg or Biden and “save the party.”

And right on cue, Clinton came out against Sanders, criticizing him for not doing enough to support Democrats in 2016. In truth, he held more than 100 events in support of Clinton, built a network of activists to aid in down-ballot elections, and literally nominated Clinton for President at the Democratic National Convention. This attack by Clinton is, unsurprisingly, coming right as Biden begins to accuse Sanders of not being a Democrat, as mentioned above.

So far this election, though, Clinton’s magic seems to be gone. When she spoke out in past years, her words became central party talking points. Those incantations have now been turned into the talk-show musings of a former politician. This may spell toil and trouble for Clinton’s kingmaking fantasy, and it calls into question whether she can conjure up any support in the coming weeks.

An interesting side note is that Clinton had been laying low to avoid being served with a lawsuit by Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI). That’s a bad sign, since it would seem to indicate that Clinton is worried about the lawsuit, which would mean she fears it has merit. Her lawyer did finally accept the lawsuit, but she’s already shown her hand.

● ● ●

Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI): Gabbard is polling at sixth place in New Hampshire, just below Klobuchar, which will keep her running, for now. I remain concerned about the declining value of the endorsement that will come when Gabbard does drop out, but objectively speaking, Gabbard is justified to stay in the race.

CNN, which has brutalized the truth so far in the campaign, stooped even lower on Thursday. Well, let’s back up. Last week, CNN announced a series of New Hampshire town halls, which omitted Gabbard without explanation. This Thursday, CNN edited the announcement to clarify how the invitations were awarded: they were sent to debate-qualified candidates. However, they also announced that Former Governor Deval Patrick (MA), literally the dead-last candidate in the entire primary, would get a town hall “as part of the network’s commitment to hosting individual town halls with the Democratic presidential candidates.”

This is a sad day for journalism. The fact that CNN is hosting Former Governor Patrick, the lowest-polling but perhaps most establishment-friendly candidate in the entire race, for a nationally televised town hall is absurd; transparently so. It’s also concerning that the network is offering an explanation which doesn’t actually explain the problem. If CNN has a commitment to hosting individual town halls, then it should award town halls to the people who just barely didn’t qualify for the debates, which would be who? Tulsi Gabbard.

There’s just no explanation for why CNN would defy reason and logic by choosing Patrick over Gabbard or Senator Michael Bennet (CO), except for meddling in favor of a well-connected candidate. And meddling, so far in this primary, has not worked.

● ● ●

Senator Michael Bennet (CO): With the impeachment trial effectively over, Bennet can return to full-time campaigning alongside his fellow senatorial presidential candidates. His past statements indicate that he will remain in the race until New Hampshire has come and gone, which makes no sense. He is actually literally polling in dead last in New Hampshire. While the Colorado liberal’s policies may be palatable to equally-liberal New Englanders, it clearly isn’t adding up to support for Bennet. And now CNN has snubbed him for a town hall in the state, as well.

● ● ●

Former Representative John Delaney (MD): In a way, it’s not possible to be surprised by a candidate dropping out when they are polling at nearly 0%. Still, with the personal wealth that Delaney has, it seems early for him to quit. Delaney’s exit from the race could be part of a coordinated effort to deal with Bloomberg’s intrusion into the race (by freeing up Delaney people to support Biden and Buttigieg). Or it could just be Delaney reading the writing on the wall. Farewell to the Billy Blanks of the 2020 primary.

● ● ●

Former Governor Deval Patrick (MA): As mentioned above, CNN made an exception this week to allow Patrick to do a New Hampshire town hall event ahead of the primary there, as mentioned above. This is one final boost to see whether Patrick will be taken seriously by more than 1% of the population in time for the vote.

Like Bennet, Patrick is almost assured to stay in the race until shortly after New Hampshire, at which point, I assume he will drop out. He could hang around until Massachusetts, but there isn’t a straightforward reason why he would do that, besides that he has a lot riding on his home state if he wants this campaign to be anything more than a waste of time.


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