Yesterday, with Part 1, I counted down the following 19 candidates across four tiers, offering advice to each of their campaigns in the process. (May’s ranking in parentheses)
Tier 5: Small Solar System Bodies
24. Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska (previously unranked)
23. Wayne Messam (21)
Tier 4: Unknown Dwarf Planets
22. John Delaney (19)
21. Marianne Williamson (20)
20. Seth Moulton (18)
19. Michael Bennet (15)
18. Steve Bullock (unranked)
17. Eric Swalwell (17)
16. Tim Ryan (16)
Tier 3: Known Dwarf Planets
15. Tulsi Gabbard (14)
14. Bill de Blasio (unranked)
13. Julian Castro (13)
12. John Hickenlooper (9)
11. Kirsten Gillibrand (10)
10. Andrew Yang (11)
9. Jay Inslee (12)
Tier 2: Major Planets (Rocky)
8. Cory Booker (8)
7. Amy Klobuchar (7)
6. Pete Buttigieg (6)
And now… June’s top tier!
Tier 1: Major Planets (Gas Giants)
5. Kamala Harris (4): I’ve asserted that a schedule change for 2020 is one of her greatest assets: California’s move from a late primary date to Super Tuesday can help its junior Senator win a huge haul and be among the early delegate leaders — if not the outright leader — on Super Wednesday Morning.
However, on balance, the schedule might actually work against her. Her best early state, South Carolina, goes fourth. With Iowa and New Hampshire falling in love with Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, and eventually others (O’Rourke, Klobuchar, and Hickenlooper are contenders), will there be no room for Harris? It might be tempting, therefore, to think Harris should follow the playbook I advocated for Cory Booker: stay national this summer but pivot to South Carolina this fall if it’s not working. However, unlike Booker, who has considerably lower expectations in the early states, Harris classifies among the favorites — moderately by the polls, among which she’s third or fourth, and certainly by the oddsmakers, among whom she was once the favorite and still runs top three. If she focuses too much on South Carolina, she runs the risk of three flame-outs in preceding Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. These lower-than-expected results have doomed stronger campaigns than hers. I think her South Carolina support would crumble as a result, and then she’ll be a wobbly candidate heading into Super Tuesday and probably lose her home state (where she has yet to outright lead a poll that included Joe Biden). She needs to push hard in Iowa then do the same in New Hampshire. It’s still a party that, demographically, is dying for her to be the nominee. Now she has to deliver.
4. Elizabeth Warren (5): If anecdotal evidence is worth anything, in my many prying conversations with Democratic voters over the last month, Elizabeth Warren is the most common name I hear first out of their mouths. Her rise in the polls matches what I’m hearing. (After living in the mid-single digits and fifth place for much of 2019, she has since moved to around 10 points and third place.) My advice: she’s running the right campaign. Policy policy policy. I still think she and Sanders cap each other’s upside and are inadvertently denying each other early state success and the nomination, but if one falls apart, the other would be a clear top-two candidate nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire — and perhaps top one.
3. Bernie Sanders (3): Slow and steady wins the race? Maybe. His campaign continues to rely on three premises:
- Biden’s support must return to earth as modern Democratic voters reckon with his record from decades past.
- In a crowded, divided field, the candidate with a rock solid base can win with just a plurality of support, a la Trump in 2016.
- Also like Trump in 2016, the mainstream lane of the party won’t be organized enough to rally around a mainstream candidate before it’s too late.
If those premises are accurate, Sanders’s continued support from 20ish percent of Democratic voters is all going according to plan. My advice is to pour every last cent into Iowa and New Hampshire, two winnable contests for him. I could never have imagined a candidate winning both Iowa and New Hampshire not going on to win the nomination. Though the factional Sanders Campaign could test that theory, hitting the exacta in the first two states is his best chance for consolidation around his candidacy.
Nonetheless, I happen to think it’s more likely that either A) a strong finish or two from lower ranked candidates will block one or both states; B) Biden maintains his leads; or C) Democrats who flee Biden’s collapsing campaign run into the arms of another candidate — perhaps Harris, perhaps Booker, perhaps Klobuchar, but my hunch leans toward…
2. Beto O’Rourke (2): I once wrote about O’Rourke’s potent, chameleonic campaign:
“He’s a liberal to some, but a moderate to others. He’s an idealist to those who want an idealist, but to a realist he’s a pragmatic Congressman with crossover appeal. People can project their own ideology onto his without much effort.”
In that way, he’s an Obama-esque candidate, and many of Biden’s supporters are with the former Vice President due to the Obama legacy (or for his ability to beat President Trump, which O’Rourke might have going for him as well). Regarding O’Rourke potential strategy, I noted the advantages of the above combined with his strong fundraising and unique appeal:
“He can wait until January then decide to focus on Iowa, where his retail charm can win the state; or New Hampshire, where he can use the state’s special rules of allowing independents to vote in either primary to appeal to crossover voters by brandishing his moderate voting record to show he’s not an ideologue (like John Kasich did); or Nevada, where he’s the leading southwestern candidate in the race; or he can choose to run up the margin in the massive Texas Primary held on Super Tuesday. Or, he could spread his resources across all of the above.”
Despite his current polling struggles, I stand by it all. He should grow stronger by voting time, and he can keep his options totally open for now by continuing one of the more grueling campaign schedules in the field. His situation affords him the ability to wait and see how things look in January before he starts to redistribute eggs to fewer baskets. I have no problem with his low poll numbers right now, which actually sets up a well-timed peak later. He’ll inherit a lot of Biden’s support if Biden’s numbers collapse. (And if they don’t collapse, it’s Biden’s nomination anyway.)
1. Joe Biden (1): He’s still the least unlikely nominee, and he should keep doing what he’s doing as a result: keep the schedule trim, minimize the opportunities for his famous gaffes, and make the election about denying President Trump four more years.
Still, he’s not an ironclad front-runner because, among other reasons, he might be old enough to remember when the ironclad was invented. I hope to have more on his front-runner status later this week. See you then.