Hello, dear readers, and happy November, easily one of my 12 favorite months of the year. As it’s the first Monday of the month, it’s time for another edition of my Power Rankings for the 2020 Democratic Primary.
You might recall October’s “spooky” Power Rankings theme, where I identified what each campaign was scared of. Novembers, however, are for gratitude. We have Election Day (when we should be thankful for living in a democratic nation), Veterans Day (when we should be thankful for those who serve in uniform), and, of course, Thanksgiving (when we should be thankful for Native Americans meeting the Pilgrims… not Christopher Columbus!). Therefore, this month’s theme will be what each campaign should be grateful for.
The biggest date on this month’s calendar is the fifth Democratic debate, scheduled for November 20 in Atlanta. As of now, nine candidates have met the debates qualification threshold of the requisite donors (160,000) and either four national and/or early state polls of three percent or two early state polls of five percent: Warren, Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Harris, Yang, Booker, Steyer, and Klobuchar.
Remaining candidates have until November 13 — next Wednesday — to nose their way in, though only Tulsi Gabbard is a threat to do so, and I suspect she will. Considering all candidates that have missed debates become non-factors, it looks like we’ll have our final ten candidates by the holiday season.
We’ll also be monitoring the month’s polls to see who will qualify for the December debate, which has even tougher qualifying thresholds: four percent polling in four major national and/or early state polls or twice hitting six percent in an early state. Only five candidates have qualified for it (the top five from the above chart). After them, it’s an uphill climb for the other five. Yang, Steyer, Klobuchar, Booker, and Gabbard each have decent shots at qualifying, though all of them qualifying is unlikely. It appears the DNC really wants to get this down to six to eight viable candidates by Iowa.
All right, let’s get to November’s “Thankful” Power Rankings.
The candidates’ October ranking will be in parentheses, and here’s a reminder of this cycle’s planetary “tiers” theme.)
Tier 7: Ejected from Solar Orbit
Beto O’Rourke (6): In my first draft of this piece, written on Thursday, I had O’Rourke down to number 8. On Friday, perhaps anticipating PPFA’s demotion, Beto O’Rourke dropped out of the Democratic Primary.
He became the first of my top eight “major” planets to do so. He had earned only two of the four qualifying polls necessary to make the fifth debate, and his polls continued to trend further down. The latest poll out of Iowa had him at zero percent. He chose not do drag out the process like so many in Tier 4 and 5 have.
I have a quadrennial tradition in my presidential political punditry: I dramatically overrate one person and dramatically underrate another. (In the summer of 2015, for example, I thought Jeb Bush was a favorite for the nomination, and I discounted Trump right up until the end of the year.) So far in 2019, I’ve had two huge misses: I initially thought Pete Buttigieg was a “dwarf planet,” and I once considered Beto O’Rourke, get this, the second most likely nominee. So bad. It didn’t take long, however, for me to see him as all bluster and no substance. He was a really bad candidate.
What’s he thankful for? That Ted Cruz was his Senate opponent in 2018. I’m not sure Democrats would have rallied to him otherwise.
Tier 6: Small Solar System Bodies
17. Wayne Messam (19): Messam’s meteoric rise continues! And by meteoric I mean he can’t survive in our atmosphere and will burn up into nothing.
What’s he thankful for? Whomever sent him the five dollars he raised in the third quarter. (“Computer glitch.” Suuuuuure.)
TIER 5: Unknown Dwarf Planets
16. Marianne Williamson (18)
15. John Delaney (17)
14. Joe Sestak (15)
13. Steve Bullock (14)
12. Michael Bennett (13)
No, I will not force you to read even 50 words on these candidates. What’re they thankful for? That I even take the time to still include them in Power Rankings.
11. Julian Castro (12): I’ve relegated Castro to Tier 5. He won’t qualify for this month’s debate and his funds will dry up, so I’d guess his candidacy is in its last days. What’s he thankful for? That the debate qualifying thresholds stayed so low for as long as they did! He certainly has a raised profile now and is a top-five contender for the VP spot.
Tier 4: Known Dwarf Planets
10. Tulsi Gabbard (11): Though Hillary Clinton was out of line when she implied Gabbard was influenced by the Russians, she’s not wrong in that Russian cyber experts are working on propping up Gabbard’s campaign much in the way they did Trump’s four years ago. It makes sense — Russia sees an advantage in the Trump/Gabbard foreign policy of American withdrawal. Though that doesn’t mean Gabbard can’t come to this foreign policy on her own rather than being controlled by Russians, Clinton did draw attention to Gabbard being the most well-received Democrat among far-right individuals. Though her unorthodox positions should play well in New Hampshire, where independents can vote in either party’s primary, it should doom Gabbard’s chances for the nomination. (I’ve also speculated that she’s positioning herself for a third party run. Though she denied the possibility, the fact that she’s not even running for re-election in Hawaii makes me think she could at least be bolting from the party soon.)
What’s she thankful for? (Checks notes…) Sean Hannity?! He and other Republicans have warmed to Gabbard as she throws grenades at the Democratic establishment. That actually has positively affected Gabbard’s polling, since New Hampshire is not the only state that holds open primaries. With Trump being a shoe-in Republican nominee, many Republicans intend to vote in the more competitive Democratic Primary, and these Republicans like the Democrat who disses Hillary Clinton and says Republican things, like resisting Trump’s impeachment by using debunked Republican talking points. (Gabbard ultimately voted to advance impeachment anyway, much to the denial of Ann Coulter.) New Hampshire is one such state that holds an open primary, and it’s there that she just hit five percent in a poll. The survey showed that only 23% of Democrats have a favorable impression of her, while 59% of Republicans do. Think about how unusual that is for a Democrat. Their support is reflected in her five percent number.
9. Tom Steyer (9): I still doubt a billionaire can be viable in the modern Democratic Party, but Steyer will continue to throw gobs of money at early state ads, so he should qualify for most debates here on out. Still, nationally he’s barely registering in polling. What’s he thankful for? That money can buy loyalty. USA! USA!
8. Andrew Yang (10): Yang’s slow climb continues! I’m still skeptical that his Universal Basic Income platform and inexperience can win over a majority of 2020 Democrats, but I will say he impressed me in the fourth debate. He’s an inexperienced politician, yet only Buttigieg and Klobuchar have shown the kind of articulate toughness toward Warren that Yang did. (Seriously, this was strong.) Others have been too scared to stand up to her (most of the field), or they’re bad at it (Biden, Delaney), or they flat out refuse to do so (Sanders). Yang took her on nicely. What’s he thankful for? As always: the #YangGang.
Tier 3: The Rocky Major Planets
7. Cory Booker (8): He rises due to O’Rourke being so bad at this. Booker is, of course, really good at this, but only if you measure “good” in potential and not in actual polling. Most things that I read reflect that activists and voters like Booker and wonder why he’s not doing better, but few of these activists and voters pick him as their top candidate.
Booker doesn’t have a single qualifying poll for the sixth Democratic debate, nor has he even met the donor threshold. (Seven candidates have surpassed the 200,000 donors threshold, but as of a week ago Booker checked in at 178,000.) I’ve said it before: we haven’t seen one candidate stay relevant after not qualifying for a debate. Even with all of Booker’s charisma, it’s hard to see him surviving that trend. It’s too bad, too. The more I close my eyes and picture each of these candidates on a stage with Donald Trump, the more I think Booker acquits best. What’s he thankful for? Love, family, community, and everything else on God’s beautiful Earth. (At least, that’s how I imagine he’s answer that question.)
6. Amy Klobuchar (7): From time to time, I’m prone to wishful thinking and perhaps finding and projecting patterns when there are none. This is probably one of those times. Klobuchar’s numbers since the fourth debate are trending up. Indeed, I went from being bummed she wouldn’t make the fifth debate, back when she had only one qualifying poll for it, to happy that within a week she qualified thanks to three consecutive qualifying polls. She has since tacked on three more for good measure and is even three-quarters of the way to the December debate after pulling down a five percent in an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll yesterday, good enough for fifth overall. She had gone three months without one national poll at three percent, but she’s cleared it four times in the last couple weeks. Meanwhile, she’s risen to fifth in Iowa, and the latest New Hampshire poll had her at five percent, tied with Yang (and above Kamala Harris) for fifth place.
It’s not exactly Klobamania, but she’s finally headed in the right directions. Whether that momentum builds into Tier 2 status remains to be seen — that’ll likely need a top three in Iowa. What’s she thankful for? That the long-awaited surge from PPFA’s quasi-endorsement of her campaign has finally kicked in.
5. Kamala Harris (5): I was torn on whether to relegate Harris to Tier 3. On the one hand, if we look at December debate numbers, she’s part of the group of five that’s already qualified, which feels Tier Two-ey:
For that reason, my first draft of today’s rankings had her Tier 2. On the other hand, news broke over the weekend that she’s cutting staff, practically withdrawing from New Hampshire, and “hemorrhaging cash.” Yikes. That sounds rocky to me.
Nationally, she’s polling a clear fifth — a few points behind the top four candidates, but a couple points ahead of those behind her. In early states, she now hears the footsteps of Klobuchar, Yang, Steyer, and Gabbard. She’s now going all-in on Iowa, which is probably the right strategy to give her a puncher’s chance of gaining momentum, but that also means anything out of the top three or four there officially kills her candidacy.
All considered, she should probably be a tier of her own, like a 2b or something. (Hmmm… 2b or not 2b…)
What it is she thankful for? That she doesn’t have to read my puns. Regardless, no 2b for her. Welcome to Tier 3, Senator.
After 1800 words, I’ll let you get back to your Mondays and keep the top two tiers for tomorrow. There’s a change, so don’t miss it.