November’s Thankful Power Rankings: Part II

Good morning, dear readers, and happy local Election Day!

Yesterday, I ranked most of the Democratic candidates in their quest for the 2020 nomination. They were ordered as follows:

Tier 6: Small Solar System Bodies

17. Wayne Messam

Tier 5: Unknown Dwarf Planets

16. Marianne Williamson
15. John Delaney
14. Joe Sestak
13. Steve Bullock
12. Michael Bennett
11. Julian Castro

Tier 4: Known Dwarf Planets

10. Tulsi Gabbard 
9. Tom Steyer
8. Andrew Yang

Tier 3: The Rocky Major Planets

7. Cory Booker
6. Amy Klobuchar
5. Kamala Harrs


Time for the top four! Remember, this month I’m not only ranking their likelihood at the nomination, but I’m also identifying what each candidate should be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Tier 2: The Ice Giants

4. Bernie Sanders (3): [braces for impact] Sorry, Berners! I know how you think everyone overlooks him. Though nationally his numbers show a clear third place and his fundraising is still tops in the field, there’s plenty to be worried about. Despite near universal name recognition, he has never shown an ability to grow his voter base. Here’s his national polling average, shown in blue, across all of 2019:

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Fifteen to twenty percent does not a nominee make. Candidates with lower polling at least still have a chance to be given a chance by voters who start paying attention this winter. Sanders, however, is a totally known commodity. He’s the most likely candidate to finish in the top three, but the fourth most likely to finish in the top one.

The numbers look even less inspiring in Iowa, the results of which will impact these national numbers. Here are polling averages in the Hawkeye State over the last seven months. As you look at them, consider that he won 49.6 percent of its vote four years ago.

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Not only has Sanders’s arrow generally been pointing down, but Pete Buttigieg — the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana — has now passed him. That’s right: Mayor Pete has led Senator Sanders in three of the last four Iowa polls (with Sanders leading Buttigieg just 19-18 in the other). Considering his stagnant national numbers, if Sanders finishes out of the top three in Iowa, it’s hard to see him remaining a strong contender in subsequent states, even on home turf in New Hampshire, where fellow progressive border-stater Warren, assuming she finishes above Sanders in Iowa, would be seen as a lot stronger.

What’s he thankful for? That few people care for PPFA’s analyses.

3. Pete Buttigieg (4): In March I had him ranked 9th. In May he was ranked 6th, where he remained until October, when he then made a move to 4th. And now… 3rd. For the record, that’s really similar to the path Donald Trump had in my Power Rankings four years ago.

Those Iowa numbers speak for themselves. He’s not only moved past Sanders, he’s moved past Joe Biden into second. The state has warmed to Mayor Pete. I’d actually slot him as a favorite to finish over Biden in Iowa, and Warren might have her hands full to hold him off for first. I also think Tim Ryan and Beto O’Rourke’s combined three of four percent are most likely to go to Buttigieg; the three of them competed for the under-50, white, Midwest, male moderate lane, but only one remains.

Assuming a top two in Iowa, it’d then be off to New Hampshire, where’s he’s a distant yet solid fourth, a nice spot to avoid taking fire while also primed for a rise into the top three if he finishes better than expected in Iowa. Two strong results to kick off the primaries should pay off huge in subsequent states as other candidates drop out or lose support. Will it be enough to convince a skeptical African American demographic, which has determined the recent Democratic nominees? It’s hard to say for sure, but winning can cure many ills.

What’s he thankful for? That the primary begins with two super white states. I really don’t know how much longer a party that’s nearly 40 percent minority can tolerate white states disproportionally controlling its nomination process, nor how much longer the white liberal voters who propped up Sanders 2016, Warren 2020, and Buttigieg 2020 can reasonably claim that the current calendar isn’t a clear case of white privilege that they’re choosing to ignore because it benefits their candidates. How terribly unwoke.

Tier 1: The Gas Giants

2. Joe Biden (2): Though I moved Warren into the top spot last month, I did caution readers that the race was not turning into a Warren runaway like the oddsmakers and many pundits suggested. (It’s worth noting Warren’s odds were better than Even before I warned readers against that. I hope you didn’t bite, because they’ve since dropped to about 3/2 since then. You’re welcome.) She finally took her turn as the front-runner during a debate, and she never looked less comfortable. Meanwhile, Biden’s resilience nationally and in South Carolina shows it’s not going to be a runaway.

In national polls, Warren lost her average lead just as soon as she got it. Here are their RCP national polling averages over the last three months:

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There was the briefest of moments in early October where Warren eclipsed Biden, but he immediately regained the lead. He’s led the last ten consecutive national polls, and 14 of the last 15 — half of those by double digits. Much to the chagrin of white liberals, the party’s moderate voters, including African Americans, still prefer the former Vice President.

As far as the early states, he is still more dominant in South Carolina than any of his competitors are anywhere else. Though Warren’s RCP lead is five points in Iowa and four points in New Hampshire, Biden’s average South Carolina lead is twenty. (Nevada, the third Democratic state to vote, is terribly under-polled, but yesterday an Emerson poll had Biden up eight there.) If Biden heads into Super Tuesday, when many southern states with high black populations vote, coming off a resounding South Carolina win, he should have a big day — and big Super Tuesdays always lead to nominations. The path is obvious, and it seems everyone — from oddsmakers to prediction markets — is offering Biden’s stock at an insanely low price.

What’s he thankful for: That 60 Minutes gave him perhaps the best moments of his campaign. To say he’s rough around the edges on the debate stage is an understatement. His stump speeches can alternate between malapropisms and genuinely personable moments, so they’re a bit better. But in a TV interview? He was strong and charming. That was 2016 Biden. Expect to see a lot more interviews.

1. Elizabeth Warren (1): Even though Biden’s chances are better than most seem to think, they’re still not as good as Warren’s.

The Quarter 3 financial reports were a real eye-opener. We knew Biden wasn’t generating the excitement of Warren and Sanders. That’s rather predictable, of course, because in today’s politics, radicals by their nature generate more excitement than moderates, and excitement leads to people breaking out their checkbooks. Look at our last two presidents — they promised change, not business as usual.

Nonetheless, the Biden Campaign’s financial struggles is jarring, particularly since he’s the national polling leader. Here’s a handy FiveThirtyEight chart on the campaigns’ fundraising and cash on hand:

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No, Delaney and Steyer are not great fundraisers. They’re mostly self-funding.

Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg are clearly in a class of their own with fundraising and cash on hand. Biden is very much mid-tier in these categories. Nine million dollars is frankly not enough to run strong early state and national campaigns. As a result, Biden has opened himself up to enormous criticisms from the left by reversing his position on Super-PACs. He will now not disavow dark money from helping his candidacy. It seems bone-headed on the surface to attempt such a tactic in the Democratic Primary, but his campaign, probably correctly, sees Super-PACs as the only way to have enough ammo to battle Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg down the stretch.

Consequently, Warren and Sanders will have yet another talking point for the campaign trail and debates, and they’ll continue to outraise him in small donations. More importantly, if Warren holds on to those Iowa and New Hampshire wins (a big if), it’s reasonable to conclude that Biden’s national support will shatter. He’s relying on being the “electable” candidate — true enough, Siena College/New York Times polling (one of the best and non-partisan in the businessrevealed he’s still the strongest candidate in the states that will likely decide the election — but nothing hurts an electability argument more than losing highly publicized contests.

What’s she thankful for? Ultimately, though I still think plenty of scenarios include a Tier 2 or Tier 3 candidate surging late in Iowa and disrupting the Big Two, a plurality of scenarios point to Warren holding on and winning the Democratic Primary.

7 thoughts on “November’s Thankful Power Rankings: Part II

  1. Hi, this is Quinlin’s brother, Alistair. I find these political facts very interesting, I hope you continue. And, who are you most likely to vote for?

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    1. Hi, Alistair. Thanks so much for reading. If you’re referring to the Democratic Primary, I’m not a Democrat, so I won’t be voting in it.

      As far as the general election, that’s nearly a year away, so I’m not sure. Variables include the Democratic nominee and whether Connecticut is a battleground state.

      Perhaps my 2016 endorsement can help clarify my position: https://presidentialpoliticsblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/05/ppfas-endorsement-for-america/

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