In yesterday’s Part I of the December Power Rankings, I counted down the most likely Democratic nominees from #18 to #6. Since it’s the holiday season, I also paired with candidates what their campaign’s Christmas carol should be.
Tier 5: The Asteroid Belt
Note: Steve Bullock dropped out between Part I and Part II.
16. Marianne Williamson (16)
15. John Delaney (15)
15. Steve Bullock (13)
14. Michael Bennet (12)
13. Julian Castro (11)
Their Christmas carol? “Silent Night”
Tier 4: Dwarf Planets
12. Tulsi Gabbard (10) Christmas carol: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like a Third Party Run”
11. Tom Steyer (9) Christmas carol“Steyer and Gold”
10. Andrew Yang (8) Christmas carol: “Auld Yang Syne”
Tier 3: Rocky Major Planets
9. Cory Booker (7) Christmas carol: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
8. Deval Patrick (unranked) Christmas carol: “Hark! Even the Herald Angels Say No One Likes You”
7. Amy Klobuchar (6) Christmas carol: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
6. Kamala Harris (5) Christmas carol: “The Twelve Days of Harris”
And now we get to the top five, separated into the top two tiers…
Tier 2: Ice Giants
5. Michael Bloomberg (unranked): Here’s the name you’ve been waiting for! Number 5 feels about right. In not totally dissimilar logic to the Deval Patrick ranking, Bloomberg ranks ahead of those below him because the potential for a new candidate to do well feels stronger than the potential for candidates whose message haven’t caught on after nearly a year. Still, he should rank outside of the top four because the top four has competitive national and/or early state polling, whereas Bloomberg does not.
Bloomberg’s upside is obvious: he had a pretty strong record as Mayor of the nation’s largest and most diverse city, he’s not too far left fiscally, he has experience winning voters of both parties and independents, and, most notably, he’s worth tens of billions of dollars and is ready to spend them. He’s like Steyer on steroids. As soon as he declared his candidacy, he spent over 30 million dollars on just one week of television ads, commercial spots that touted his experience, vision, and effectiveness. Want to know how that compares to the other candidates? Take a look:
I know, right?
Going further, if you don’t count Steyer, who has spent millions on early state ads, Bloomberg’s one-week ad buy is more than what all other campaigns have spent on TV ads all year combined. This one-week ad-buy spends more money than Cory Booker raised total across this year’s second and third quarters.
Where he’s spending this gargantuan chunk of change is important, too. Remember, he’s targeting Super Tuesday and beyond, not the early states in February. (He’s won’t even be on the ballot in New Hampshire.) Accordingly, his ad-buy spent big in Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles, which he hopes helps his cause in the massive California and Texas primaries. In total, nearly half of the initial $30 million (yes, initial), was spend on the March 3 Super Tuesday states. He’s hoping that while the field depletes itself competing in the early states, the Bloomberg Campaign will have a head start in the states that actually have a lot more delegates. If he does well on March 3, it is then he who has momentum moving forward, not whichever candidate had the momentum coming out of February. It could be a potent campaign, to be sure.
The question is, do Democrats have the stomach for a Bloomberg candidacy? Earlier I noted the utter disinterest in Deval Patrick. Bloomberg has polled better than Patrick, but he’s by no means popular. Nationally he’s at 4 percent in the RCP average, which is ahead of Tiers 3 and 4, but it’s a lot closer to 0 than it is the top four candidates. I’d share his even worse numbers in the early states, but again — he’s not competing there. (Unfortunately, not enough polling has been done in the March states since he entered the race. In the only high-profile one, he pulled down 3 points in California.) Relevantly, he has some of the highest unfavorable numbers in the field, which does indicate it’s a steep uphill climb for him across the party.
We’ll have to see how his advertising blitz affects these poor numbers. It’s tempting to learn from Steyer’s campaign here. Did his millions buy him a few debate podiums? Absolutely. But they also haven’t taken him beyond 3 to 4 percent in the four states in which he’s concentrated that spending. Can tens of millions diffused across the entire country be that much more effective? Or, if the message matters more than the money, does Bloomberg have the right message?
It’s also worth noting that these ads will be extra imperative when persuading voters, because he won’t be able to deliver his message in the debates unless the DNC eliminates donor thresholds. Unlike fellow billionaire Trump, who claimed he would self-fund but ultimately took millions of the people’s dollars anyway, Bloomberg is not accepting donations.
His Christmas carol: “I Saw Three… Bloomberg Ads on TV in Just the Last Hour”
4. Bernie Sanders (4): Sanders had an on-brand responses to Bloomberg’s late bid, arguing, “multibillionaires like Mr. Bloomberg are not going to get very far in this election.” One can understand Sanders’s anger. No one has been as strong of a fundraiser. With grassroots growing far and wide, his campaign raised $25.3 million in the third quarter, which led the entire field. Now Bloomberg shows up and writes one check to himself for $30 million just like that. It doesn’t seem fair… which is pretty much the slogan of the Bernie Sanders Campaign.
But I will say this — in their closed door meetings, his staff should be thrilled that Michael Bloomberg joined this race. Not only does a “multibillionaire” act as a perfect foil for the Sanders movement, but also, since Sanders’s floor of 15 percent support is well-evidenced, the more candidates the merrier! Everyone else divides the rest of the pie. If Bloomberg begins to do well, he almost certainly pulls from Biden and Buttigieg, two of Sanders’s top rivals for the nomination. That would make Sanders look stronger by comparison. It would also reduce the chances that other candidates meet the 15 percent thresholds necessary to win state and district delegates in the caucuses and primaries. If Sanders keeps hitting 15 percent or higher in all the contests, he would rack up delegates while others perform more inconsistently.
And don’t look now, but Warren’s swoon has moved Sanders into second place nationally and into more competitive positions in the early states. Things look better for Sanders now than they did a month ago.
His Christmas carol: “All I Want for Christmas is a Socialist Utopia”
3. Pete Buttigieg (3): Holding off Sanders for the #3 spot, Buttigieg is still the candidate with the most momentum, but I do worry that this momentum wasn’t ideally timed. With his continued struggles among minority voters, he pretty much has to win Iowa and New Hampshire to have a shot at running away with the nomination before the primary heads south then turns national. Unlike Biden or Warren, each of whom has a broader base of support and can weather early losses, Buttigieg (like Sanders, frankly, who has thus far repeatedly bumped his lead on a lower ceiling) needs to be at or near perfect in the first two states.
That’s a lot to ask. We’ll see if he can attract people outside of those two lily white early states, because much of the country is still skeptical that a mere Mayor is ready for the big chair.
His Christmas carol: “O Little Town of South Bend, Indiana”
Tier 1: Gas Giants
2. Joe Biden (2): If the Warren Campaign has one more month like its November, Biden will be back on top. It seems preposterous to most Democrats and members of social and mainstream media, but the Biden Campaign has actually been the more stable of the two. Despite all of Biden’s gaffes, stumbles, and malapropisms, his national support — particularly from older voters and a multiracial coalition of working class voters — has remained steady. Let’s take a look at the candidates’ national RCP averages dating back a year:
After his announcement bump wore off, we see Biden’s average settle into what looks like a healthy heartbeat on a Bernie Sanders EKG. He’s survived every political misstep — missteps that we used to think hurt most campaigns. He has indeed become the Trump 2016 of this primary.
We’ll see how he does during this important month, though. Between the rising Buttigieg and Klobuchar campaigns and the Patrick and Bloomberg entries, perhaps his support finally erodes. It feels like if he ever looks vulnerable nationally, the wheels might come off the No Malarkey bus. His entire candidacy seems dependent on his electability case, which is a fragile case to be sure. If Iowa were tomorrow, I think he’d survive the first states with top-three results, win South Carolina handily, then have a huge Super Tuesday and start to pull away as the nominee.
But Iowa is not tomorrow. The Biden Campaign has to get there in decent shape.
His Christmas carol: “If We Make It Through December… and January”
1. Elizabeth Warren (1): Let’s first talk about the total reversal of Warren’s momentum since PPFA warned its readers to not get carried away with her run of success. In early October, oddsmakers found her at better than 1/1 odds to win the nomination. She’s now down to 3/1 or worse, below Biden’s odds and about at Buttigieg’s. At the PredictIt trading market, she was valued at over 50 cents, a runaway favorite which towered over the field. Now at 19 cents, she trails Biden by a wide margin and sits in a three-way glut with Buttigieg and Sanders. You could have made a lot of money following PPFA on this one.
Why the sudden cold water on her once red-hot campaign? Her polling climb turned down. Here’s national RCP polling averages over the last three months. Check out Warren’s:
All the gains from the late summer and early autumn have been lost. As mentioned earlier, she now behind Sanders.
How about Iowa over the same period?
A similar ascent and descent pattern. Here Buttigieg jumped to the top, and Sanders has nosed ahead himself.
Behind Buttigieg and Sanders again.
Without question, she’s moving in the wrong direction. The main causes for this reversal of fortune, as I foreshadowed, is the added scrutiny a front-runner gets from the media and her fellow candidates. That weird health care pivot she tried to sneak by us didn’t help, and I’m guessing center-left Democratic voters sobered up a bit when the pragmatists in the field like Klobuchar and Buttigieg took her on. Warren would have preferred Biden as her main moderate opponent in those debates, as he’s such an imperfect messenger. Klobuchar and Buttigieg, to say nothing of Biden’s former boss, better articulate pragmatism than does the former Vice President.
So if she’s moving down just as we hit the two-month mark before Iowa, why does PPFA still have her #1 in its Hallmark Power Rankings? Because two months is actually a really, really long time for things to still change. Remember when Buttigieg surged a bit in the late spring before he fell back to the pack, only to surge again now? Multiple surges can and do happen. Warren’s team was unprepared for the choppy waters that awaited her status as favorite; once she gets her sea legs, the Queen of Policy will start hammering home that progressive agenda again, empty her sizable warchest, and climb again in January. This current Democratic Party wants to nominate her — the energy is clearly on the left. She just needs to win their trust again, and my guess is that she will. (In other words, buy low on PredictIt.)