Thinning the field

I missed this last week, or should I say I didn’t get to post on it right away. But we learned who was in and who was out of next week’s first two Democrat presidential candidate debates. Obviously the front-runners made the criteria established by the Democratic National Committee, but there were a couple surprising omissions in light of how I seeded the race a few weeks ago. (See how useful that is for constructing a narrative within my website? Now you have to go back and check that out.)

Each night’s field was somewhat randomly set, and there was the idea of spreading “top-tier” candidates out so that neither night was overly weighted toward one group – but as it turned out they unwittingly came close to the “kiddie table” debate concept employed by the 2016 Republicans.

Without further ado, and listed in my previous seeding order, this is the lineup for debate #1:

  • #5 Beto O’Rourke
  • #6 Elizabeth Warren
  • #7 Amy Klobuchar
  • #8 Cory Booker
  • #14 Bill de Blasio
  • #16 Jay Inslee
  • #17 John Delaney
  • #18 Julian Castro
  • #19 Tim Ryan
  • #21 Tulsi Gabbard

To be quite honest, the star of this debate is probably Warren, who’s picked up some polling support lately. But there is an interesting dynamic at play among the three women included and this field could end up helping Tulsi Gabbard.

As for the men, the five lower-seeded men are fortunate to be placed in a field that has the fading star of Beto and gaffe-prone Cory Booker. If any of them have a robust debate, they could move up in the polls – especially as the front-runners take shots at each other.

Here’s debate #2:

  • #1 Joe Biden
  • #2 Bernie Sanders
  • #3 Pete Buttigieg
  • #4 Kamala Harris
  • #9 Kirsten Gillibrand
  • #10 John Hickenlooper
  • #12 Michael Bennet
  • #13 Andrew Yang
  • #15 Eric Swalwell
  • #22 Marianne Williamson

The top 4 are either going to destroy each other or bury the other six. It sort of reminds me of the old Big 10 days when all the teams played each other but you knew it would be Michigan-Ohio State for the title at the end – we just have four teams instead of two, but they are all way ahead of the rest. And I would be curious to see what sort of Ron Paul effect the non-politicians Williamson and Yang have on the field here – after all, you can’t out-outsider them in this group.

The non-contenders who didn’t get in:

  • #11 Steve Bullock
  • #20 Seth Moulton
  • #23 Mike Gravel
  • #24 Wayne Messam

They are still soldiering on, hoping to get into the next round of debates in July. Bullock claims he’s already qualified, which is possible because he got a very late start in the campaign – obviously that will knock someone else out if he makes it in. Moulton is probably the one serious candidate most likely to drop out because Messam is whining about not getting a town hall meeting and Gravel was simply in it to get on the debate stage.

This has inspired another post but I think I’ll save it for next week, just before the debates.

Reviewing the field (part 1)

Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s hard to believe that two months ago Sunday I did a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on March Madness, applying it to the Democratic presidential field that (at the time) had fifteen aspirants. To make it a regional I added Joe Biden to the mix, and sure enough he entered the race a few weeks later.

And so did a bunch of other folks – enough, in fact, to allow me a set of eight “play-in” contests before I set the field of 16. (Once upon a time, in the early 1950’s, that was the size of the NCAA basketball tournament. Now it’s the size of Division 1 men’s hockey, leading up to the Frozen Four. In that case, Amy Klobuchar should be an automatic.)

So, since I think politics should be fun and we make it a horse race anyway, here is how my updated tournament would play out. First of all, let’s go though the opening round byes – the top 8. But I’m going to be coy and present them in alphabetical order and not as seeded quite yet.

  • Joe Biden
  • Cory Booker
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Kamala Harris
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Elizabeth Warren

Now to those who have to endure a first round matchup: all these contenders would move on to face one of the top eight in the next round. The “score” is how I would imagine a balloting between the two candidates would go.

#24 Wayne Messam (44, mayor, Miramar, Florida – not ranked) vs. #9 Kirsten Gillibrand (52, U.S. Senator, New York – down from #8)

Honestly, I don’t think Messam has any chance to make the debates and his campaign will fade away to obscurity well before fall. He was already dishonest enough to announce for President the day after winning another term as mayor. It’s fortunate Gillibrand’s lackluster campaign drew this first round opponent.

Winner: Gillibrand, 73-27.

#23 Mike Gravel (89, former U.S. Senator from Alaska and 2008 Presidential candidate – not ranked) vs. #10 John Hickenlooper (67, most recent past governor of Colorado – down from #9)

Gravel isn’t running for president so much as he’s running for a debate slot. He has a similar attraction to Democrats as Ron Paul did for Republicans – way out of the mainstream but a principled elder statesman. Hickenlooper hasn’t made a big splash despite his experience as a two-term governor and previous mayor of Denver. That’s why this round is a lot closer than one might expect.

Winner: Hickenlooper, 57-43.

#22 Marianne Williamson (66, author and motivational speaker – down from #16) vs. #11 Steve Bullock (53, term-limited current governor of Montana – not ranked)

It’s a bit of a surprise to me that Williamson qualifies for the debates (or at least claims to based on number of donations) as a political neophyte, and she may have an appeal to a certain segment of Democrat voter. But Bullock, who is one of the two most recent entries, is hanging his hat on one fact: he won re-election in 2016 in a state Trump carried handily.

Winner: Bullock, 71-29.

#21 Tulsi Gabbard (38, U.S. representative from Hawaii – down from #14) vs. #12 Michael Bennet (54, U.S. Senator from Colorado – not ranked)

Gabbard has had a passionate following for several years, but her early entry didn’t scare a number of more well-known candidates out of her lane. However, she has as her opponent a technocrat Senator that hasn’t won with a majority in his own state and will bring up a few questions as he was born outside the U.S. – his father was an assistant to the ambassador to India. This one could have been an upset, but not quite.

Winner: Bennet, 53-47.

#20 Seth Moulton (40, U.S. representative from Massachusetts – not ranked) vs. #13 Andrew Yang (44, entrepreneur – up from #15)

It’s arguable whether Moulton should be this high, but his more recent entry gives him the slight advantage over fellow member of Congress Gabbard. His campaign has gone nowhere, though, and he may not make the debates. On the other hand, Yang has a certain amount of buzz and passion behind him as a non-traditional aspirant. This one is easy.

Winner: Yang, 77-23.

#19 Tim Ryan (45, U.S. representative from Ohio – not ranked) vs. #14 Bill de Blasio (58, mayor of New York City – not ranked)

Ohio is a good state for a Democrat to be from, as politicians from those states in the so-called “Clinton firewall” from 2016 are thought to be the best hope for knocking Donald Trump from his perch among working-class Americans. Meanwhile, while former New York mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani have made themselves household names, Bill de Blasio (who just entered the race last week in an epic fail of an announcement) just doesn’t have that cachet.

It’s a matchup perfectly suited for a Midwest guy, and the first upset.

Winner: Ryan, 56-44.

#18 Julian Castro (44, former HUD Secretary – down from #12) vs. #15 Eric Swalwell (38, U.S. representative from California – not ranked)

While Castro’s campaign isn’t off to the start I’m sure he hoped for, he has a couple advantages in this field: he’s the only Cabinet officer and – more importantly for those Democrats checking off the boxes – the only Hispanic. Swalwell is a one-note samba regarding gun control, which is an important enough emphasis in the full field for his ranking but won’t be enough to advance him. This is another upset based on seeding.

Winner: Castro, 59-41.

#17 John Delaney (55, former U.S. representative from Maryland – down from #10) vs. #16 Jay Inslee (68, current governor of Washington state – down from #11)

Both of these gentlemen were in my original March Madness as lower-ranked contenders and both remain there today. But Inslee has leaped ahead of Delaney because of the latter’s difficulty in getting people interested enough in his campaign – which is closing in on the two-year mark this summer – to put him over the donor number threshold.

Winner: Inslee, 57-43.

Six of the eight of my non-listed candidates from March were in the bottom half of the field and none ranked higher than eleventh. Just three of them (Bullock, Bennet, and Ryan) advanced and here’s who these winners will face in round 2, which will be part 2 of this brief series.

  • #8 Cory Booker vs. #9 Kirsten Gillibrand
  • #7 Amy Klobuchar vs. #10 John Hickenlooper
  • #6 Elizabeth Warren vs. #11 Steve Bullock
  • #5 Beto O’Rourke vs. #12 Michael Bennet
  • #4 Kamala Harris vs. #13 Andrew Yang
  • #3 Pete Buttigieg vs. #19 Tim Ryan
  • #2 Bernie Sanders vs. #18 Julian Castro
  • #1 Joe Biden vs. #16 Jay Inslee

There are some really interesting matchups in play for round 2, so look for that tomorrow as I carry on this tournament.

A real March madness

With the field now set for the big college basketball dance, it’s time for the annual riffs on that theme – and what better style of madness than to determine seedings for the Democratic presidential field?

I’m going to go from #16 to #1, but feel free to handicap the bracket yourself.

#16: Marianne Williamson, 66. She’s a non-traditional candidate who’s best known as an author and motivational speaker; however, she has one recent (unsuccessful) run for Congress under her belt.

#15: Andrew Yang, 44. The other non-traditional major candidate in the field, he’s an entrepreneur who founded a non-profit called Venture for America. His key issue: a universal basic income for Americans.

#14: Tulsi Gabbard, 37. A member of Congress from Hawaii since 2013, Gabbard also served two tours of duty with the Army National Guard in Iraq, a deployment that cut short her initial political office in Hawaii’s House of Representatives, where she was elected at age 21.

#13: Pete Buttigieg, 37. He was elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana in 2011, and prior to winning a second term in 2015 served for seven months as a Naval reservist in Afghanistan. Shortly after returning from that deployment, Buttigieg announced he was gay. He is the only candidate in the field who still has an exploratory committee.

#12: Julian Castro, 44. Castro was Ben Carson’s predecessor as HUD Secretary, serving from 2014-17 after five years as mayor of San Antonio as well as a city councilman.

#11: Jay Inslee, 68. The governor of Washington state since 2013, he previously served seven non-consecutive terms in Congress – one as a representative of a more rural area and the last six in a Seattle-area district after he moved there. His main issue: climate change.

#10: John Delaney, 55. The founder of a business lending institution, Delaney served three terms in Congress before declining re-election in 2018 to focus on his Presidential run. He was the first candidate in the race, announcing a year and a half before the Iowa caucuses.

#9: John Hickenlooper, 67. He served most of two terms as mayor of Denver before leaving that post as the elected governor of Colorado in 2011. He recently concluded his second and final term in that post.

#8: Kirsten Gillibrand, 52. The most recent candidate to make it official, as she took the exploratory committee training wheels off over the weekend, Kirsten was Hillary Clinton’s replacement in the Senate, moving up from the House barely two years after her arrival there in 2007. She won election in 2010 to finish Clinton’s term and re-election twice since, 2012 and this previous November.

#7: Cory Booker, 49. He’s been New Jersey’s junior Senator since being elected in a 2013 special election, moving up after serving for over seven years as the mayor of Newark. He won that job in his second try, four years after concluding his one term on their city council with a defeat in his initial mayoral bid.

#6: Amy Klobuchar, 58. She has served as a Senator from Minnesota since being elected in 2006; previously she was the county attorney for Hennepin County, which is essentially Minneapolis and its suburbs, for eight years before moving up to the Senate. She announced her bid outside in a Minnesota snowstorm.

#5: Beto O’Rourke, 46. He’s perhaps most famous for a race he lost, falling short of replacing Ted Cruz in the Senate last year. By running for Senate, he abandoned a three-term House incumbency that followed six years on El Paso’s city council as well as a colorful past that included computer hacking and touring the country as bassist in a punk rock band.

#4: Elizabeth Warren, 69. She was elected to the Senate in 2012 after serving as the initial administrator of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but being passed over for formal nomination to be the CFPB’s director in favor of Richard Cordray. A longtime law professor, her other claim to fame is being known as “Fauxcahontas” for claiming American Indian ancestry, perhaps even getting professional benefit from that claim. Ironically, she makes no secret about once being a Republican but switching parties in the 1990’s.

#3: Kamala Harris, 54. Stop me if you heard this one before: young black lawyer runs for President based on a few years in state office and barely two years in the Senate. Indeed, this is the case with Harris, who spent seven years as the District Attorney in San Francisco before going statewide in 2010. Six years later, she won her Senate seat and now she’s running for President.

#2: Bernie Sanders, 77. The only current aspirant to have run for President before, if you count several unsuccessful campaigns before he finally won a race (for mayor of Burlington, where he served for eight years) you would find his political career is older than five of his fellow candidates – he first tried for office in a special January, 1972 Senate election to a seat he would eventually win 34 years later, in 2006. That followed a 16-year stint as Vermont’s lone House member. While Sanders has always officially been an “independent,” he’s caucused with the Democrats since joining Congress.

#1: Joe Biden, 76. Yes, I know, he’s not formally in the race. But I’m going to give him the top seed because all these folks to his left, not to mention his association with a still-popular President, make him the most popular candidate – even more so than the ones in the race. The RCP average has Biden up seven points on the rest of the field.

So that’s the way the seeding goes. I see exactly zero chance of a 16 over 1 upset, but that 15 vs. 2 matchup may be more interesting than people think. 3 vs. 14 is pretty much a walkover, as the Gabbard campaign is having several issues, but I wouldn’t sleep on 4 vs. 13 – I think that may be your first upset special.

Oftentimes 12 vs. 5 is a trap game for the higher seed, but I think the more popular Texan takes it. 11 vs. 6 is probably not much of a contest, but 10 vs. 7 may be a close call, too. I think 9 wins over 8 in the mild upset.

Of course, all that does is put the 9 seed out in the second round as the 1 seed advances to the Final Four. The 2 seed will crush the weakened 7 seed in a contest that isn’t as good as the intriguing 2-15 matchup was.

In a thrilling 6 vs. 3 contest, I think the lower seed takes it in a big upset. And it sets up another crazy matchup of 13 vs. 5 that nearly becomes a second huge shock to the system.

Because the 5 seed had so much taken out of him in the prior game, he’s no match for the #1 seed. But the 6 seed moves on, ousting the #2 seed as his game runs out.

So in my final I would have Klobuchar vs. Biden. If Biden ran into foul trouble (i.e. an ill-timed inappropriate remark, which he’s quite prone to do) this could be Klobuchar’s to win. But she has a little baggage of her own, and people are pretty much immune to the things Joe says, so I think he would hang on in a very close contest.

Obviously a lot can change in the coming months, but I think that’s the state of play for the moment.