The Democrats’ state of play

If you follow the horse race that is the Democrat race to the 2020 presidential nomination, you may notice that in the last week several participants have cashed in their chips and called it a campaign: onetime Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak dropped out Sunday, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock withdrew Monday, and Tuesday it was arguably the biggest name yet: California’s Senator Kamala Harris. (To tell you how crowded the field was, I didn’t know perpetual also-ran Wayne Messam had left the race before Thanksgiving until just now as I was writing this.)

With these four departures, the field which had swelled up to 25 participants at one time is now down to 15; however, only five of them have qualified for the next debate this month. (Harris was actually a qualifier, but her campaign ran out of cash.)

I’m going to look at the race now in a little different way. First we need to break the field down into the various constituent groups which make up the Democrat Party, and then we can tier them off into their relative chances for success. These are in alphabetical order of first candidate in the group.

First of all come the old white guys: Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders.

Corollary to that group but unique in its own way are the gazillionaires: Michael Bloomberg, John Delaney, and Tom Steyer.

We then have the black contingent, which now consists of Cory Booker and Deval Patrick.

Next up is the gay community, which – insofar as we know – only consists of Pete Buttigieg.

The remaining Hispanic contender is Julian Castro.

Then we have the women: Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Marianne Williamson.

That leaves the Asian guy, Andrew Yang, last. Seems appropriate since a lot of Democrats don’t count Asians as an oppressed minority.

Anyway, there are also tiers of contenders shaping up. The first group are the ones I don’t see even making it to Iowa or New Hampshire. From most likely to be out to maybe they’ll defy this pundit and make it to the caucuses we have John Delaney (a gazillionaire), Michael Bennet (an old white guy), and Marianne Williamson (a woman.)

Next up are the ones I see throwing in the towel after Iowa/New Hampshire: the black guy Deval Patrick, the Hispanic Julian Castro, the Asian guy Andrew Yang, and two ladies: Tulsi Gabbard and Amy Klobuchar.

That leaves us with seven moving forward. Of that seven, I think the three who will be in the weakest position will be the black guy Cory Booker and the remaining two gazillionaires Steyer and Bloomberg. However, I seem to recall Bloomberg’s strategy was to basically ignore the first four states and concentrate on Super Tuesday, so both of them may stay in the game for awhile.

I realize we are a long way out, but the polling is interesting among the first four states. As it stands, both Iowa and New Hampshire have a pecking order where Pete Buttigieg is first, followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden in fourth. But while Biden seems weak in the first two states, he’s leading the pack in Nevada, South Carolina, and California, just ahead of Elizabeth Warren. So the early Buttigieg momentum is stalled once the contest heads out of the first two states (and by a significant amount, like 15 to nearly 30 points behind Biden.)

One burning question that should concern the Biden camp is the fallout from the Ukraine investigation and the saga surrounding his son Hunter. The press has seemed less than curious about this, particularly in comparison to Donald Trump’s children. (Luckily there are voters taking up the slack.) But it’s his good fortune to have his top-tier peers with their own problems: Bernie probably hits his ceiling of support at 20 percent because he’s yesterday’s news, Warren has her issues with honesty and integrity, and Pete Buttigieg won’t get the black vote because of his hometown issues and his sexual preference. (Remember, Maryland’s gay marriage issue wasn’t a slam dunk because the black community wasn’t its strongest supporter. Only this year has support for the issue passed 50% among blacks.)

Between the top tier four, though, they gather up over 70% of the votes in four of the five key states RealClearPolitics is polling. (In New Hampshire, it’s only 65%.) So the other huge question is whether one of the outside candidates can gather a large enough chunk of the 30% remaining (doubtful) or whether one candidate can coalesce that 30% behind their camp. My guess at the moment is that Elizabeth Warren is the most primed to do so.

If a Warren vs. Trump race comes to pass, I would expect the battleground states will be the four that Hillary Clinton considered her firewall: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But the results may be the same: women were already predisposed to vote against Trump, but blacks may be more inclined to vote for Trump (which helps in Michigan). The key is if union workers again back Trump against the wishes of their leadership.

At this stage in the game, though, I think the field will be no more than 10 by the time the ball (or whatever ornament towns across America use) drops on New Year’s Eve.

Bloomberg’s Big Gulp ban banished by court

Calling the measure “arbitrary and capricious” and a violation of the separation of powers, a New York judge permanently enjoined the city of New York from carrying out their proposed soda ban, one day before it was to take effect.

New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling tossed out the law, which was contested by a broad coalition of groups representing grocers, restaurants, theaters, and unions all affected by the proposed regulation.

Yet the law wasn’t necessarily denied on the idea of being an overly intrusive effort by the nanny state as evidenced by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s willingness to police the size of sodas, but instead mainly as an exercise in the separation of powers. Had the City Council of New York passed the law instead of a Board of Health appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, and had the bill come out as a blanket prohibition instead of only applying to establishments under the purview of the Board of Health (as opposed to exempting grocery stores and the like) there’s a very real chance the law would have stood.

Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has some of the same line of reasoning I do:

My first thought, of course, is “Sweet!” My second is that although it’s great a judge has recognized the error of Mayor Bloomberg’s ways, it shouldn’t take a court ruling for New York City residents to have the right to make their own decisions about how and when to consume goods like soda.

As I have said before, the constant onslaught of regulation that has been the hallmark of Mayor Bloomberg’s administration hurts New York’s economy. It favors large corporations over smaller businesses and hurts those with low incomes more than those with high incomes. More importantly, it raises some important questions about who has the right to choose what an individual consumes. As silly as the soda ban may seem, it forces us to consider: When do policies that ‘nudge’ us toward ‘healthier lifestyles’ become unacceptable intrusions into our lives?

If you substitute the phrase “Governor O’Malley” for “Mayor Bloomberg” and “Maryland” for “New York” you could say the exact same thing about our state. (There was a transfats prohibition bill introduced and heard this session in the General Assembly, so we’re not that far behind.)

In my lifetime, we have seen the government take a number of steps to reduce freedom in the name of safety: smoking bans which began on airplanes then expanded to portions of restaurants and eventually practically all public places, seat belt laws which were originally up to each state until Uncle Sam started to threaten highway money if states didn’t fall in line (the same was true with lowering allowable blood alcohol levels), and even the banning of the sale of  raw milk. Are we really better off with all these intrusions? Where is the line in the sand where the public will say stop?

Perhaps it was the Big Gulp which captured public awareness, but I suppose better late than never is the word here. But there are so many intrusions which go hardly noticed that it’s only the most brazen prohibitions which attract attention – meanwhile, your freedom to develop your land as you wish or raise your child as you see fit continues to be threatened.