We’re a few weeks away from basketball’s March Madness, but I’m returning one final time to the occasional series I began in the midst of that phenomenon last year on the then-swelling Democrat presidential field to reflect on how it all shook out – and what may well be yet to happen. If you go back to last March, here’s where I ranked the eight who remain in the field now, with updates as they occurred:
- Joe Biden was #1, holding that spot in May and September.
- Bernie Sanders was #2, holding that spot in May but slipping to #3 in September.
- Elizabeth Warren was #4. She fell to #6 in May but jumped to #2 in September.
- Amy Klobuchar was #6. She fell to #7 in May and stayed there in September.
- Pete Buttigieg was #13. He jumped to #3 in May, but fell to #5 in September.
- Tulsi Gabbard was #14. She fell to #21 in May but surged to #9 in September.
- Tom Steyer was first ranked #8 in September.
- Mike Bloomberg got into the race after my rankings.
So it’s interesting that most of my top choices have remained in the fray, with the only early surprises being Buttigieg and, to a much lesser extent, Gabbard.
(Numbers 3 and 5 early on were Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke, respectively. Harris was my highest-rated casualty, while Beto faded pretty quickly. Buttigieg initially pushed Amy Klobuchar out of the top 6, then Cory Booker kept her out as he reached the top 6 in September before he, too, exited the race.)
There’s also something to be said about Tulsi Gabbard hanging in there, as she has outlasted the initial turmoil in her campaign. She’s sort of like the Ron Paul of the 2020 Democrat race, but considering I had her initially in the bottom tier with a lot of folks who have long since departed the scene, it’s admirable that she’s found a support niche and said some things which needed to be said. She sure took care of Kamala Harris.
It’s also worth reviewing just how these candidates did in the first two races of the year: the Iowa caucus (assuming they are done counting) and the New Hampshire primary.
For the Iowa caucus I am using the initial alignment votes, as it’s their closest equivalent to a primary.
- Bernie Sanders: 1st with 43,699 votes (24.7%)
- Pete Buttigieg: 2nd with 37,596 votes (21.3%)
- Elizabeth Warren: 3rd with 32,611 votes (18.5%)
- Joe Biden: 4th with 26,322 votes (14.9%)
- Amy Klobuchar: 5th with 22,474 votes (12.7%)
- Tom Steyer: 7th with 3,054 votes (1.7%)
- Tulsi Gabbard: 9th with 342 votes (0.2%)
- Mike Bloomberg: 10th with 215 votes (0.1%)
Between the first and second rounds Buttigieg gained the most votes (although not enough to pass Sanders, who gained the fewest) while Warren was a distant second in that category. In terms of absolute numbers among these contenders, Biden dropped the most votes in districts where he fell short of 15% viability but Steyer lost a far greater proportion of his vote and nearly as many in raw numbers. In terms of delegates from Iowa, Buttigieg gets 13, Sanders gets 12, Warren 8, Biden 6, and Klobuchar 1, with one uncommitted.
Moving on to New Hampshire:
- Bernie Sanders: 1st with 76,355 votes (25.6%)
- Pete Buttigieg: 2nd with 72,445 votes (24.3%)
- Amy Klobuchar: 3rd with 58,774 votes (19.7%)
- Elizabeth Warren: 4th with 27,428 votes (9.2%)
- Joe Biden: 5th with 24,911 votes (8.3%)
- Tom Steyer: 6th with 10,694 votes (3.6%)
- Tulsi Gabbard: 7th with 9,745 votes (3.3%)
- Mike Bloomberg: 9th with 4,777 votes (1.6%)
For his part, Bloomberg was a write-in candidate in New Hampshire so it’s actually sort of astounding he did that well. Sanders and Buttigieg picked up 9 delegates apiece, while Klobuchar got the other 6 to move into fourth place ahead of Biden overall: Buttigieg has 22, Sanders 21, Warren 8, Klobuchar 7, Biden 6, and uncommitted 1.
The next state up is Nevada, which isn’t a treasure trove of delegates (just 36) but establishes the narrative for the week leading up to the South Carolina primary at month’s end and Super Tuesday on March 3 – which will probably eliminate half or more of this field. Because all of the initial focus was on Iowa and New Hampshire, there’s little polling to go on for Nevada but what polls there are suggest this may be a real fight for spots 2 through 6 and that four or five candidates could share in that delegate pool. This is particularly true as the race is a hybrid caucus with early voting, unlike Iowa.
Bernie Sanders is considered more or less a lock to make the 15% threshold; however the key question is whether Joe Biden – who led in Nevada through the polling done in early January – will crater enough to miss out on getting delegates. All others except Bloomberg – who is not participating – and Gabbard are flirting with that 15% viability number, as all except Warren have trended upward polling-wise in the last few weeks. That 2 through 6 order of finish is going to be the thing to watch as there could be five candidates in the 8-18% range.
As for South Carolina, that is considered to be the last stand for both Joe Biden and Tom Steyer. Biden once had a lead approaching 30 points in the state, but that has dwindled down to single-digits. If he continues to sink and gets passed by Bernie Sanders and even Steyer (who are currently 2 and 3) in late, post-Nevada polling I can’t see Joe surviving to Super Tuesday.
At some point, the field has to consolidate. It’s just my wild guess that among the eight contenders the one to go after Nevada will be Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden will finally figure out his time is past once he fades to third or fourth in South Carolina, perhaps not even getting delegates there. Gabbard won’t spend much money, but I think she will stay in the race on principle for a little while – at least long enough to outlast a couple others who are in. (But she’s not sniffing double digits in any caucus or primary this year unless she’s the last protest vote candidate left.) By the same token, many thought Tom Steyer would cash in his chips after New Hampshire but I don’t think he gets enough of a bounce after Nevada or South Carolina to be present in the race beyond Super Tuesday.
Once the smoke clears after March 3, I think the field is down to 4. Seeded from worst to first, we will have:
- Pete Buttigieg. When you look at the field, he’s trying to straddle the moderate lane. But Pete’s support is lacking among black voters, and while he’s a fresh face, he’s struggled to handle the scrutiny as the field has dwindled. America tried the inexperienced guy with the funny name and distinction of first ____ president route once already this century, so I’m not sure they’re quite ready for another, especially with his particular first.
- Amy Klobuchar. She has hung around in this race quite nicely, lurking just outside the top tier and watching as various flavors of the month (Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, etc.) have had their fifteen minutes of fame before fading away once Americans got to know them. By default she’s moving into the top tier but the question is whether she can consolidate any sort of base, female or otherwise, in time to establish her presence before the primaries are too far gone to get enough delegates; thus, she might now be running for vice-president. Would a Sanders-Klobuchar ticket be the unity ticket the Democrats need as their best hope to oust Donald Trump? More importantly, would you like to be a fly on the wall for those interactions?
- Bernie Sanders. He has plenty of money and a passionate support base. But some guy just as smart as me pointed out that the ceiling for a Socialist vote seems to be 45%, and that’s before you know who the candidates are. Yet the two initial factors, combined with a desire to keep Milwaukee from feeling the burn – literally – could well be good enough to push Bernie over the top. If so, and if the aforementioned Sanders-Klobuchar package doesn’t sound good enough, look for an effort by the #NeverTrumpers and mainline Democrats to find a stalking horse candidate who can snatch away just enough support from Trump to steal the election, or even win outright. Maybe it will be…
- Mike Bloomberg. This man is doing more to advance the narrative that politics is a commodity than anyone in our nation’s history. Donald Trump parlayed years of television fame into $5 billion in free media to win the White House, but Mike Bloomberg is eschewing even that step (unless you count his news service.) By nationalizing his campaign with an unprecedented advertising blitz in the opening months and just skipping ahead to campaigning for Super Tuesday, he made spending a whole summer, fall, and holidays trying to gain name recognition in some backwater Iowa county or New Hampshire hamlet absolutely unnecessary. (The same goes for a ground game – why beg and cajole when you can just buy oodles of staffers?) Of course, only billionaires or extremely adept fundraisers could afford to run that way.
By this time three weeks hence, we should pretty well have an idea whether the Democrats will have a nominee in hand before their convention or will have to endure multiple ballots for the first time in decades. If the latter comes into play, I don’t think there will be a white knight entering the race (so have a seat, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry) but they may try and figure out who can best fool us into believing they’ll have a pro-American agenda.
All of their top-tier candidates have flaws, and there’s no guarantee that the disparate elements of the Democrat party are going to come together for a particular candidate, let alone nominate one who appeals to independents or can bring older, more traditional Democrat voters back home – you know, the ones who voted for Trump because they couldn’t stand Hillary. This is especially true when your top two contenders are northeastern liberals (like Hillary), your third-place one is female (like Hillary), and the fourth-place contender is openly gay, with his own “first husband.” (Sort of like what was often rumored about Hillary.) There’s a generation of voters who won’t flinch at that last aspect, but I believe there’s a larger generation who is better at turning out on Election Day and isn’t down with having a gay man in the Oval Office, okay Boomer? Maybe next time he runs in 2024 Pete has a better shot.
Assuming the Trump train has enough momentum to make it to a second term in the 2020 election, look out. If you thought this cycle was bad, wait until the Democrats begin their 2024 campaign this November 4.