Beto O'Rourke at SXSW in Austin, TX on March 9, 2019. Photo credit: Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images for SXSW.
With Saint Beto making a decision it’s time to update our IQ list of the Democratic presidential field. Yes, we’re assessing the field by their interesting quotient, because stereotypical “power rankings” this early in the cycle are pointless.
The ability to be interesting and draw attention – on TV, social media, and otherwise – is essential to rise out of the crab bucket of candidates on multiple debate stages. The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman highlighted this dynamic in a recent NY Times op-ed: “The most valuable commodity in a zillion-way presidential primary is attention.”
Again, interesting or newsworthy doesn’t mean we agree with them (see Trump, Donald). But, it’s an important metric for the 2020 Democratic field.
Here’s our 2nd look at the field based on additions, withdrawals, and other events on the trail in recent weeks.
1. Beto O’Rourke (Previously 6)
That “did @comfortablysmug write this whole fucking thing?” Vanity Fair profile and wall-to-wall cable coverage today cemented that less than 24 hours in, Beto-mania among the journalist class will be as fervent as his Senate run. Btw, that Vanity Fair piece can only be replicated legally for $200 or more at a Nevada house of prostitution, so there’s that.
Beto will be aided and abetted by huge fundraising and his somewhat discounted-on-the-right ability to say viral things on the trail that are Obama-like in making Democrats (and journalists) weak at the knees. If those dynamics click like they did against the Canadian Zodiac Killer, the fellatio-by-media we’re about to witness is going to be insane.
Lots of money + lots of attention = look out. Lingering question: how does Beto fare on a debate stage scrum with multiple, heavyweight competitors who are almost all more likable than Ted Cruz?
2. Pete Buttigieg (unranked)
Yeah, I know. Two middle-aged white guys on top of the ultimate identity politics-field. Yet, pre-Beto reading of the tea leaves shows South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg meriting some serious attention. He’s embracing being the youngest in the race and displayed a real knack for hands-on campaigning by kicking tail on a CNN Town Hall…and in doing so capturing attention from opinion leaders, such as:
GOP strategist Mike Murphy:
Obama advisor David Axelrod:
George W Bush advisor turned Judas-like scold, Matthew Dowd:
Hilary campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle:
Coumnist & radio host Josh Barro:
Listen, Beto is going to get *a lot *of attention, but we already know much about him. Buttigeig appears to be serious enough to get on the debate stage and do something potentially interesting with a combination of moderates and voters interested in generational leadership change. Also, his verbal shot at Mike Pence, whatever you think of it, is the kind of line that can propel a candidate to a debate win and scads of good media.
3. Cory Booker (1)
Not much newsworthy has happened since Booker announced, but two things keep Booker high on this list for now.
One, his launch video showed he’s one of the few candidates with a serious vision, including running hard on an issue – criminal justice reform – that means a lot with some key primary constituencies.
Two, here’s a guy that started his political career by running against the machine in a scrappy city (Newark), won, then fought his way to a Senate seat in a state known for bare-knuckle politics. That kind of proven grit is an under-appreciated strength in the grind of Presidential primary politics.
The negative that gnaws at this ranking: Booker’s over-eagerness often sells better in person than on TV. He could have a Rubio-in-New Hampshire moment if he goes “Spartacus!” in a debate.
4. Kamala Harris (2)
I joke about Tracy Flick (kind of), but Harris and Beto are probably the most formidable of the candidates who fall beneath that Biden and Bernie top tier of early polling. And one doesn’t get to the top of politics in a huge state like California by being bad at what you do. Meanwhile, her coming out of the gate embracing the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All may have set the edge on the left for top tier, non-Bernie candidates, allowing Beto and Klobuchar to more easily run on less lefty, saner platforms.
5. Bernie Sanders (11)
The core dynamic that Bernie lacks majority support in a Democratic primary contest, especially when not running against Hillary, remains. That’s both boring and part of the fun. As that aforementioned Wasserman piece calls out, the odds of a brokered convention are very plausible. And guess which well-funded candidate could get to Milwaukee with a plurality of delegates in a sustained, multi-candidate field? Our favorite grumpy uncle at the end of the Thanksgiving table with shirtless tales of the glory of the Soviet Union, that’s who.
6. Julian Castro (4)
He hasn’t done much publicly on the trail at this early stage besides focus on Western states. Nate Silver’s “5 Corners” of the primary field is a useful tool and particularly relevant for Castro, as there is no other clear candidate to grab the Latino corner (Beto wasn’t particularly strong there against Cruz). If Castro can do so and show well at the debates there’s a path of decent placing in Iowa followed by a win in Nevada and strength in some Western/Sunbelt states too.
Downside: ask Marco and Jeb! how well it works to have two strong
candidates running from the same big state. And Castro is no Beto.
7. Terry McAullife (5)
The longer he waits, the less likely he runs, but the Macker’s purplish-state record as Governor, past-DNC roots, and media skills make him interesting if he gets in. And besides, someone needs to rescue Virginia’s reputation for statewide electeds now.
8. Joe Biden (8)
If he runs he’s going to try to say some “tough love” things on the
campaign trail and get booed down by the intersectionality crowd. I fear it
will actually be sad to watch by the end.
9. Tulsi Gabbard (9)
I mean, I was expecting our favorite isolationist and kinda Ron Paul-sounding on foreign policy candidate to say some bad things, but 100% wimping out on Assadand dodging on Congresswoman Ilhan Ohmar’s anti-Semitism in the same CNN Town Hall was…something.
10. Elizabeth Warren (10)
She’s running one of the more policy-focused campaigns. Her call to break up “Big Tech” has some support from Ted Cruz. Her overall efforts may help shape some of the policy agenda for the eventual nominee, but this thing ain’t happening. Her window has passed and she lacks charisma.
11. Amy Klobuchar (7)
The wave of stories about her (troubling) treatment of staff probably didn’t impact many potential voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, but it sure popped her media bubble fast. Sherrod Brown not running leaves her a clearer lane as a serious candidate who knows how to win votes in the Midwest and isn’t afraid to say what they think. How she gets political oxygen with this evolving field though is a bigger question. Buttigieg getting traction might hurt her more than anyone.
12. Jay Inslee (12)
There remains space for a climate change-focused candidate in this crowded field and the issue is very important to many primary voters. Inslee is the quintessential successful pol from the passive aggressive Pacific Northwest, he knows how to deliver an effective political knife with a subtle smile and pleasant tone in his voice. Will he knife his fellow Democrats though? Not sure.
Oh, and the Super PAC supporting him is already running ads nationally and in early primary states to goose the poll numbers and/or donation stats that are the DNC criteria to get on the debate stage. Will be interesting to see if that does anything.
That’s our dirty dozen by IQ this time. I’m still waiting for Kirsten Gillibrand to screw up an early state eating test bad enough to earn attention here.