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Round 3: 2020 Dems by IQ

Since Old Uncle Joe is finally in this race it’s time for Round 3 of our IQ ranking of the 2020 Democratic field. Reminder: this is by “Interesting Quotient”…the ability of candidates to get attention in a hyper-crowded field. This isn’t a power ranking or other poll-infused assessment. It’s most definitely not a ranking based on personal policy preferences.

Using that metric here’s who currently has the best ability to draw attention and elevate themselves from this huge pack of candidates:

1. Pete Buttigieg (Previously 2)

Organic rise in Google searches even before his first CNN town Hall? Check

Big fundraising number for a guy coming out of nowhere? Check

Good attention on his now 2nd CNN Town Hall? Check:

He’s doing seemingly every media interview he can, part of what’s fueling his rise in the now self-fulfilling cycle of media attention = poll numbers = media attention = poll numbers … etc, etc.

More interestingly, Mayor Pete is a consummate wine-track candidate:

Which gets us to the fun part. Who was the wine-track candidate of 2016? Bernie Sanders.

We’re now to the phase of this still early primary campaign where campaigns are getting an initial feel for what voter demographics are being drawn where (to the degree to which voters are engaging).

That means more attacks, subtle and otherwise, as the competition becomes clearer. How will Mayor Pete respond to that? His demeanor on the trail thus far indicates well, but let’s see him on that debate stage in June.

2. Joe Biden (8)

He might not be launching his soon-to-be-official campaign in Charlottesville as once thought, but he thought about it. Between that and the pugnacious way he made light of the inappropriate touching stories after publicly acknowledging them indicates for all the potential faults of a Biden candidacy it will get some attention. If he’s going down, he’s going down swinging and being himself.

Pass the bourbon while I settle into my comfy chair.

While it lasts at least. Old Uncle Joe hasn’t won a competitive election on his own since 1972 (his first election to the Senate). He has a lot to prove before the true potential strength of his candidacy is to be believed.

3. Kamala Harris (4)

I almost put Harris and Cory Booker at a tie, but give a slight edge to Harris here given she’s the most prominent female in the field and hails from a state giving her a huge political base.

A key ingredient that keeps both Harris and Booker interesting, in addition to their potential appeal in a Democratic primary process that only rarely anoints someone that doesn’t win the black vote: early state activists seem to like both of them.

Harris and Booker are getting both the highest numbers on potential consideration from such activists and the lowest rankings on which candidates activists “don’t want” as the nominee. That’s a lot of possible upside for both.

Harris’ weak flank on criminal justice reform still feels like an attack line waiting to be exploited as the race moves past Iowa and New Hampshire. Harris also seems excessively cautious at times, including at her recent CNN Town Hall. A potential flaw to bookmark.

4. Cory Booker (3)

One of the subtleties of a good Presidential campaign is building a structure that is durable and effective both nationally and in early states without being too expensive (as Elizabeth Warren is already raising eyebrows for). Booker appears to be finding that balance.

A great message usually beats great organization, but in a crowded field where narrow margins can make all the difference between being top 3 in a state or finishing off the podium, organization can sure help too.

5. Beto O’Rourke (1)

The campaign gods giveth and the campaign gods taketh away. Viral, high minded platitudes preached standing on a bar or table worked well against the unpopular Ted Cruz. Not so much amidst 20+ competitors of the same party.

Great candidates learn on the trail and adapt. Beto either adapts into something more than his Senate campaign or he’ll slowly fade.

6. Bernie Sanders (5)

Bernie was older when Pete Buttigieg was born than Mayor Pete’s age today. The latter has been talking about “intergenerational justice” while Sanders has notably staffed up with people who throw very sharp elbows. Bernie also has a very Trump 2016-like base of support: not a majority of the primary electorate but a passionate one. High floor but low ceiling means he can’t afford to cede ground to Buttigieg.

Feels like we have an eventual wine-track donnybrook coming between the aged chardonnay and the newly-arrived rosé.

What’s a good bar snack to go with that?

7. Elizabeth Warren (10)

The flurry of policy proposals pouring out of her (excessively large) campaign does do something to get attention and put her DNA test fumble farther into the rear-view mirror. She may not be the most charismatic candidate or a media favorite, but she’s substantively influencing the policy trajectory of the Democratic primary process, such as her proposal about student debt. It’s possible she could pop with a debate moment to get her back into the top tier.

8. Tulsi Gabbard (9)

She keeps hanging on because she’s qualified for the debates with enough donors and there’s always space in a crowded Democratic primary for a quasi-isolationist willing to talk ill of America rather than our enemies (though some of her critique of Saudi Arabia, for example, is quite fair) . A nice foil to have on stage if you stand for sane Democratic foreign policy thought.

9. Julian Castro (6)

I repeat: Marco and Jeb proved two significant candidates from a large state doesn’t work well. Castro continues to fall down this list because Beto sucked up the Texas oxygen, leaving him precious little space to get traction.

10. Andrew Yang (unranked)

The internet nerds deserve their candidate too, right? Who else can explain the elevated place Yang holds on the prediction markets. He too will be on the debate stage and his proposals like universal basic income could further goose the attention he receives, sustaining his niche candidacy for a while.

11. Jay Inslee (12)

The dude may be languishing in a crowded field but he has a Super PAC both dropping serious coin in his support already and finding, um, unique ways to assist the campaign as well…if the campaign is taking advantage of it. Nothing may come of all that in the end but worth keeping on the list for now.

12. Amy Klobuchar (11)

We’re getting close to Kirsten Gillibrand territory here, complete with a “please clap” moment:

Crowded primaries aren’t fair. Potentially strong candidates can falter early (see Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal). Will Klobuchar be the top Democrat that drops out before 2020 actually arrives?

I’m keeping this list at 12, despite the big field. Call it a possible top 10 for the eventual main debate stage plus a couple alternates.

What do you think?


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