It’s time to update our ranking of the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates by IQ (Interesting Quotient): how much attention can they capture to elevate themselves in a hyper-crowded primary scrum.
The field is apparently settled at an unholy two dozen candidates, at least 20 of which have already qualified for first debate later this month, and grumpiness abounds among the lesser candidates as the DNC ratchets up the qualifying criteria for debates this fall.
Fun fact: Kirsten Gillibrand is still a total flop.
On to the list!
1. Joe Biden (Previously 2)
A good reminder the Interesting Quotient isn’t always driven by doing politically beneficial things. Let’s stipulate any act called a “flip-flop-flip” is a no good, very bad day. But that’s Biden on the Hyde Amendment. And it’s getting attention, much more than the it-was-probably-bad-staff-work-but-it-still-cringe-worthy plagiarism reprise.
He’s the front-runner. His time as Obama’s visible VP left a good taste in the mouth of many potential primary voters, especially among seniors and blacks. That’s a great base in a Democratic primary. But Biden has shown in his previous two bumbling, listless Presidential campaigns he’s not very good at this.
A key point in the discussion of Donald Trump’s behavioral foibles is what makes anyone think the 72-year old President is suddenly going to turn over a new leaf? What also makes anyone think the 76-year old Biden has been transformed into an effective, durable candidate on the national stage?
2. Elizabeth Warren (7)
The “I have a plan for that” candidate increasingly has some juice. She got an attention-grabbing bump in *the* Iowa Poll, including exceptionally strong favorability numbers (which may be more valuable at this still-early stage than stated candidate preference). And her campaign is the leader in creating a large field organization in Iowa that could be valuable in a crowded caucus field where margins are apt to be tight.
Proof it’s all real: the Sanders campaign is taking shots at her.
A sign the Sanders team knows Warren rising cannibalizes the white liberal vote Sanders must retain.
3. Pete Buttigieg (1)
Everyone’s favorite dorky, elf is now firmly a top tier candidate. But he knows he needs to do more. He’s started taking subtle shots at Biden. Let the crab in the bucket games commence!
Mayor Pete’s sharp weakness in African American support, including zero in one recent South Carolina poll (Pro tip: that’s bad), remains a key dynamic to watch. A candidate can pop in Iowa and New Hampshire by showing in the top 3. That’s an accomplishment in a crowded field. But the black vote is a near essential constituency to win the Democratic nomination. How Buttigieg addresses that issue, or not, may be a more interesting strategic question than watching his potential continued rise in Iowa and New Hampshire
4. Kamala Harris (3)
Her latent appeal, being a minority woman with an impressive political resume in the Union’s largest state, remains the biggest reason to keep her near the top of this list. All she needs is a big debate moment or other major campaign breakthrough to jump from being top 6 to top 3. An important distinction since only the top 3 tend to get major media attention once states start voting.
Harris is notably staffing up in Iowa too, but she’s already playing prevent defense on her criminal justice record. Harris’ path to victory requires Biden to fade and her to scoop up his strong, early minority support. That’ll be tough if she’s getting pummeled from the left on a key issue with the black community heading into South Carolina.
5. Bernie Sanders (6)
Bernie is taking the crazy uncle analogy to the next level. He’s losing ground, and weak for someone who almost won the nomination last time. But he’s like that drunken family member you cut off, but who pulled out their own flask to keep imbibing as everyone settles into their chairs after a big family meal.
His high floor, low ceiling voter support begs the question: can the Bernie diehards crack 15% (the delegate threshold) in Iowa and New Hampshire, blocking someone else from making a move early? And what does that drunken uncle do to mix it up on the crowded debate stage?
6. Cory Booker (4)
He may be lagging in polls, crowded out by Harris (among others), but he’s taking bold stances on gun control and abortion that demonstrate a Warren-like ability to grab the attention of progressive activists and opinion-leaders.
That with a solid game on the ground can yield fruit in the early states, especially when another candidate might falter. Noteworthy: Booker is building as robust an organizing staff in Iowa as Warren and Harris.
Booker feels like a Mitt Romney in 2008. Overlooked for too long by many in the absence of strong polling, even as some observers noted he was building a strong campaign structure and appealing to the right activist crowds to have some pop in the primary process as more voters tune in.
7. Amy Klobuchar (12)
Biden stumbling moves her up on the list here as much as anything. The prospect of Uncle Joe fading would leave an opening, especially in Iowa, for a relative moderate with a record of appealing to Midwestern voters.
Plus, she might assault a campaign worker on the trail. That would be different.
8. Beto O’Rourke (5)
Feels like this is just another stop on the way down of dropping off the list unless he can have a big debate or viral video moment to remind Democrats why they swooned for him last year. A rudderless campaign with no mojo. Sad! …like his dog.
9. Jay Inslee (12)
Props to him for the gumption to call for a climate change-only debate. Sure, the DNC said no, but he got 5 of his fellow Democratic candidates (including Sanders and Warren) to agree in backing such a stunt. And over 50 members of the DNC support Inslee’s call too. What comes of it? Probably nothing. But Inslee is finding a way to keep his singularly focused campaign in the news on an issue that resonates with a substantial segment of the Democratic primary electorate.
Also, he still not going to win.
10. Tulsi Gabbard (8)
The hippie, isolationist, Russia-apologist will play a niche role in
this crowded primary until the field winnows. Pass the popcorn.
11. Andrew Yang (10)
Online cult following and made for debate moment given his low name ID. He’s Ron Paul, with less annoying fans. Bring on the post-debate internet polls!
12. The Mountain West Boys (unranked)
Someone between Michael Bennet/Steve Bullock/John Hickenlooper has to do something at some point in this race, right? Lord knows it’s not likely to be one of the Seth Moulton/Tim Ryan/Eric Swalwell trio (aka The House White Boys).
In theory there is space in the Democratic coalition for someone from west of the Mississippi who is sympathetic to the libertarian impulses of the non-Pacific Coast West.
Or maybe they’ll all be doing shots with Gillibrand outside the debates by end of this year.
And you, dear reader, your thoughts?