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The Democratic Primary May As Well Only Have These Three Candidates

We are still six months away from the first primary elections and already the Democratic field has effectively winnowed itself down to only three likely candidates. Despite – or perhaps because of – a historically large field of more than 20 candidates, the majority have failed to gain traction and are unlikely to do so in the future. The odds are overwhelming at this point that the eventual Democratic nominee will be either Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows clearly that Biden is the frontrunner and is followed by Warren and Sanders whose support combined is approximately equal to Biden. No other candidate, including Kamala Harris, is polling above 10 percent.

In particular, Kamala Harris’ failure to launch is surprising to many observers on both sides. Harris seems to be 2020’s version of Jeb Bush in 2016: A candidate widely expected to receive a coronation by the party elites but who never caught on with voters.

Biden, on the other hand, has defied the pundit predictions that “his first day on the campaign trail will be his best.” Looking back six months ago on the RCP average, Biden was at 28.3 back in February. His position as I write this? 28.9 percent. There have been ups and downs over the spring and summer, including a surge after his campaign announcement in April and a decline after his lackluster performance in the first debate, but the former vice president’s support has proved remarkably resilient.

As I have predicted numerous times in the past, Biden seems to be benefitting from the fact that most of the Democratic candidates are far-left progressives while a large part of the Democratic base is not. Biden holds a plurality of support while the progressive candidates split the vote of the “woke” wing of the party. There may be more progressives than blue dogs in the Democratic party, but internal divisions allow Biden to come out on top. The situation is very similar to the Republican primary in 2016 in which Donald Trump won without a majority as the conservative candidates split the non-Trump vote.

The darlings of the political left, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are hobbling each other, just as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich prevented each other from defeating Donald Trump. If either Sanders or Warren dropped out, the other might be able to mount a serious challenge to Joe Biden, but neither seems likely to take one for the team.

Even then, it might not matter. A recent Morning Consult poll that asked about second choices of Democratic voters showed that Joe Biden would benefit about as much as Sanders or Warren if the other dropped out. At 30 percent, Biden was the top second choice of Sanders voters compared to 26 percent for Warren. Twenty-four percent of Warren voters picked Bernie as their second choice, but Biden was only two points behind.

Interestingly, the political betting markets at Predict It are not following the voters. Bettors there are picking Elizabeth Warren, with a 33 cent ranking, to be the nominee. Biden is a fairly close second at 26 cents. Bernie is a distant third at 15 cents.

Biden has retained his lead despite frequent gaffes in large part because of his support among black voters. Politico pointed out that Biden has the support of more than 40 percent of all black voters. Biden’s support rises to almost two-thirds of black voters who are older than 65.

So what could upset Biden’s chances to become the eventual nominee? The most likely scenario is probably a catastrophic gaffe, but at this point it seems that Biden’s gaffes, like Trump’s, are baked into the cake. Biden, like Trump, benefits from low expectations.

It is possible that another candidate might emerge that would unify both wings of the Democratic Party, but it is unclear who that would be. Michelle Obama is a candidate that could probably enter the race and immediately become the frontrunner, but the former First Lady said last month that there was “zero chance” that she would run.

Barring a health crisis or the unlikely discovery of some long-dead skeleton in his closet, Joe Biden is likely to emerge next summer as the Democratic nominee to face a Republican nominee that will almost certainly be Donald Trump, a candidate who at this point is trailing all of the aforementioned Democrats (plus Pete Buttigieg) by a historically large margin. The resulting campaign between two gaffe-prone senior citizens, a “gaffe-o-lympics” if you will, will be a comedy of errors the likes of which this nation has never seen.  

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