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
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
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
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
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.