Written by Brandon C Kesselly (@bckesso)
With less than six months to go until the Iowa Caucus, the Democratic Primary field has had some interesting variances. At one point, Kamala Harris was in second place! At another point, there were multiple current or former governors still in the running. However, as the initial polling has become more competitive, Democrats like Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee have dropped out of the running, realizing their campaigns were no longer viable. That also brings us to the current stage.
Tomorrow is the September debate. Unlike June and July, the debate will be a single night with the ten candidates who qualified. To qualify for this debate, candidates had to reach one percent support in four separate polls and meet a grassroots fundraising threshold of 130,000 people (with a floor of 400 unique donors) in at least 20 states. If more than 20 candidates met at least these criteria, the DNC would give preference to candidates with higher polling and donor numbers. (Note: I previously broke down the candidates’ positions and vulnerabilities going into the June 26, June 27, July 30, and July 31 debates.)
The following candidate list is for the September 12th debate. All poll numbers are from RealClearPolitics as of Tuesday, September 10, 2019.
After taking some heat from California Senator Kamala Harris during the June debates, former Vice President Joe Biden recovered in time for the ones in July, regaining nearly all of his poll numbers. However, since then, he’s been shown to be vulnerable as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has challenged his fluctuating lead. A combination of his age, repeated public gaffes, and his overall agenda (or lack thereof) seem to have contributed to his shrinking plurality of potential voters.
And yet, he has taken the criticism in stride, choosing to focus on campaigning against President Trump. He has called racism “a white man’s problem”, calling on lawmakers to be more forceful in rebukes of the President’s rhetoric and record. He has said that the president “abandoned the theory that we are one people” in the wake of two mass shootings early last month. While the former vice president is still the front-runner, this debate could mark a turning point heading into the fall.
After struggling through the early days of his campaign, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker seems to have found his groove. He has maintained consistent support, finally overtaking Beto O’Rourke in recent polls after trailing the former Texas congressman after both the June and July debates. Booker’s performance in July showcased his calculus and gave more confidence to his coalition. While he’s a long way from the top five, the fact that he continues to qualify means he has more opportunities to grow as a candidate.
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the New Jersey senator unveiled a $3 trillion climate change plan, pledging to develop and incentivize clean energy infrastructure, establish an Environmental Justice Fund devoted to helping clean up the water and environments of poor communities, and invest in conservation and agricultural efforts — including reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps. As the next debate looms, Senator Booker is looking for a home run to make it into the top tier.
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been a rising star since announcing his candidacy. He has been an aggressively successful fundraiser, held relatively consistent polling, and continued to campaign across the nation. However, he’s still a mid-tier candidate, with his greatest advantage being his ability to raise funds for advertising. His debate performances have not been stellar, but he’s done enough to stay above 4% so far. Will this remain the case?
Since the last debate, Buttigieg has released several plans focusing on mental health & addiction, investing in rural America (for both health care and the economy), and climate change. He has been focusing his efforts on building a diverse coalition — especially with black and mid-Western voters — to make a strong showing in the coming primary elections. Expect this to come about in the debate, especially as these issues are brought to light in the questions.
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro has been on the move since July, rallying as much support as possible. He has been sharply critical of President Trump and his twin brother Joaquin posted a “target list” of Trump’s Texas supporters, much to his brother’s chagrin. He publicly blamed Trump for the El Paso shooting in August, going so far as to purchase a Fox News ad to ensure it reached the West Wing. The former San Antonio mayor has done his best to distance himself from both Vice President Biden and President Obama to position himself as more progressive on immigration and other issues.
Since July, Secretary Castro has unveiled an animal welfare plan, a plan to address white nationalism & gun violence, and an ambitious $10 trillion climate change plan. His animal welfare plan, called “The Protecting Animals and Wildlife (PAW) Plan”, seeks to care for homeless animals and to protect endangered species. Castro’s idea to curb gun violence affirms the need for universal background checks, closing various loopholes, and mandatory licensing for firearm purchases, among many other things. Regarding white nationalism, he advocates for more holistic domestic terror investigations, investing in anti-hate programs, and promoting global leadership on the matter. The former HUD secretary’s climate change plan looks to aid poor and minority communities, aiming to promote clean energy and employ people to work in a more green economy. As he is polling the lowest in the field, this feels like his biggest shot at regaining momentum.
Senator Kamala Harris is a little disappointing right now. After a momentary poll bump in the first debate, she lost loads of steam, got complacent, and then got demolished in the second debate. As it stands, it’s amazing she’s more or less back to where she was in June. While she’s not in danger of dropping out of the race anytime soon, she’s not in a comfortable enough place to be a contender just yet. Expect the California junior Senator to come more prepared for attacks this week.
Similar to Secretary Castro, she recently unveiled a $10 trillion climate change plan, as well as a plan for educating and employing disabled Americans. The former San Francisco attorney general also recently debuted her plan for criminal justice reform, something her campaign sourly needed after Tulsi Gabbard and Joe Biden tag-teamed to skewer her track record. Critics will likely argue that her plan rings hollow given her prosecutorial past, but the senator intends to end mass incarceration, legalize marijuana (which we already knew), and enact sentencing reforms, among many other ideas.
Senator Amy Klobuchar is nothing if not tenacious. Despite polling at about 1% overall, she’s managed to qualify for the third and fourth debates, respectively due to a combination of specific polls and consistent donors. While I consider her prospects virtually non-existent at this point, she’s at least likely to win her home state in a primary, where she’s still extremely popular.
In line with her fellow candidates, Senator Klobuchar released a climate change plan heading into a CNN town hall on the subject. She intends to re-join the Paris climate accord, revive the Clean Power Plan, and push for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. She also put forth a bill to tackle anti-competitive practices and another focused on farm and rural policy. The Minnesota senator is one of the few remaining moderate Democrats left in the race, so expect her to lean on her bipartisan reputation to remain in the race.
Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke has had some very public reactions over the recent mass shootings, particularly the one in his home town of El Paso, Texas. In an emotionally charged moment, he expletively blamed President Trump for the shooting to reporters on the scene and called on the press to “connect the dots.” Still, O’Rourke’s emotional honesty has yet to pull in more voters, even with fewer candidates in the race since that time. Several outlets believe he should run for office in Texas rather than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, but we’ll see how things play out.
Since July, the former congressman had a bit of beef with Breitbart after his campaign removed one of their reporters from an event. He recently released a plan to protect workers’ collective bargaining rights and attended a gun show in Arkansas a day after releasing his proposal for gun control, seemingly re-shaping his campaign after the Wal-Mart shooting. “In Arkansas, I listened to gun owners and sellers — and appreciated hearing their perspectives,” he later tweeted. “But as the plan we released yesterday says, if I’m president, you wouldn’t be able to buy weapons of war for $395. You wouldn’t be able to buy them at all.”
Senator Bernie Sanders remains a top-three candidate despite his average debate performances thus far. The Vermont senator has spent the better part of his campaign advocating for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and free tuition at public colleges and universities.
Regarding the Green New Deal, Sanders released a $16.3 trillion climate change plan in the wake of Governor Jay Inslee dropping out of the race (honestly, most of the candidates dropped theirs after Inslee left). Aside from declaring climate change a national emergency, Sanders’ plan pledges to eliminate fossil fuel use by 2050, invest in clean energy nationwide, and budgets $200 billion in foreign climate change assistance. The Vermont senator released his criminal justice reform plan, seeking to end for-profit prisons & cash bail, improve law enforcement accountability, and end mass incarceration, ambitiously pledging to cut the prison population in half. He also announced a plan to eliminate $81 billion in medical debt, but it is yet to be released.
Senator Warren has been aggressively consistent in her debate performances thus far. She has largely avoided ad hominem attacks against her fellow Democrats, has stayed on message during the crowded debate stages, and her poll numbers have kept her in the top 3 for months on end. While it’s still extremely early, betting odds seem to favor her to secure the nomination. Will they be proven right by this time next year? Keep an eye on her to continue to push back against moderate politics in favor of her stated goal of bringing corporations and the ultra-wealthy to heel.
Since July, the Massachusetts senator has worked to repair her image with the Native American tribes since her DNA debacle last year, visiting Sioux City, Iowa, publicly apologizing for the incident, and proposing her policy agenda for Native Americans. As being a planner has become an essential part of her brand, Warren released a plan on criminal justice reform dedicated to improving public safety, ending “stop-and-frisk”, and demilitarization of police departments, going so far as to propose ending the DOD practice of sending police departments unused military equipment. She also intends to make it easier to sue police departments over civil rights violations. As well, Senator Warren has released an $85 billion plan for rural broadband internet.
Andrew Yang is a fascinating candidate. He’s continuing to rise in the polls, eclipsing experienced candidates like Tulsi Gabbard and Bill de Blasio to remain in the top ten. While it is still early, his borderline 3% support is likely to continue to rise, barring any serious missteps by his campaign. I’m genuinely curious about where he ends up by the end of the primary season.
Since July, he’s mostly been campaigning hard, successfully improving his poll numbers enough to qualify for the debate before even Secretary Castro. Yang also released a climate change plan, aiming to move people to higher ground while investing in a “sustainable economy”. He also set his goals and timeline via the handy diagram below.
Aside from the above, Yang pledged to pardon all nonviolent marijuana offenders if elected president.