The state of the Democratic race

Sean Trende wrote this just before the Democratic debate, but I don’t think that really changed too much.  I agree with most all his major points in this “buy, sell, hold” formulation:

Joe Biden: Sell. I’ve been of the view for quite some time that Joe Biden’s first day as a declared candidate would likely be his best, and the trend lines seem to validate this viewpoint. Since popping up to 40% in the polls shortly after declaring, he’s been in a holding pattern around 30%, with some polling showing him trailing other candidates.  More distressing news for his candidacy is found in the early states, where his lead in Iowa is just 10 points (even this is, in some respects, a quirk of averaging a multi-candidate field, as no recent poll has his lead in double digits) while his advantage in New Hampshire is less than a point.

Yes, his lead in later states is more robust, especially South Carolina where his strength among African American voters is keeping his candidacy afloat.  But losing the first two early states, or even splitting them, will likely cause voters elsewhere to give a second look to other candidates. Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Elizabeth Warren: Buy. If I had to name a front-runner, it would probably be Warren.  She seems to have captured the zeitgeist of the Democratic Party these days, as it shifts steadily leftward.  She’s obviously very smart, has a host of wonkish plans, and is in many ways the candidate that many hoped Hillary Clinton would be. Probably the biggest question is whether she can expand her support past a base of very liberal, college-educated whites…

Kamala Harris: Buy. This may seem counterintuitive given her precipitous drop in the polls, but Harris is probably undervalued.  She’s the most natural political athlete of the bunch, and the Democratic electorate has already showed a willingness to consider her.  A good debate and a Biden collapse might be enough to give her a second bounce. In any event, she seems undervalued for now.

Everyone else: Hold.  There is a cluster of Democrats polling in the low single digits who are nevertheless within a few points of a fourth-place finish in Iowa or New Hampshire. In other words, it doesn’t take much to go from 2% in the polls to “legitimate contender.”  This is magnified by the fact that we don’t know where the supporters of the candidates drawing 1% in the polls will go as they begin to drop out (these voters have to go somewhere). The problem is we don’t have a good way of knowing *which* candidate could play the basic role assumed by John Kasich in the 2016 Republican primary.  But don’t count out all of the candidates getting 2% just yet. [emphasis mine]

For the record, I left out his Bernie hold and Beto sell.

Anyway, I obviously agree that I think it unlikely Biden actually captures the nomination.  I also agree that Harris is currently under-valued.  But, most notably, I think there is a better than 50-50 chance that somebody currently considered an also-ran emerges as a very serious contender.  For the record, my money is on Booker on that, but it really could be anybody.  The fun thing about primaries is that what actually happens out there in the world matters.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to The state of the Democratic race

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    I think Tim Ryan is a hold. He may make some Democrat an excellent VP choice. He’s a real old fashioned Democrat. .. Can you say “Solidarity Forever?)….that’s good in many ways. He’s in Biden’s lane and could be available if Biden fails.

  2. homeys44 says:

    I actually agree on your Booker comments. Don’t know what makes this Trende guy consider Harris some “athlete”. Theres really no reason for her to be above Booker at this point, besides gender. With Warren emerging, Democrats can check the female box, and feel OK with having Booker supplant Harris as the top minority/Biden alternate non-socialist. Booker seems to actually be getting better, unlike Harris.

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