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The 8 Biggest Questions in the Democratic Presidential Nomination Contest
1. Does Joe Biden have it in him to correct what ails his campaign?
My take: Literally every Democrat I spoke with this week who is not on Biden’s payroll thinks he does not. But a politically weak Biden, like a politically weak Hillary Clinton four years ago, can nonetheless win the nomination.
He still leads in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News national poll, and he has a monster post-debate edge in a Fox News poll of South Carolina (35% to 14% for Sanders and 12% for Harris).
Biden gave a foreign policy speech Thursday, but supportive Democrats worry that the coverage of his campaign continues to be mostly about process (like this Washington Post story saying his donated Senate papers remain under seal), not his vision for America’s future.
2. What single piece of media content should most concern the Democrats today?
My take: David Ignatius’ essential reading Washington Post column. Ignatius is no fan of Donald Trump, but he rounds up all the reasons why the president’s re-election prospects are looking stronger, in part because of the leftward movement and disarray on the Democratic side.
Ignatius doesn’t quote Bill Clinton’s famous line, but he might as well have: In politics, sometimes it is better to be strong and wrong than right and weak.
3. Is there any reason to think that the Democratic field will continue to move inexorably to the left on issues that will make it harder for the eventual nominee to win a general election?
My take: As of this morning, absolutely yes. The civil war between Speaker Pelosi and The Squad is both a symptom and a cause of the pressure the progressive movement is putting on establishment leaders in Congress and on the party’s presidential candidates to go further to the left, or risk wrath.
The dangers of this dynamic are being called out by conservatives (the Wall Street Journal editorial page has no fewer than three gleeful pieces on this point Friday, including one in which Peggy Noonan says AOC is “a one woman Committee to Re-Elect the President.”)
But the left is venting, too. Listen to Missouri Democratic Congressman William Lacy Clay in an appearance on Fox News, blasting AOC and Co.:
“It was such a weak argument to say she was being picked on and that four women of color were being picked on by the speaker. It tells you the level of ignorance to American history on their part as to what we are as the Democratic Caucus.”
“It is so inappropriate. So uncalled for. It does not do anything to help with unity. It was unfair to Speaker Pelosi.”
“It’s going to take a process of maturing for those freshman members.”
Pelosi tried to tamp things down Thursday, but there is no figure in the party, including the Speaker, strong enough to tame the powerful forces that have been unleashed. Because, democracy. And, because, social media.
4. Are the Big 5 (Biden, Warren, Harris, Sanders, and Buttigieg) the only ones in the hunt?
My take:Politico has a story detailing the challenges facing the rest of the field. It is remarkable how rarely any of the other candidates break even 2% in any national or key state poll.
The press has settled into the narrative that almost all the oxygen should go to the Big 5, making it hard for the others to raise money, rise in the polls, and get noticed enough to raise money or rise in the polls. Expect a cacophony of attempts to have breakthrough “moments” at the next pair of debates.
The biggest source of comfort to this group in the WSJ/NBC poll: Just 12 percent of respondents said they had definitely made up their minds about which candidate they will support in the nomination fight.
5. Are Iowa and New Hampshire going to be as important as ever in determining who wins the nomination?
My take: They are shaping up to be, even though it is on one level irrational to let two small, non-diverse states create unstoppable momentum.
Look for one or more of the Big 5 to start making the case that those two states are important, but shouldn’t be so determinative of who wins the nomination. Harris has already put her toe in the water on this argument, suggesting a competitive showing in Iowa is good enough to go forward. With few exceptions (John McCain in 2008), candidates have failed to win this rhetorical fight with the press in the past.
The media holds two contradictory impulses on this point: it would like a drawn-out nomination battle, but it can’t seem to shake its narrative need for Iowa and New Hampshire to play a major winnowing role.
6. How will Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris respond to increased pressure and scrutiny?
My take: As I have suggested before, the answer to that question could well determine who the nominee is. Both Republicans and Democrats now have opposition research on both loaded in the sling, ready to fire, at a place and time of their choosing. Look for some of it to be let loose shortly before the upcoming debates.
7. How much bang for the buck will Warren get from her massive staff on the ground in Iowa?
My take: The way to win Iowa hasn’t changed since 1976 – organize, organize, organize, and get hot at the end. It now appears that Warren is the kind of candidate who could get hot at the end. So her poll standing there now does not matter much.
8. What explains the gap between Pete Buttigieg’s fundraising support and polling support?
My take: Inside the bubble of those paying close attention, Mayor Pete is well known. Outside the bubble, despite his many media appearances, he still has relatively low name ID and narrow support from mostly white, educated, and wealthy backers. The collective big brains of Team Buttigieg are trying to solve this problem, but if he does not succeed, he won’t be the first candidate of this type to fail to expand his demographic backing beyond this rarified group (Tsongas ’92, Bradley ’00).
In other news:
Big Casino: Pelosi “ready” for summer global budget/debt deal.
ICE raids still on tap for weekend.
Trump drops Census fight.
Latest on the Gulf storm.
R. Kelly arrested.
Bill allowing ‘X’ gender on licenses becomes law.
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