The 20-person or two-man race

Rich Galen:

The Lad (@ReedGalen) called the other day and we discussed whether the 20-person Democratic primary will be decided by those who want ideological purity (read, “Socialism”), or by those who want to beat Donald Trump.

“It is unlikely that a Socialist Dem can beat Donald,” Reed said.

As the Washington Post’s senior correspondent Dan Balz and polling director Scott Clement more elegantly put it:

“At least 20 contenders are courting a Democratic electorate closely divided over whether to nominate someone who can energize the party’s core constituencies or win over political independents.”

That statement was part of a review of a poll released Sunday showing, as nearly every other poll has shown, that at this stage it is a two-person race between former VP Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. In this poll, respondents were not read a list of candidates to choose from, but rather they were asked as an open-ended question, who they supported.

In that format, 54 percent said they had no preference. Of those who did show a preference Biden as first with 13 percent with Sanders right behind at nine percent. Pete Buttigieg was third at 5, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren tied at 4, and Beto O’Rourke who, at three percent, was the only other candidate above one percent.

Central to our discussion was the observation that

“Asked to choose which is more important, 48 percent say they prefer a candidate who is best positioned to energize the Democratic base, while 44 percent prefer a candidate who can best win over independent voters.”

I assume “independent voters” represent those persuadable, but non-aligned voters who might got to Trump based upon immigration and the economy among other issues.

Rarely will someone answer a poll saying they would rather lose and remain faithful to their ideology. Far more often they say, “If we’re true to our ideology, we will energize enough like-minded people to win.”

Most often this is stated in the reverse, after a loss: “If more candidates that delivered a more pure message, they would have won.” That is not often true, but it has been a powerful fund raising message over the past 40 years.

In addition to guiding their messaging into the appropriate, in the current vernacular, “lane,” Democratic candidates are like the starters in the Olympic Marathon final. In 2016, 155 runners started the race (140 finished) and each was elbowing the guy next to him to try to get, and maintain, an edge.

Biden left the starting gate talking about Trump. Specifically talking about Trump’s reaction to the White Supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville. He has clearly set himself up as the person who can win in November 2020.

Sanders has continued to talk about the long-held and well-developed positions that credit his self-description as a “Democratic-Socialist.”

The Beto O’Rourke/Pete Buttigieg sub-contest is currently heading in Mayor Pete’s direction. O’Rourke hasn’t re-established the vibe that followed his exciting, but unsuccessful, race for U.S. Senate in Texas against Ted Cruz last year. Mayor Pete showed up about a month ago and has raised eyebrows (in a good way) every day since. As he said last week, “I think I’ve gone from being viewed as adorable six weeks ago to now plausible.”

The other head-to-head sub-contest appears to be between California’s Kamala Harris and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren. To eye, Harris appears to be happy to run (continuing the marathon metaphor) just off the leaders’ shoulders for now. Warren keeps trying to elbow her way to the front as if she fears she will get lost in the mob if she doesn’t exhibit more energy night in, and night out than everyone else.

There is a poll released almost every day and the top six or seven will bounce up and down, but the remaining 12 or 13 are going to have to grit their teeth and make a move or voters will just forget them.

Biden, who has only been in the race for a couple of days, has claimed the “I can beat Trump” jersey.  Sanders is holding up the Socialism for Everyone banner.

We’ll see what Democratic voters are looking for.

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