2020 dem candidates SPLIT 0425
If only one can win the nomination, why do so many run?
02:05 - Source: CNN

(This is the 18th edition of our power rankings of Democrats most likely to get their party’s presidential nomination in 2020.)

CNN  — 

On Wednesday night, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee became the third major Democratic candidate to drop out of the 2020 race. He’s not likely to be the last to say goodbye in the next few weeks.

Here’s why: Candidates have until August 28 – a week from yesterday – to qualify for the third presidential debate, which is set to be held on September 12 (and 13th if necessary) in Houston, Texas. At the moment, 10 candidates have met the two qualifications: 1) 130,000 individual donations from at least 400 unique donors in 20 or more states and 2) 2% in at least four DNC-approved polls.

That means – because, math – that 12 candidates have not qualified for the debates. (That number was 13 prior to Inslee’s decision to exit.) The only one of that dozen who looks to have a realistic chance of making it onto the Houston debate stage is billionaire Tom Steyer, who already has the requisite number of donors and needs just one more poll to make it.

Which means – again, math – that there will likely be 11 candidates running for president who can’t make the next debate. And if you can’t make the debate, it becomes very, very hard to hang on as a credible candidate.

Think about going to your donors – large-dollar and small-dollar – and asking them to reinvest in you. That’s hard enough when you are scuffling along at 1% but are guaranteed a slot in the debate. When you miss the debate because you can’t meet basic criteria to demonstrate a serious candidacy? That ask becomes close to impossible.

Campaigns end when candidates run out of money. And that moment seems likely to happen for a good number of the candidates, if they don’t make the debate stage. (Steyer has huge personal wealth and will say in the race no matter what.)

Some may try to ride through the dry time between August 29 and September 12. It’s not an easy path, however, and our guess is not all of the candidates in the race today will be willing to take it.

10. Tom Steyer: Is this businessman going to win the Democratic nomination? Probably not. But Steyer has shown a willingness to spend millions of dollars on ads. Ads that helped him get to 3% in Iowa very quickly. This may not seem like a great result, but it’s better than the majority of Democrats running. Steyer needs just one more qualifying poll to make the September debates, which most candidates will miss. (Previous ranking: Unranked)

9. Julián Castro: The good news for Castro is that thanks to the new CNN-SSRS national poll – where he took 2% – the former San Antonio mayor has qualified for the third debate. He’s been one of the strongest performers in each of the first two debates and there’s no reason to think Castro won’t continue that streak in September. The bad news? Castro’s past debate showings haven’t moved the needle much for him in the contest. (Previous ranking: 8)

8. Beto O’Rourke: After falling in our rankings, the former Texas congressman climbs one spot. He’s decided to employ an unconventional approach of mostly ignoring the early states and is focusing instead on immigration and gun control. That’s a long shot, but uniqueness may be what’s needed to stand out from the pack. O’Rourke has basically bottomed out at around 3% in the polls, which is good enough to be in the top 8. (Previous ranking: 9)

7. Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator continues to do enough to remain in the middle of the second tier, but not enough to move up. Her fundraising is OK. Her debate performances have been OK. Her policy proposals have drawn an OK reception. OK isn’t bad. It’s also not good enough for Klobuchar to be the nominee. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Cory Booker: The junior senator from New Jersey has one of the better field operations and a lot of activist support in the early states. Booker has made the debate stage for September and is likely to make most stages, with polling around 3% and a fundraising base. If Booker has a breakout moment, he has to hope this organization can help him capitalize on it. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Pete Buttigieg: We weighed moving Booker up and over the South Bend mayor who has generally stalled in most state and national polling. What kept us from doing it? Buttigieg’s incredible second quarter of fundraising, which, if he spends it smartly, should allow him to build serious organizations in early voting states and to buy ad time to introduce himself more widely to those states’ voters. (Previous ranking: 5)

3. Bernie Sanders (tie): There’s something to be said for consistency. Sanders has held firm at 15% in a 20+ candidate field. It’s good enough for a tie for second place in most polls. Moreover, his supporters are the most likely to say they are enthusiastic about Sanders and none of the other Democrats. Add that to the fact that he has a ton of money, and you can see why (when in combination with Harris’ drop in the polls), we moved him up a slot. (Previous ranking: 4)

3. Kamala Harris (tie): Look: Harris’ drop from 17% in a June CNN poll to 5% in the new survey isn’t great. But Harris’ numbers were artificially high in June following her star turn at the first debate and she was bound to come back to earth. The California senator’s biggest problem isn’t her poll numbers; it’s that her health care position still isn’t clear – and Sanders is starting to go after her on it. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Elizabeth Warren: The polls tell the story for Warren. She’s moved up to the mid-teens in national polling. She seems to be slightly higher in Iowa. Moreover, her favorable ratings have moved up considerably from where they once were. Warren seems to have a policy plan for everything, which just might work, given that Democratic voters strongly dislike the idea of a president who wanted to buy Greenland. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Joe Biden: The former vice president’s first four-ish months in the race haven’t been totally smooth sailing. But with every passing week that he remains on top, Biden’s chances of being the nominee increase. Biden is betting it all on the idea that electability – aka being able to beat Donald Trump – is what Democratic voters will prize most when they cast their ballots. The CNN poll suggests that, at least at the moment, that’s a good gamble. (Previous ranking: 1)