With 134 days until the Iowa caucuses and a record number of Democratic candidates, the 2020 election is already in full swing. Every Sunday, I will outline the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked – so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week.
5. The race to make the next debate: The October 1 deadline to qualify for the fourth Democratic debate – set for October 15 and sponsored by CNN and The New York Times – is rapidly approaching, and with it the last chance, seemingly, for any lower-tier candidates to make the case that they shouldn’t be counted out just yet. (Missing one debate is bad enough. Missing two is a political death sentence.)
At the moment, the field is at 11, with wealthy businessman Tom Steyer making the October debate after narrowly missing the September set-to. The only other candidate who appears to be on the cusp of qualification is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who, with the CNN-Des Moines Register Iowa poll released over the weekend, now has three of the four polls that she needs showing her at 2% or higher. (Gabbard has already met the fundraising threshold with 130,000 unique donors.)
Spiritual guru Marianne Williamson has met the fundraising qualification but has only a single poll that shows her at 2%. (She didn’t even rate 1% in the CNN-DMR poll.)
The largest the debate field will grow then, realistically, is 12. Which means that eight candidates currently running won’t be on the debate stage for the second straight month. Which should tell them all something.
4. Can Kamala come back?: Amid a series of terrible polling results reflective of her summer struggles, California Sen. Kamala Harris is going all in on Iowa to save herself. “We want to make sure we have a strong top three finish,” said her campaign manager, Juan Rodriguez.
So, will it work? Harris has her work cut out for her, according to the new CNN-Des Moines Register Iowa poll. She’s at 6%, good for 5th place, at the moment but that is largely stagnant from where she’s been in the state since December 2018. (She was at 5% then.)
Harris is generally well-liked in the state – 63% favorable/24% unfavorable – but her unfavorables have tripled since March and her favorables have only bumped up marginally (58% in March). And those who feel strongly favorable toward Harris (26%) – usually a good measure of energy behind a candidate – runs behind her main rivals like Elizabeth Warren (44%), Pete Buttigieg (33%), Joe Biden (29%) and Bernie Sanders (26%).
Harris does have time, as there are still 134 days before the February 3, 2020 caucuses. But she has been stuck in the same place in Iowa for months. Which means she needs a jump-start. And soon.
3. Booker over and out?: Cory Booker may be the next high-profile candidate out of the 2020 race, according to a memo from his campaign manager first reported by NBC. The memo suggested that unless the New Jersey senator can raise $1.7 million in the next 10 days, he will run out of money and be forced from the race.
The campaign insisted the move was not a fundraising ploy, but it worked either way! As of Sunday morning, Booker had raised just over $300,000 in the first 24 hours of the fundraising push. Of course, $300K – while good! – is not $1.7 million. And you can’t just keep warning that you are going to drop out of the race unless people give you more money for the remainder of the contest. The sky can only be falling once (or maybe twice!)
“I don’t believe people should stay in this just to stay in it,” Booker said in Iowa on Saturday. “You either have a trajectory to win or not. And right now, we don’t raise $1.7 million, we won’t be able to make the investments necessary.”
Booker may get his $1.7 million this time. But without significant poll improvements, it’s hard to see how he can keep raising the money he is going to need to compete with the big girls and boys. He will, for sure, stay in the race until the next debate – October 15 in Ohio and sponsored by CNN. But is there a path beyond that?
2. Elizabeth Warren, Iowa front-runner: Warren has been the hottest candidate in the 2020 race for the past few months now. And it’s showing up not just in national polling but now also in the crucial state of Iowa.
The Des Moines Register/CNN/MediaCom Iowa poll released Saturday night showed Warren at 22% and at the top of the pack although followed closely by Joe Biden at 20%. No one else in the field was terribly close to the top two, with Bernie Sanders at 11% in third place and Pete Buttigieg in fourth with 9%.
While the topline numbers are good for Warren, the trend lines are even better. She gained 7 points from the June DMR/CNN poll and has almost tripled her support in the state from a December 2018 poll. Biden, meanwhile, has lost support in each of the four DMR/CNN polls between December 2018 and now. And Sanders dropped 5 points from just June until now.
Warren’s favorable numbers in the poll also make clear how much energy and passion is beyond her candidacy presently. Three-quarters of those polled had a favorable view of her, including a whopping 44% who had a “very favorable” opinion. That compares very favorably to the 29% who view Biden very favorably and the 26% who feel that same way about Sanders.
Couple all of those data points with the fact that Warren has, by far, the best ground organization in Iowa, and you have to make her the favorite in the Hawkeye State today.
1. Trump vs. Biden vs. Ukraine: It’s only September, but we’re already getting a look at what a general election fight between Trump and Biden would look like. Faced with a whistleblower complaint from the intelligence community about a series of interactions between himself and the Ukrainians, Trump is trying to push the attention to Biden and his son, Hunter, vis a vis Ukraine.
Fact checkers have already debunked Trump’s claims about there being something nefarious in Biden’s trip to the Ukraine in 2016 and his son’s work for a natural gas company in the country, and there is no evidence of wrongdoing by either. Biden has pushed back aggressively. “Every single outlet that’s looked at this said there’s nothing there there,” he told the Iowa Starting Line. “And me, nor anyone in my family did anything inappropriate. And every major outlet has acknowledged that. I just find it very Trump-like.”
It is very “Trump-like!” Because, facts be damned, Trump has and will continue to use his media megaphone – press gaggles + Twitter – to push the idea that something was going on in Ukraine with the two Bidens. And if past is prologue, he won’t stop – no matter what fact-checkers or his advisers tell him.
On the one hand, this fight is good for Biden. Electability is his strongest argument to Democratic voters – and the more Trump hits Biden, the more the former vice president can seek to bypass the primary and begin running the general election. On the other, it’s reminder that whether Biden or some other Democrat is the nominee, we can expect Trump to say and do literally anything in pursuit of a second term.