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Nevada Today

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New Year, New Trail (Mix): Our January Democratic Caucus Power Rankings

Happy New Year, Nevada. It’s wild to think we’ve been talking about 2020 for just over a year. But now, it’s finally 2020! 

Today, we’re checking in on the state of the race to see where everyone stands in this first full week of the first year of the new decade. Let’s get this show on the trail.

↔️ #1: Joe Biden (unchanged)
Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

Is “Joe-mentum” for real? Well, yes and no. On one hand, former Vice President Joe Biden’s national poll numbers remain the same mid-20’s to low-30’s range they’ve been for the past six months and we don’t have enough fresh Nevada polls to properly use this metric to gauge how he’s faring here.

However we do have other metrics available, and these metrics seem to favor Biden: He’s picking up more endorsements, including a crucial one from Nevada’s own Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas). His fundraising is also picking up, even if he remains well behind our new #2 (more on that below). And while Biden’s organization still doesn’t seem like the strongest, he may now have enough institutional support and cash on hand to fix that. We’ll see how that goes, but for now Biden remains on top of the board.

🔼 #2: Bernie Sanders (up from #3 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

“#FeelTheBern”? Nevada may not be feeling U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) as enthusiastically as Iowa and New Hampshire seem to be, but that may yet change. After all, Sanders has a devoted fan base and solid ground game (again, his 2020 field operation is a “YUGE!” improvement over his 2016 clusterf–k). And unlike certain other candidates, Sanders has managed to cultivate the kind of grassroots donor army ($34.5 million last quarter!) that demonstrates both fundraising prowess and strong base appeal.

While some Democratic insiders have been fuming over Sanders’ recent rise, they have yet to find a way to stop him, even as they’ve seemingly landed blows on the other prominent progressive running (see below). Unless Biden can consolidate more of the party around him, or unless another of the centrists can overtake Biden and build a broader coalition, Sanders might just be on the verge of pulling off in 2020 what he couldn’t figure out in 2016.

🔻 #3: Elizabeth Warren (down from #2 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just before I began writing this, news broke of former San Antonio (Texas) Mayor and former federal HUD Secretary Julián Castro endorsing U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) now that Castro himself is out of the race. While Castro never managed to gain much traction in polls and fundraising (more on that later), he did inspire a number of progressive activists with his big ideas on housing, immigration, racial justice, and more. At the very least, Castro’s fresh endorsement might give Warren a momentum boost as she aims to convince progressive voters to pick her first over Sanders.

Let’s face it: She needs some new momentum. Her fundraising and poll numbers now lag behind Sanders’. And while Biden and other centrists have attacked both progressive Senators over their “radical” platforms, these attacks have seemed to take more of a toll on Warren. Is it because “practicality” attacks land harder on the seemingly more practical “plan” candidate, or is she being held to a different, sexist, and unfair double standard a la (fellow Senator) Kamala Harris (D-California)? Whatever the case, we’ll have to wait and see whether Castro’s endorsement can help Warren turn the page on this rough chapter.

↔️ #4: Pete Buttigieg (unchanged)
Photo by Elaine Hurd

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been indulging in “high, high hopes for a living” this past year, but we’re seeing signs that he’s falling back down to ground level. Even while Buttigieg was surging in Iowa and New Hampshire last November, he was running into real resistance here in Nevada. Yet while Buttigieg continues to enjoy lofty fundraising totals (above Biden’s, but below Sanders’), he can’t seem to hang onto his lead in Iowa, let alone build one here in Nevada.

As I’ve been saying since October, Buttigieg has been catching up with his ground game. But unless and until he can successfully appeal to the broader Democratic base, Buttigieg will have trouble moving beyond 90% white Iowa and 94% white New Hampshire to Nevada’s and South Carolina’s far more diverse electorates. 

🔼 #5: Tom Steyer (up from #6 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

I’ve had my doubts on the shelf life of billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign. And, well, I still do. But since he’s managed to assemble a fairly robust campaign team very quickly, and since he actually does seem to be gaining some traction, he’s still on the board (and on roadside billboards, and on the airwaves, and on internet ads, and, well, you’ve probably also seen his ads everywhere.).

🔼  #6: Andrew Yang (up from #8 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

In October, I wrote, “I have an incredibly hard time seeing tech investor Andrew Yang coming anywhere close to the Democratic nomination next year. Yet at the same time, it’s increasingly undeniable that the ‘Yang Gang’ is larger than most of us could have imagined.” That still hasn’t changed. He might have to wage a write-in insurgency in Ohio, but he will be on our caucus preference cards here in Nevada.

🔼  #7: Amy Klobuchar (up from everyone else)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Now that she finally has campaign staff, a campaign office, and some actual organization here, I can finally formally give Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) her own spot on the board. She’s yet to generate the kind of excitement I’ve seen for Sanders and Warren on the trail, and she’s far from commanding the kinds of institutional support that Biden and Buttigieg have developed. But as I finally got to see for myself (on a larger scale) last Saturday, Klobuchar has some real support here. And if she can score high in Iowa and New Hampshire, she has a chance to keep such momentum going here.

🔻 #8: Cory Booker (down from #7 last month)
Nevada Democrats
Photo by Andrew Davey

Like Julián Castro, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) has led the way on a number of policies. Unlike Castro, Booker is still officially running. Yet like Castro, Booker got knocked off the debate stage last month and probably won’t make it back onto the stage next week. This is probably a good time for me to jump into my closing rant.

💩 And finally, some notes on… Us
Nevada Democrats
Photo by Andrew Davey

After all the whining and complaining over how large the Democratic field is, that once large field is finally winnowing down to a smaller list of candidates. And yet, we’re still whining and complaining, since some of the candidates being winnowed out are candidates some Democratic voters have come to love and respect.

In the last two months, we’ve seen growing anger over Harris, Castro, Booker and a few other candidates with impressive resumes and platforms slide down or drop out while others keep resorting to wacky stunts and kooky schticks to grab our attention and maintain some kind of relevance. Now Booker is leading a petition to lower the DNC’s polling and fundraising thresholds to qualify for future debates. Perhaps that will get him back on if he actually succeeds (and so far, the DNC continues to raise those thresholds, not lower them), but that will also result in the stunty, schticky candidates also coming back.

Nevada Democrats
Photo by Andrew Davey

It’s easy to blame the DNC for some nefarious plot to keep certain candidates off the debate stage, even though these DNC rules are rules that all these candidates long ago agreed to. It’s much harder for us to blame ourselves for picking certain candidates over others, even if we like to say we like those others. It’s easy to blame the DNC for “shutting people out”, yet it’s much harder to acknowledge how we ourselves are “shutting out” certain candidates by not paying attention to them and what they have to say (until, perhaps, it’s just too late).

So if you like a candidate but fear such candidate might not make it to the next debate or to the Iowa Caucus, you might want to rethink telling the pollsters you’re voting for someone else because he’s more “electable”. After all, the best way of proving “electability” is to actually vote for your favored candidate in the election.

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