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Trail Mix: Our Post-Debate/Pre-Thanksgiving Democratic Caucus Power Rankings

This has been quite the week. Five days ago, most of the candidates came to see us here in Nevada. Last night, we got to see ten of them on the debate stage in Georgia. 

Today, we’re checking in on the state of the race to see where they stand… And who’s on track to keep standing once it’s finally time to caucus.

🔼 #1: Joe Biden (up from #2 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

After enduring months of terrible national headlines, former Vice President Joe Biden finally got one great headline here in Nevada: He’s winning. At first it was just one poll, but the Mellman Group’s poll for The Nevada Independent has not just been eagerly awaited by political insiders because the DNC considers it a qualifying poll for the November and December debates, but also because of Mark Mellman’s sterling track record of delivering accurate numbers. According to Mellman and the Indy Biden leads with 29%, followed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) at 19%. Then last week, Fox News provided some confirmation with their own numbers showing Biden ahead, albeit with a narrower 24%-18% lead over Warren and Sanders.

And over the weekend, CBS and YouGov gave Biden another 10% lead over Sanders (33% Biden, 23% Sanders, 21% Warren). So for now, Biden is back out front. However, my earlier warnings about Biden’s fragile frontrunner status still stand. Especially since Nevada is a caucus state, these polling leads won’t mean much if he doesn’t have a strong enough operation to turn out core supporters and persuade others to pick him once their top choices fail the viability test.

🔻 #2: Elizabeth Warren (down from #1 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) got the gain, and now she feels the pain. With frontrunner status comes extra scrutiny, and she’s already getting plenty of it on everything from her “Medicare for All” single-payer health care plan to her allegedly “angry and antagonistic” demeanor. Even as many progressives and feminists recoil over the uneven scrutiny that she and the other women candidates have generally been on the wrong side of, it’s becoming harder to deny that this pile-on is taking its toll on the once unshakable Warren operation.

However, don’t count Warren out just yet. She still has a very solid campaign team nationally and here in Nevada, and that campaign team have quietly been building a rock-solid field operation across the state while other campaigns have been making all sorts of loud noises. Warren seemed to enjoy some success in reminding Democrats why so many of them fell in love with her at last night’s MSNBC-Washington Post Debate, so she may yet turn this around.

↔️ #3: Bernie Sanders (unchanged)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Bernie’s back! No really, after a health scare last month, the long-time “democratic socialist” political revolutionary is back on the campaign trail and enjoying the best run he’s had since he launched his 2020 campaign in March. Bernie Sanders has scored endorsements from progressive thought leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), and from powerhouse unions like United Teachers Los Angeles. And while centrist and conservative critics keep hunting for devils in the details of fellow progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren’s signature plans, Sanders’ “paint with broad strokes” ideological approach seems to be paying off for now.

But as I’ve said before, we’ve yet to see signs of Sanders expanding his base in the Democratic Party. During a press call last week, national campaign adviser Jeff Weaver and Nevada State Director Sarah Michaelsen insisted that they will deliver Nevada and the nomination to Sanders by convincing new voters and infrequent voters to show up and caucus for him. I’ve yet to be convinced this is how the “political revolution” will be televised, but at least Sanders’ organized 2020 campaign infrastructure (as in, tighter and overall better than his slapdash 2016 operation here) and recent burst of momentum give him a real fighting chance.

🔼 #4: Pete Buttigieg (up from #5 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is having another moment. The Des Moines Register’s “gold standard” poll shows Buttigieg rocketing into the lead in Iowa, and several more recent polls show him pulling ahead or very close to Biden, Warren, and Sanders there and possibly New Hampshire as well. But so far, his Iowa surge barely registers here in Nevada.

What gives? As I’ve been warning for some time, Buttigieg has a real problem connecting with voters of color here and nationally. If this pattern holds, Buttigieg’s weakness with the core component of the 2020-era Democratic base might allow the other three frontrunners to survive losing Iowa to Buttigieg, provided they make a strong rebound here and in South Carolina (aka, the other early state with a more diverse Democratic primary electorate). But for the time being, Buttigieg’s mostly white and affluent base has grown more than big enough to propel him past the also-ran’s and back into the top tier.

🔻 #5: Kamala Harris (down from #4 last month)
Photo by Andrew Davey

What happened? That’s what I and so many others keep asking when we assess the rise and fall of Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) as a 2020 presidential candidate. When I watched her at the Culinary Union town hall and at the Westside Pride Black Community Forum this month, I saw how she connected with the crowd and took them to church with her new rallying cry of, “Justice is on the ballot!

And yet, her poll numbers have not only dropped below Biden’s, Warren’s, and Sanders’, but she’s finally fallen behind Buttigieg here in Nevada and moved closer toward the rest of the field. National media pundits had already begun the pre-mortem autopsy of her campaign’s “meltdown”, but Harris successfully used her time at last night’s debate to hit the reset button and try out her “Justice on the ballot” message with a national audience. We’ll see in the coming weeks whether Harris can keep it up and turn this ship around, because she doesn’t have much time left to make this work.

🔼 #6: Tom Steyer (up from everyone else)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Once upon a time, billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer was viewed as a sort of “progressive fairy godfather” for investing in institutional infrastructure to build the movement. Now, however, he’s just another billionaire running for president. But since he’s managed to assemble a fairly robust campaign team very quickly, he’s on the board (at least for now).

🔻 #7: Cory Booker (down from #6 last month)
Nevada Democrats
Photo by Andrew Davey

While fielding questions in the press filing room at the “First in the West” event, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) insisted, “The person you’ve been seeing on those debate stages is the person I am.” Indeed, he showed himself and all his potential on the debate stage last night. Yet so far, hardly anyone is paying attention. Booker doesn’t have much time left to get more voters to notice him.

↔️  #8: Andrew Yang (unchanged)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last month, 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 hasn’t changed. He delivered solid turnout for the “First in the West” event, and his team even threw up a banner in my neighborhood, but I still can’t see him winning here or any other state.

😱 And finally, some notes on everyone else
Nevada Democrats
Photo by Andrew Davey

Yes, I know we have some new additions to the 2020 field. But unless and until former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) actually put some effort into campaigning here in Nevada, it’s hard for me to take them seriously. Case in point: I’m bombarded with press releases from Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s (D) campaign nearly every day, but it’s hard for me to see where he goes from Iowa because he seems to have zero infrastructure outside Iowa and New Hampshire.

At least Patrick showed up here for “First in the West” weekend, and so did Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota). Whenever in town, Klobuchar impresses local Democrats with her Nevada knowledge and constant attention to detail. (Even when she wasn’t here in person for Mesquite to Moapa Democrats’ “True to the Blue” event, she still impressed the crowd.) It’s confounded me why she’s waited so long to start organizing on the ground here in Nevada, but she’s finally begun staffing up, so maybe I can finally move her up the board soon.

So this is all for now. Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, as I certainly need one, and we’ll catch up once we’re all done with the leftovers.

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