Roughly two hours later, O’Rourke’s campaign announced that it had raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after launch — more than any other Democratic candidate including Sen. Bernie Sanders, who raised $5.9 million.
Presumably, this was intentional on the O’Rourke campaign’s behalf. Having some good news in its pocket, it waited to announce its fundraising haul until a busier news cycle (Monday morning instead of Friday afternoon) and until the media narrative surrounding his launch had begun to overextend itself. O’Rourke’s $6.1 million in fundraising is important unto itself — more money allows a campaign to hire more staff, open more field offices, run more ads and compete in more states — but it sounded like an even bigger deal to journalists who had begun to hear whispers of fundraising totals that would fall well below that.
Indeed, I too had thought it was probably a bad sign for O’Rourke that he had not disclosed his fundraising on Friday when the 24-hour period ended, although I said that it would be a “good troll” if he had intentionally held off on announcing just to screw with media expectations:
It would be a good troll if the numbers were actually good and he delayed releasing them just to sort of draw the media offsides and fuck with their expectations, but I'm not really sure if his campaign has that gear.
It could be more than a good troll, in fact, if it suggests that O’Rourke and his staff are learning to manage media expectations, something that had been a problem for the proto-campaign in its pre-launch phase. Expectations management is a key survival skill for a modern presidential candidate — one that could come in handy later on when the media is trying to interpret, for example, whether a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses was a good finish for O’Rourke or a bad one.
For better or worse, the primaries are partly an expectations game, meaning that it’s not just how well you do in an absolute sense that matters, but how well you do relative to how well the media expects you to do. Historically, for instance, the candidates that receive the biggest bounce to their national and New Hampshire polls after the Iowa caucuses are those who most beat their polls in Iowa — and therefore most beat media expectations, which are usually closely tied to the polls — and not necessarily the actual winners. The canonical example of this dynamic is Sen. Gary Hart and former Vice President Walter Mondale in the 1984 Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Even though Mondale dominated the caucuses with 48.9 percent of the vote to Hart’s 16.5 percent, it was Hart who got the favorable headlines as the media had finally found an alternative to the boring, predictable Mondale “juggernaut.” The next week, Hart came from well behind in the polls to win the New Hampshire primary.
The expectations game is dumb — among other things, it gives the media too large a role in the primary process — and maybe both voters and the media have become more sophisticated to the point where it matters less than it once did. (Recent Iowa caucuses have not produced especiallylargebounces, for instance.) I wouldn’t be so sure about that, though. Keeping expectations in check was a big problem in the Democratic primaries in 2016 for Hillary Clinton, who had one of the more robust victories of the modern primary era but who didn’t (and still doesn’t) get a lot of credit for it.
Conversely, one of President Trump’s big strengths in the primaries was to completely dominate media coverage — a big advantage when you need to differentiate yourself in a field of 17 candidates — while keeping expectations low. Usually, more coverage and higher expectations go hand-in-hand; the more hype you get, the more the press expects you to perform well in debates, polls, fundraising and, ultimately, in primaries and caucus. But Trump had a knack for trolling the media and for hacking the news cycle to make sure that he remained the center of the conversation. It’s not that this necessarily required great skill on Trump’s behalf, but he was canny enough to know that the media’s behavior is fairly predictable and therefore easy to manipulate. Meanwhile, lots of folks in the media — and certainly us here at FiveThirtyEight — were way too willing to dismiss polls showing Trump well ahead of the Republican field from the summer of 2015 onward. A high volume of coverage but low expectations is the best of both worlds for a candidate in the primaries, and Trump got it.
O’Rourke is going to get a lot of media coverage — and he’s one of those candidates who, like past failed candidates such as then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2012 and Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016, but also like successful ones such as then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 — simultaneously seems to be overrated and underrated by the press and never quite at equilibrium. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s particularly important to stay at arm’s length when evaluating candidates like these, to wait for polling data or fundraising data or other hard evidence on how well they’re doing, and to avoid reading too much into the media narratives surrounding them because they’re prone to shift on a whim. O’Rourke’s fundraising numbers — as the most tangible sign to date of how his campaign is performing — were a fairly big deal, but so was his campaign’s apparent awareness about the importance of managing expectations.
In politics, the people who really know you are your friends and neighbors. At this stage in the election cycle, many Democratic presidential candidates have low name recognition nationally, which means that their popularity at home might be one way to help us understand whether they can appeal to a larger, national audience. Or if they should consider not running.
To figure out how politicians’ constituents feel about them, we looked at two measures. The first is how popular they were among Democratic voters in their home states, which might be an indicator of their ability to attract support in their party’s presidential primary. The second is how popular they were among all voters in their states compared with the states’ partisan tendencies, which might give us a sense of how effectively the candidates can appeal to the broader general electorate.
When it comes to appealing to both the party and the broader public, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar get strong marks in their home states. While this doesn’t necessarily mean either will be the Democratic nominee in 2020 — Vermont and Minnesota are not the same as the U.S., of course — it does offer evidence of their potential, particularly for the relatively unknown Klobuchar. Let’s start with approval ratings among Democrats in the table below, where these two senators lead the way.
How Democrats rate candidates from their state
Presidential candidates’ approval ratings among registered voters who identify as Democrats in the candidates’ home states in the final three months of 2018
In the table above, 2020 hopefuls are ranked by their net job approval rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating) among Democrats in their state. The data was collected by Morning Consult in the last quarter of 2018; every quarter, the pollster reaches out to hundreds of thousands of people to create its rankings of “America’s most and least popular” senators and governors. Of course, not all the declared Democratic presidential candidates were either a senator or a governor in the closing months of last year, which means that a few hopefuls have been left out, including former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
Sanders and Klobuchar scored these high marks among Democrats in their home states while also being the best-known — based on the share of people who were able to form an opinion of them (approval rating plus disapproval rating). Notably, despite being so well-known, both Sanders and Klobuchar had disapproval ratings below 10 percent among Democrats, unlike the other six contenders. Sanders is already well-known nationally from his 2016 presidential bid, but that he remains beloved by Vermont Democrats — even as he has technically served as an independent — suggests that he hasn’t lost ground despite continuing to turn his gaze toward national politics. As for Klobuchar, she doesn’t have Sanders’s national profile, and only 2 percent or 3 percent of Democratic voters named her as their pick in the latestpolls of the primaries. Yet, her net approval rating among Minnesota Democrats of +81.3 percentage points is nearly as high as Sanders’s (she easily wonallthree of her Senate races even though Minnesota is not nearly as blue as Vermont). So we shouldn’t underestimate her ability to make inroads among Democrats around the country once she becomes better-known.
The remaining candidates — except for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom we’ll talk about in a minute — had net approval ratings between +54 and +60 points. That suggests that they’re relatively popular among their party bases but not as overwhelmingly popular as Sanders and Klobuchar. Part of that may be because most of them simply aren’t as well-known among their own constituents. Each of these candidates will be working to raise their profiles nationally in the coming months, but support at home could benefit at least one of them in a relatively early primary contest: California has more delegates available than any other state, and Sen. Kamala Harris is very popular there, and already leading in at least one poll.
While home-state popularity within the party may indicate strength in the primaries, winning the general election requires broader appeal. So we also looked at candidates’ approval ratings among all voters and how those numbers compare to the partisan lean of their states.1 This shows us how much more or less popular a candidate is than we might expect based on the political makeup of their state.
Along with former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Klobuchar and Sanders again led the way, as you can see in the table below. Because Minnesota is a purple state, its electorate includes a higher percentage of Republicans and independents than heavily Democratic Vermont’s does, so Klobuchar has more non-Democrats available to win over than someone like Sanders, which may make it easier for her to top this particular ranking. But the fact that her overall net approval rating far exceeds Minnesota’s slight Democratic lean shows that she is successfully appealing to voters outside her base. The same could be said of Hickenlooper. Democratic candidates who are able to appeal to independents and Republicans in purple states might be better able to win over the same types of voters around the country, having had to win some of those voters to get elected in the first place.
Who’s getting more home-state support than their party?
Presidential candidates’ net approval rating among registered voters in their home state in the last quarter of 2018 vs. the partisan lean of that state
Net Approval at home
home net approval vs. lean
Hickenlooper’s situation is particularly interesting because even though he ranked lower in net approval rating among home-state Democratic voters, his net approval rating among Colorado voters overall was strong, especially relative to the partisan lean of Colorado, which is a highly competitive state. Of the eight Democratic presidential candidates we’re looking at, Hickenlooper had the best net rating (-17.1 points) among Republicans in his home state. This might not bolster Hickenlooper’s appeal to the left wing of the Democratic Party nationally, but he could perhaps use those numbers to argue that he has the potential to broadly appeal to a general electorate and even chip away at the small share of Republicans who may be willing to oppose President Trump.
Warren stands out here. Although the senator had a strong net approval rating among Democrats in her home state in the first table above, her net approval rating among Massachusetts voters overall is weak relative to how Democratic her state leans. (She also underperformed her state’s partisan lean in her re-election victory last year.) That’s because her net approval ratings among home-state independents (-0.3 points) and Republicans (-61.4 points) were the worst among the eight candidates we’re examining here. That could be a sign that Warren will encounter problems when trying to appeal to the broader electorate. Maybe it’s not surprising then that in a recent Gallup poll of U.S. adults, Warren had the highest unfavorable rating of the seven Democratic presidential candidates whom respondents were asked about.
Although home-state approval ratings may not end up proving predictive of how the 2020 Democratic primary and general elections turn out, they may offer us some insight into the national candidacies of people who aren’t well-known across the country — like Klobuchar — or provide clues about the potential strengths or weaknesses of candidates who are more recognizable — like Warren. If the folks who know you best really like you or don’t like you as much as we’d expect, that might be a clue for how voters nationally will receive you.
From ABC News:
Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced on Monday that he is running for president, saying that he “can bring people together to produce the progressive change Washington has failed to deliver.”
Since being laid off from his job as a geologist in 1986, Hickenlooper’s luck has only improved. He and three friends founded a craft brewery in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood, helping bring development to a now-thriving part of the city. In 2003, Hickenlooper used that success as a springboard to be elected mayor, and then won re-election in 2007 with 87 percent of the vote. He then steered Colorado through disasters, tragedy and a recession for two terms as governor, leaving office earlier this year with an enviable legacy and a solid approval rating to boot. Now, he’s hoping to channel that success into becoming president of the United States. But in a field of Democrats who are both better known and have more obvious constituencies, is this where Hickenlooper’s climb stops?
Hickenlooper’s campaign is basically starting from scratch. In early surveys of the Democratic field — which mostly reflect name recognition at this point — he is polling between 0 and 1 percent.5 Only 22 percent of Democratic respondents even have an opinion of him, according to an average of national favorability polls since the beginning of the year. And he’s not on the radar of many Democratic activists in early states, either.
What Hickenlooper does have going for him is that he may be more skilled than most at getting his name out there. He’s run some of the best political ads in recent memory, including endearing spots about parking meters and his humble wardrobe, which helped him stand out in a wide-open field (sound familiar?) during his first run for mayor. And later ads in which he went skydiving and took a shower — fully clothed — were nothing if not memorable. His quirky personality was his secret political weapon in Colorado, but it’s unclear how it’ll shake out on a national stage, where his demographics — older, white, male — may pigeonhole him as a retread.
Although his tenure as governor was marked by economic success and liberal wins on social issues, his style of getting things done was undeniably bipartisan (perhaps out of necessity, given that Republicans controlled one chamber of the legislature during six of his eight years in office). Indeed, the only time Hickenlooper’s popularity as governor faltered was when he swerved left in 2013, signing those gun-control bills and staying the execution of convicted murderer Nathan Dunlap. He pivoted back to the center for 2014 and became Colorado’s only statewide Democrat to survive that year’s Republican wave. As he was preparing to leave office in late 2018, his approval/disapproval spread stood at 49 percent to 30 percent, giving him a +18 PARG — Popularity Above Replacement Governor. That’s nerd-speak for “a very high approval rating in a politically divided state.” Clearly, Hickenlooper is a consensus-builder, but it’s hard to imagine his motto of “there’s no profit margin in making enemies” resonating with the current mood of the Democratic electorate.
Even more troubling, it’s hard to point to a clear base for Hickenlooper — at least one big enough to propel him meaningfully in a national primary. Contrary to his folksy image, the former big-city mayor doesn’t have a great track record of appealing to rural areas. As governor, his administration’s renewable-energy and gun policies alienated some rural counties so much that they symbolically voted to secede from Colorado. And he doesn’t do very well in our five-corners formulation of thinking about the Democratic primary field either:
Perhaps his penchant for viral videos will make him a favorite among millennials; the craft beer lover and banjo player already has a touch of hipster cred. A smarter strategy might be leaning into being the “cannabis candidate.” As governor of the first state where marijuana sales became legal (in 2014), Hickenlooper oversaw the law’s implementation and has nurtured a thriving cannabis industry. But while he hasn’t been shy about touting the benefits of recreational pot, activists may not be willing to forget that he initially opposed legalization in 2012.
Perhaps the strongest card in Hickenlooper’s hand is his status as a former governor; historically, they have better track records than members of Congress at being nominated for and elected president. But that is no guarantee of future success, and Hickenlooper starts the campaign a clear underdog. Once again, the self-made man will have to lift himself up from nothing to prevail.
Bernie Sanders picked up support in some unusual places during his 2016 campaign to be the Democratic presidential nominee. The self-described democratic socialist won states such as Oklahoma and Nebraska that are typically associated with right-of-center policy views. He also did surprisingly well with self-described conservative voters — granted, a small-ish part9 of the Democratic primary electorate — picking up almost a third of their votes. Perhaps less surprisingly given that Sanders isn’t technically a Democrat, he performed really well with independent voters, winning them by roughly a 2:1 margin over Hillary Clinton.
So as Sanders launches his 2020 campaign as a candidate with both formidable strengths and serious challenges, his biggest problem might seem to be that there’s more competition for his base this time around, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others also competing for the leftmost part of the Democratic electorate. An equally big problem for Sanders, however, is that voters this time around have more alternatives to Hillary Clinton — left, right and center — to choose from.
Roughly one-quarter of Sanders’s support in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016 came from #NeverHillary voters: people who didn’t vote for Clinton in the 2016 general election and who had no intention of doing so. (The #NeverHillary label is a little snarky, but it’s also quite literal: These are people who never voted for Clinton despite being given two opportunities to do so, in the primary and the general election.) This finding comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a poll of more than 50,000 voters conducted by YouGov in conjunction with Harvard University. The CCES asked voters who they voted for in both the primaries and the general election; it also asked voters who didn’t vote in the general election who they would have chosen if they had voted. Here’s the overall breakdown of what Sanders primary voters did in November 2016.10
What Bernie Sanders primary voters did in November 2016
Voted for Hillary Clinton
Voted for Donald Trump
Voted for Gary Johnson
Voted for Jill Stein
Voted for other candidates or voted but didn’t recall
Didn’t vote but said they would have voted for Clinton
Didn’t vote and didn’t say they would have voted Clinton
About 74 percent of Sanders’s primary voters also voted for Clinton in November 2016. Another 2 percent didn’t vote but said on the CCES that they would have voted for Clinton if they had voted; it doesn’t seem fair to consider them anti-Clinton voters, so we won’t include them in the #NeverHillary camp. The remaining 24 percent of Sanders voters were #NeverHillary in the general election, however. Of these, about half voted for Trump, while the remaining half voted for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, another third-party candidate or didn’t vote.11
You might be tempted to think that these #NeverHillary voters are leftists who thought Clinton was too much of pro-corporate, warmongering centrist. But relatively few of them were. Less than a fifth of them voted for Stein, for example. Instead, these voters were disproportionately likely to describe themselves as moderate or conservative. Among the 31 percent of self-described conservatives who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primaries, more than half were #NeverHillary voters, for example. A large minority of the independents and Republicans who supported Sanders were #NeverHillary voters as well.
#NeverHillary voters were conservative, not super liberal
The ideological and partisan breakdown of #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries
Independents and Republicans
A more complicated way to characterize the #NeverHillary vote is via regression analysis. Using the CCES — which permits fairly intricate regression model designs because of its large sample size — I took all of Sanders’s primary voters in 2016 and evaluated a host of variables to see what predicted whether they were #NeverHillary in the general election.
The most significant variables were, first, whether the voter was a Democrat, and second and third, two policy questions that have proven to be highly predictive of voter preferences in the past: whether the voter thinks that white people benefit from their race and whether the voter wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Non-Democrats, voters who didn’t think whites benefited from their race, and voters who wanted to repeal the ACA were much more likely to be #NeverHillary voters. Voters who were rural, poor, who lived in the South or the Northeast, who were born-again Christians, who were conservatives, and who were military veterans were also somewhat more likely to be #NeverHillary, other factors held equal. Black people, Hispanics, women, liberals, millennials, union members and voters with four-year college degrees were less likely to be #NeverHillary voters.
In addition, some factors related to the primary calendar affected the #NeverHillary vote. After Trump won the Indiana primary, effectively wrapping up the Republican nomination, more anti-Clinton voters filtered into the Democratic primaries. And the #NeverHillary vote was lower in states where an open Republican primary or caucus was held on the same date as the Democratic one. This implies that a fair number of #NeverHillary voters would actually have prefered to vote in the Republican primary. But if they couldn’t, because the Republican primary was closed or wasn’t held on the same date, they voted in the Democratic primary (for Sanders or another Democrat and against Clinton) instead.
We can also evaluate the geographic breakdown of the #NeverHillary vote. In each state, we can estimate the anti-Clinton vote in two ways, either by directly measuring it (e.g., 19 percent of Sanders voters the CCES surveyed in Illinois were #NeverHillary) or through the regression technique that I used above (which is similar to an MRP analysis). Without getting too much into the weeds, I used a blend of the two methods in each state based on the sample size of Sanders voters there; the direct measurement is more reliable in states with a large sample, while the regression method is better in states with a smaller one. The table below shows where the largest share of Sanders voters (as well as voters who chose another Democratic candidate apart from Clinton and Sanders12) were anti-Clinton voters:
Sanders benefited from #NeverHillary voters in red states
The breakdown of Sanders and #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries
Sanders’s Share of pop. vote
share of Sanders voters who were #NeverHillary
The largest number of #NeverHillary voters, as a share of the Democratic primary electorate, were in Alaska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Vermont, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Kentucky. Other than in Vermont, where extreme loyalty to Sanders generated a large number of write-in votes for Sanders and other candidates in the general election, those are obviously really red and largely rural states. Apart from Kentucky, they were also all states won by Sanders in the primaries.
Although there may have been something of a market for a populist candidate in these states, it’s also likely that Sanders benefited from being the only alternative to Clinton. In fact, there are several states where the #NeverHillary vote pushed Sanders over the top and where the pro-Sanders vote alone wouldn’t have been enough for him to win. These are Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
The good news for Sanders is that the states where he benefited the most from the #NeverHillary vote — especially in Appalachia and in the Interior West — have relatively low delegate tallies. So they’re places that he can potentially afford to lose. It does mean, however, that Sanders will have to hit his mark in his other strong regions, including New England (where Warren will provide fierce competition), the Upper Midwest (where Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota could create problems in her home state and Wisconsin) and the Pacific Northwest (where Sanders would prefer that candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper not enter the race).
It also means that Sanders won’t just be competing against other progressives but also against relatively moderate candidates. If #NeverHillary voters from 2016 are again looking for an anti-establishment candidate, Sanders could still fit the bill. If they want a moderate instead, however, they’ll have a lot more choices than they did in 2016 in the form of candidates like Klobuchar and (if they enter the race) Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke. It’s also possible that #NeverHillary voters were mostly motivated by sexism, in which case any of the male candidates could stand to benefit.
None of this dooms Sanders by any means. On balance, he probably benefits from a divided field, in fact, wherein his extremely loyal base gives him a high floor of support. But a multi-way race is way different than a two-way one, so Sanders’s coalition may not be all that similar to what we saw in 2016.
But being on an indie label has its upsides and downsides. On the one hand, there’s perceived authenticity and the ability to build momentum from modest expectations. On the other hand, there’s the question of whether your product can get into the hands of consumers without having major-label marketing muscle behind it — and, if so, whether it can expand beyond a niche audience.
So this article is meant to provide a relatively comprehensive assessment of Klobuchar’s strengths and weaknesses — rather than being either a “devil’s advocate” argument or a best-case scenario. It’s informed by conversations with Klobuchar’s campaign as well as with unaffiliated Democrats, but the opinions and analysis are my own. As you’ll see, I think Klobuchar’s upsides outweigh her downsides, but there’s plenty of material in both columns.
Four potential advantages
1. Electability. Democrats really, really want to beat President Trump. A recent Monmouth University poll found that 56 percent of Democrats “prefer someone who would be a strong candidate against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues,” compared with just 33 percent who held the opposite view.
What it means to be “electable” is somewhat in the eye of the beholder — the term sometimes seems to be a euphemism for a good-looking white guy who isn’t too liberal (hello, Beto).
But Klobuchar can make some good, data-driven arguments for her electability. One of them is simply the overall electoral importance of the Midwest — particularly the Upper Midwestern states of Minnesota (which Trump came within 1.5 percentage points of winning), Wisconsin and Michigan (which Trump won). Winning those three states plus Pennsylvania (or Ohio, or Florida, or North Carolina) would have given Hillary Clinton the presidency. And if the midterm elections were any guide, they still probably represent the path of least resistance for Democrats to retake the White House.
There’s also Klobuchar’s strong performances in Minnesota to consider. She was first elected in 2006 by a 20-point margin and then re-elected in 2012 by 35 points and in 2018 by 24 points. In each case, she performed well statewide and not just in the Twin Cities, winning 79 of 87 counties in 2006 and 85 of 87 in 2012. That declined to 51 of 87 counties in 2018, but given the massive swing toward Trump and Republicans in rural counties elsewhere in the Midwest, Klobuchar still did better than many Democrats.
Class I Democratic senators such as Klobuchar have been blessed not to face election or re-election in a “red wave” cycle — 2006, 2012 and 2018 have all been blue years. Nonetheless, Klobuchar has performed strongly relative to other Democrats in the same elections. Below, for example, is the output from a regression analysis that calculates an expected result in each 2018 Senate race based on every state’s partisan lean (how much more Republican or Democratic it is than the country as a whole2) and whether either party had an elected incumbent running. According to this analysis, you’d have expected Klobuchar — a Democratic incumbent in a blue year, but in a purple state — to win re-election by 14 percentage points. Instead, she was re-elected by 24 points, beating the model’s expectations by 10 points:
Klobuchar was one of the strongest Democrats in 2018
Margins of victory or defeat for Democratic Senate candidates vs. their forecasted margins based on incumbency and the state’s partisan lean
Margin of Victory or Defeat
Actual less expected
That rates as the third-strongest performance for a Democratic candidate for Senate last year, slightly behind West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders3 and just ahead of Texas’s Beto O’Rourke. Among other actual or potential Democratic candidates who ran Senate races in 2018, New York’s Kirsten GIllibrand also performs relatively well by this metric, whereas Ohio’s Sherrod Brown gets an average rating, and Massachusetts’s Warren a poor one.
That’s not to say you should expect Klobuchar to tout her own electability on the campaign trail, which can seem uncouth. (The first rule of electability is: Don’t talk about electability.) But it’s an argument we’re liable to hear a lot from her surrogates.
2. Potential strength in Iowa, and in the debates. As compared to candidates such as Harris and O’Rourke, who might hope to blitz their way to victory on the basis of strong fundraising and early delegate accumulation in California and Texas, Klobuchar is probably playing a long game. But doing so requires hitting two important mile markers. First, success in the debates. And then a strong performance in the Iowa caucuses.
Klobuchar’s team believes she should have two advantages in the debates. First, like Harris, Klobuchar is a former prosecutor — having been county attorney in Minneapolis’s Hennepin County — a skill that should translate well into the sharp-elbowed stage of the debates. And second, she can be candid and funny, potentially allowing her to surpass expectations among voters who expect Midwestern blandness or “Minnesota nice.” It’s a credible-enough case, but Klobuchar, who starts out with name recognition well below 50 percent, will need some big moments in the debates.
Her potential to succeed in Iowa is more obvious. She will probably be the only major candidate in the race from a state that borders Iowa and one of relatively few Midwesterners in the field. And in her statewide races in Minnesota, she relied heavily on a retail approach to politics, something that should translate well to Iowa. Looking at past results from the Iowa caucuses makes it pretty clear that there’s a regional advantage in this contest, although other politicians who are not from the region but have strong retail skills (a description that might fit Booker and O’Rourke, for example) can also perform well there.
Beyond Iowa, Klobuchar’s path is less clear. In New Hampshire’s open primary, voters typically favor liberal New Englanders such as Sanders and Warren.4 And the electorates get much less white after Iowa and New Hampshire, whereas Klobuchar’s strengths with nonwhite voters are less than obvious. So she’d be hoping for a polling bounce out of Iowa, something that used to occur regularly but has been more fleeting in recent years.
3. The beer track … without the baggage? Klobuchar’s campaign is likely to emphasize her working-class Midwestern roots, her staff said; you’ll hear stuff about how her grandfather worked as an iron-ore miner, for instance. It will also pitch her to voters on candor, honesty, pragmatism, an ability to “get stuff done,” work ethic and so forth. It’s going to lean pretty heavily into her Midwesternness, in other words.
The idea is to draw a contrast — probably softly at first, and maybe more explicitly if the campaign grows more combative — between Klobuchar and more left-wing candidates from the coasts, particularly Harris, Warren, Sanders and perhaps Booker. In some ways, this will recall the old distinction between “beer-track” (“flyover-state” moderates) and “wine-track” (coastal liberals) Democrats. However, Klobuchar isn’t likely to have the beer track to herself; Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown could be playing in the same lane, and, more significantly, so could former Vice President Joe Biden. There’s also what you might call a “craft-beer track,” consistenting of candidates who are from the middle of the country but whose appeal might be stronger among college-educated voters, such as O’Rourke and (craft brewery founder!) John Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado.
Does that mean Klobuchar is liable to run explicitly as a moderate — campaigning, for instance, against policies such as “Medicare-for-all”? Her campaign wouldn’t quite say as much, instead describing her as a pragmatist and a realist — but that’s a fussy distinction at best.
But there is an interesting twist to Klobuchar’s triangulation: Although she has a relatively moderate voting record, it’s fairly liberal relative to Minnesota, which (despite its reputation as a bastion of liberalism) is a purple state. Of the 13 Democrats who are either already running for president or are clearly telegraphing a run and who served in Congress during President Trump’s tenure, Klobuchar has the 12th-highest Trump score, meaning she’s voted with Trump comparatively often (31.5 percent of the time, trailing only former Maryland Rep. John Delaney among the presidential contenders). But she has the 10th-lowest Trump plus-minus rating, meaning that she’s voted with Trump much less often than you’d expect from someone from a purple state or district. Only Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, and Brown and Rep. Tim Ryan from increasingly red Ohio have a lower Trump plus-minus among the potential presidential candidates. By contrast, O’Rourke, although he voted with Trump slightly less often than Klobuchar, has the highest Trump plus-minus in the field because he represents an extremely blue district in El Paso.
All of that is to say: Klobuchar may well try to finesse the distinction between being a moderate and a realist, however meaningful that distinction might or might not be to Democratic voters. And she’s likely to express support for at least some decidedly liberal goals, having signaled support for the Green New Deal, for instance.5
Klobuchar looks moderate in the Democratic primary field
Trump score, predicted Trump score and Trump plus-minus for likely and declared Democratic candidates for president who have served in Congress under Trump. Klobuchar’s voting record is moderate relative to other Demoratic candidates for president but liberal relative to a purple state.
Klobuchar also has some other arguments to make against the rest of the beer-track candidates. Or at least, she arguably has less baggage than the rest of them. Her credentials — 20 years in public office — are sound by presidential standards (unlike O’Rourke’s). She isn’t 76 years old, as Biden is, and she doesn’t represent a state that is heavily invested in the financial industry, which is a problem for Biden and for all of the New York and New Jersey Democrats. The beer track will likely also be dominated by men — including possible candidates Biden, O’Rourke, Brown, Hickenlooper, Ryan and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — so Klobuchar could have a lot of strength with working-class women, an overlooked and important part of the Democratic base.
4. A reasonably clear contrast to Trump. Before I started researching and reporting out this story, I thought one Klobuchar strength was that she could formulate one of the clearest contrasts to Trump. It’s almost always helpful for candidates in the primaries to draw stylistic and substantive contrasts against the other party’s president, as Trump did against Barack Obama, as Obama did against George W. Bush, and as Bill Clinton did against George H.W. Bush. My thinking was that Klobuchar’s mild-mannered Minnesota-niceness and long career as a public servant — and the fact that she’s a woman — would look to Democratic voters like the antidote to Trump’s bombast and braggadocio.
I still think that theory is mostly true and that Klobuchar is an above-average Democrat in her degree of not-Trumpness. But I want to hedge against it a little bit. The version of Klobuchar we see in debates and on the campaign trail may be scrappier, blunter, more sarcastic and more emotive than people are expecting (and reports of angry and abusive behavior toward staffers may facilitate those perceptions). Moreover, to the extent that her campaign is drawing distinctions between her beer-track persona and the wine-track elites from the coasts, she’ll in some ways be echoing arguments that Trump might make about Democrats.
Overall, this is an impressive list of strengths, even if some of them are quite hedged. They’re why Klobuchar has a considerably better chance of winning the nomination than you might guess given her relatively low profile. But she also has a couple of significant weaknesses.
Two potential problems
1. Lack of a clear path with nonwhite voters. Minnesota is not quite as white as you might think. It’s home to several immigrant groups, including some relatively smaller ones such as Somalians and Laotians. And its nonwhite population has grown significantly since 2000. Nonetheless, as of 2017, about 80 percent of Minnesota’s population was non-Hispanic white, compared with 61 percent for the U.S. as a whole. And since many of those nonwhite Minnesotans are recent immigrants, the share of whites among the electorate is even higher, at about 89 percent.
That’s not to say that white politicians can never find appeal with nonwhite voters. John Kerry did quite well with African-Americans, for instance, and O’Rourke was elected to Congress three times from one of the most Hispanic congressional districts in the country. This year’s Democratic field features several people of color, however, and Klobuchar doesn’t have any obvious strategy to appeal to black, Hispanic and Asian voters, which together will make up around 40 percent of the Democratic primary electorate. Instead, several of her likely strategic choices — running on the beer track, heavily investing in Iowa and (perhaps) New Hampshire — would emphasize trying to capture as much of the white vote as possible before turning to minorities.
Klobuchar also isn’t likely to have a lot of initial appeal to the left. She may subtly and selectively push back against some left-wing policy proposals while embracing others — or she may run more explicitly toward the center, depending on who else enters the race. (Biden’s decision about whether to run could significantly affect her calculus.) But either way, the left will have candidates such as Sanders, Warren and Brown as their first choices. That means Klobuchar doesn’t perform well according to our “five corners” heuristic, which regards black voters, Hispanics and The Left as three of the five major constituencies within the Democratic Party:
The five corners don’t capture everything. In particular, they don’t account for voters’ gender, even though around three-fifths of the Democratic electorate will be women.
But it does mean that Klobuchar’s campaign will need to proceed in stages, without necessarily having a lot of margin for error. First, she’ll have to perform well in debates and town halls to boost her name recognition. Second, she’ll need to win Iowa — or at least beat expectations there — to vault herself ahead of the other beer-track candidates. Third, she’ll need to heavily emphasize electability to win the slugfest against the wine-track candidates. Each stage holds risks for Klobuchar, and she doesn’t have a lot of shortcuts or detours at any point along the route if she gets knocked off track.
2. Staffing a campaign and building support among insiders. Articles published by HuffPost and BuzzFeed News have included allegations of abusive behavior by Klobuchar toward her staff, citing both statistics showing her high turnover and heretofore largely anonymous accounts of bad behavior from former staffers.
These rumors have been widespread for a long time. (To insert myself as a barometer here, as someone who doesn’t live in Washington and who is sort of ambivalent to political gossip, I’d heard about them several times.) In some ways, the HuffPost and BuzzFeed stories are relatively gentle in that they don’t contain that many details and are largely anonymous. Furthermore, this criticism can be gendered: A woman who exhibits the same behavior as “tough” or “demanding” male boss might be typecast as as “b—-.”
They also reek of inside-baseballness. Having a reputation as a bad boss can be problematic within your industry. But without salacious details, it’s not the sort of scandal that voters are liable to care all that much about.
At the same time, the nomination process is to some extent an inside game. If, as the HuffPost story claims, Klobuchar has trouble recruiting the layers of highly talented staffers that the other candidates have because of a reputation (well-earned or not) for being an abusive boss, that will hurt her. It will hurt her more if it signifies a general wariness about Klobuchar among Washington insiders, which could yield fewer endorsements and less willingness by “party elites” to rally around her if the field has been winnowed down to two or three candidates.
So I’ll be looking to whether Klobuchar is able to gather a few endorsements in the early stages of her campaign, especially from outside of Minnesota. There’s an extent to which a measured amount of pushback from Beltway elites could play into Klobuchar’s brand as a tough, no-BS outsider. But it’s really hard to go it completely alone in the primary, especially when your strategy involves winning over one faction of the party first (the beer track) and then building bridges to the other factions later on.
While we have you here, though, we thought we’d explain a little bit about the choices we made for displaying 2020 primary polls. Showing polls for a race that is still (relatively) far in the future creates some challenges. In particular, we had to come up with a design that works for polls that ask respondents about a lot of candidates — sometimes 25 or more. And those results have to be displayed along with the results of surveys, such as presidential job approval or generic congressional ballot polls, that have only two main answers.
So in the updated version of our polls page, the default view will show only the most popular choice in polls in which respondents were asked about multiple candidates. To see the rest of the candidates in the poll, click “more” to expand the list of results.
It’s not a perfect solution. This early in the primary season, any of the Democratic candidates could realistically become the front-runner, and we’d prefer not to display one and hide others. But this strategy allows us to keep all the polls in one central location where they are easily discovered.
As the volume of polling picks up ahead of the 2020 election, we’ll expand how we track the latest survey releases, but this page will fuel all FiveThirtyEight’s 2020 work to come.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who officially said she is running for president in an announcement on Good Morning America on Monday, has the potential to be among the strongest contenders in the 2020 Democratic field. There may be no other candidate who better embodies how the modern Democratic Party has changed over the last few decades in identity and ideology.
Her biography and record make it easy to imagine Harris doing well with African-Americans, who likely will represent about one-in-five primary voters in the Democratic primary electorate, as well as Asian-Americans. Harris narrowly lost the Latino vote in her 2016 election to a fellow Democrat1 who is Mexican-American (Loretta Sanchez), but there isn’t any particular reason to think she is disliked by Latino voters. The way Harris is likely to position herself on policy issues during the campaign — liberal as any candidate on noneconomic issues but not as liberal on economic issues as, say, Bernie Sanders — echoes Hillary Clinton’s platform in 2016 (Harris’ sister Maya was Clinton’s policy director.) So I’m sure party loyalists, particularly black voters and older women, who backed Clinton will give serious consideration to Harris. The California senator is not particularly young (54), but you could imagine millennials galvanizing around electing the first Asian and first female president in the same way they embraced Obama in 2008. (We’ll come back to The Left in a moment.)
Moreover, looking at the current primary calendar,2 I’m not sure about her prospects in Iowa and New Hampshire (more on that in a bit), but the order of the states is set up well for Harris after that. The third contest is in Nevada, a state that borders California, so voters there may more familiar with Harris than other candidates. South Carolina is next, and African-Americans will likely constitute a majority of voters there.
After those four early contests, nine states are currently scheduled to vote on March 3, and that could be a great day for Harris. Those nine primaries and caucuses include California — Harris’ home state, which also has a large Asian-American population — as well as four states in which the Democratic electorate will likely be more than a quarter black:
The racial breakdown of the March 3 primaries
Percentage of Democratic voters by race according to 2016 exit polls
Also in terms of her strengths, Harris has stood out among colleagues during Senate hearings, putting her prosecutorial skills on display with her sharp and quick questioning of witnesses. Debate performances can really matter in primaries, and the hearing performances suggest she might be strong in debates.
She’ll need to be. To be clear, all of Harris’ strengths outlined above are really potential strengths. In most national primary polls conducted so far, she’s been in the single digits. Those polls mostly reflect a lack of national name recognition, but Harris will have to build her support almost from scratch. And a lot could go wrong for her.
The biggest potential problem for Harris may be that her campaign simply never really catches on with voters. Despite seeming to reporters like me to be a strong candidate on paper, Harris could be the 2020 Democratic version of Marco Rubio or Scott Walker, who bothstruggled in the GOP’s 2016 primary despite being hyped for years as potential GOP nominees because of their potential to appeal to a broad swath of their party.
After all, Harris likely will be competing for attention with a lot of candidates. And if she doesn’t do well in one of the first two contests, in mostly white Iowa and mostly white New Hampshire, then I don’t think there is any guarantee African-American voters or even California voters will get behind her. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey or former Vice President Joe Biden (his close relationship with Obama will help) could become the top choice among black voters — or African-Americans could split their votes among several candidates. I think a candidate who won Iowa and another early state and had momentum could carry Harris’ home state of California.
Harris’ performances in Iowa and New Hampshire are also relevant in regard to a second challenge for the California senator: Overcoming doubts from some Democrats about her “electability.” As I have written before, research on elections does not support the idea that female candidates do worse than male ones. Black and Latino candidates seem to do slightly worse with white voters but boost turnout among their identity groups, so the story is complicated there too. But discussions of electability are often used as a cudgel against candidates who are not male, Christian and/or white, because such candidates are perceived as having less appeal to swing voters. Right now, some prominent Democrats are publicly fretting about nominating a woman in 2020, fearing the American electorate is too sexist to elect a female candidate and voters with sexist views will find Trump’s persona and politics appealing, as they did in 2016. And some Democrats privately say they are even more concerned that swing voters in the Midwest won’t embrace a black woman. Harris has to worry that Democrats might decide she is too “risky” and embrace one of the male candidates mainly for this reason.
To be clear, this is a surmountable problem. Some African-American voters were doubtful of Obama’s viability in a general election in 2008 — until he wonthe Iowa caucuses. This is both an unfair part of the process (why should a minority candidate have to do well in a state with basically no minorities to prove viability) and kind of an odd one (winning the Democratic caucuses in Iowa does not tell you that much about a candidate’s ability to win the general election.) But I tend to think Democratic voters will be much less focused on Harris’ perceived electability if she wins a lot of voters in Iowa or New Hampshire.
Harris can overcome The Left if she is strong among other blocs of the party. But if she wins a few primaries, I can see liberals casting her as too establishment and opposing her fiercely, similar to how this bloc unsuccessfully tried to stop Clinton in 2016.
Overall, I would not be surprised if Harris won the nomination. But I don’t see her as the favorite. She ranks No. 1 in some betting markets, but with so many candidates, “the field” is really favored against any individual contender.
It might seem obvious that having a wide-open field, as Democrats have for their 2020 presidential nomination, would make it easier for a relatively obscure candidate to surge to the top of the polls. But I’m not actually sure that’s true. Democrats might not have an “inevitable” frontrunner — the role that Hillary Clinton played in 2016 or Al Gore did in 2000. But that very lack of heavyweights has encouraged pretty much every plausible middleweight to join the field, or at least to seriously consider doing so. Take the top 10 or so candidates, who are a fairly diverse lot in terms of race, gender and age — pretty much every major Democratic constituency is spoken for by at least one of the contenders. After all, it was the lack of competition that helped Bernie Sanders gain ground in 2016; he was the only game in town other than Clinton.1
So as I cover some of the remaining candidates in this, the third and final installment of our “five corners” series on the Democratic field, you’re going to detect a hint of skepticism about most of their chances. (The “five corners” refers to what we claim are the the five major constituencies within the Democratic Party: Party Loyalists, The Left, Millennials and Friends, Black voters and Hispanic voters2; our thesis is that a politician must build a coalition consisting of at least three of these five groups to win the primary.) It’s not that some of them couldn’t hold their own if thrust into the spotlight against one or two other opponents. Instead, it’s that most of them will never get the opportunity to square off against the big names because the middleweights will monopolize most of the money, staff talent and media attention. Rather than pretend to be totally comprehensive, in fact, I’m instead going to list a few broad typologies of candidates that weren’t well-represented in the previous installments of this series.
This type of candidate has been popular in the minds of journalists ever since Gary Hart’s failed presidential bids in 1984 and 1988 — but it never seems to gain much momentum among actual Democratic voters. In this scenario, a Western governor or senator (e.g. Hart, Bruce Babbitt or Bill Richardson) runs on a platform that mixes environmentalism, slightly libertarianish views on other issues (legal weed but moderate taxes?) and a vague promise to shake things up and bring an outsider’s view to Washington.
This platform makes a lot of sense in the Mountain West, but I’m not sure how well it translates elsewhere in the country. In theory, the environmental focus should have some appeal among millennials. (That particularly holds for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who would heavily focus on climate change in his campaign as a means of differentiating himself.) And Party Loyalists might get behind an outsider if they were convinced that it would help beat President Trump, but “let’s bring in an outsider to shake things up” was one of the rationales that Trump himself used to get elected, so it doesn’t make for as good a contrast in 2020 as it might ordinarily. The Left isn’t likely to be on board with the Great Western Hope platform, which tends to be moderate on fiscal policy. And while the states of the Mountain West have quite a few Hispanic voters, they don’t have a lot of black ones. It’s not that Inslee or former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper aren’t “serious” candidates — being a multi-term governor of medium-sized state is traditionally a good credential — but it’s also not clear where the demand for their candidacies would come from.
You might say something similar about the various mayors that are considering a presidential bid.What niche are the mayors hoping to fill, and are there actually any voters there?
Maybe in “The West Wing,” a hands-on problem solver from Anytown, USA, would make the perfect antidote to a Trumpian president. In the real world, Democrats think the country is in crisis under Trump, and there are a lot of candidates who have more experience dealing with national problems.
But Eric Garcetti and Bill de Blasio, the current mayors of Los Angeles and New York, respectively, have at least had to build complicated coalitions in big, complicated cities — and so they would probably be more viable than the mayors from smaller cities. De Blasio cruised to an easy re-election in New York in 2017 on the basis of support from black, Hispanic and leftist white voters, a coalition that could also be viable in the presidential primary. (De Blasio hasn’t taken concrete steps toward a 2020 bid, but he also hasn’t ruled one out.) Garcetti, who has what he describes as “Mexican-American-Jewish-Italian” ancestry, could find support for his bid among Hispanic voters.
Bloomberg might belong in a different group, as someone who’s not just a former mayor but also fits into the entrepreneur/celebrity/rich person category below and has some of the baggage that comes with that. And unlike de Blasio, Bloomberg wasn’t especially popular with nonwhite voters in New York.
This is a group of candidates I’m quite bullish about, by contrast — especially Stacey Abrams, if she runs. In defeating longtime incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District last year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who is too young to run for president until next cycle) built a coalition of Hispanics, The Left and millennials. Not that everyone necessarily has Ocasio-Cortez’s political acumen, but the potency of this coalition seems rather obvious, in retrospect. Since The Left tends to be pretty white on its own, a Hispanic, black or Asian left-progressive candidate has more potential to build a broader coalition. And millennials, who are sympathetic to left-wing policy positions but also care a lot about diversity, might prefer a Latina or a black woman to an older white man.
In fact, it’s not clear why, other than for reasons having to do with her race and gender, Abrams isn’t getting more buzz as a potential candidate than Beto O’Rourke. (It’s true that Abrams might have designs on Georgia’s 2020 Senate race instead of the presidency; it’s also true that there wasn’t a “Draft Abrams” movement in the same way that influential Democrats almost immediately called on O’Rourke to run for president after his loss to Ted Cruz.) Both performed quite well relative to how Democrats usually do in their states, with Abrams losing to Brian Kemp by 1.4 percentage points in the Georgia governor’s race and O’Rourke losing to Cruz by 2.6 points in Texas’s Senate race. (Andrew Gillum, who barely lost Florida’s governor’s race, can’t make this claim, since Florida is much more purple than either Georgia or Texas.) Both became huge national stories. And both are lacking in the kind experience that traditionally sets the stage for a presidential run. It’s not that I’m down on O’Rourke’s chances; the opposite, really (see Part 2 of this series). But if O’Rourke can build a winning coalition from millennials, Hispanics and Party Loyalists, Abrams (or possibly Gillum) could create one from black voters, millennials and The Left.
Were it not for their abrasive approaches, the Cuomo and McAuliffe coalitions might be a bit more viable than you might assume. In particular, those coalitions consist of minority voters plus relatively moderate Party Loyalists. Cuomo assembled a similar coalition last September and soundly defeated the more liberal Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary for governor before being elected to a third gubernatorial term in November thanks to a landslide 84-14 margin among nonwhite voters.
What about the various billionaires considering a presidential run? Count me as skeptical that a CEO title will impress Democrats. Money has never been terribly predictive of success in the primaries (see e.g. Steve Forbes or Jeb Bush) — and candidates such as former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Tom Steyer, the hedge fund billionaire who last week decided that he wouldn’t run for president, have fared notably poorly in early surveys of Democrats. And that makes sense, because it’s not really clear what sort of Democratic voter they’re supposed to be appealing to. The Left is likely to regard the billionaires suspiciously, at best. Nor are rich white men who have never run for office before liable to have a lot of initial success in appealing to black or Hispanic voters. Finally, their timing is poor given that the president is Trump and that the last thing most Democrats will want is another billionaire with no political experience.
Want a billionaire whose chances I’d take seriously? How about Oprah. One three-pronged coalition we haven’t discussed yet is one consisting of Black voters, Hispanic voters and Millennials and Friends; a nonwhite celebrity who was able to engage voters that didn’t ordinarily participate in primaries3 could potentially win on that basis.
Finally, there are a few people running for president who don’t have anything resembling the traditional credentials for doing so, but who at least have pitches that are a little different than what voters will be hearing elsewhere. Tulsi Gabbard, the four-term representative from Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, was one of Sanders’s early endorsers last cycle, but she also has a heterodox set of positions, such as her frequent defenses of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and her former opposition to gay rights, that won’t win her fans among any of the traditional Democratic constituencies.
Richard Ojeda, a crew-cut Army veteran and former West Virginia legislator who says he voted for Trump in 2016 and looks the part of a (stereotypical) Trump voter, is presenting what’s essentially a left-wing set of economic policies in a very different package than voters would normally to get that message from. I’m not quite sure how the pitch would go over if, say, Ojeda makes it to a debate stage, which might never happen because the Democratic National Committee and the networks might consider him too obscure. But it’s worth bearing in mind that The Left is the whitest and most male of the Democratic constituencies, so a candidate who intentionally plays into that identity might not be the best one to build bridges to the rest of the party.
That’s all for now! As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, some things we’ve written here are surely going to seem laughably wrong in retrospect. It wouldn’t necessarily have been obvious at this point four years ago that Clinton would do so well with black voters, for example (a group she lost badly to Barack Obama in 2008), or that Sanders would become such a phenomenon among millennials. Fundamentally, however, the U.S. has “big tent” parties, consisting of groups that may not have all that much in common with one another. And so, the nomination process is a coalition-building process. Candidates such as Sanders and Joe Biden, who poll well among one or two groups, may lead in the polls initially. But ultimately the candidate who wins the nomination will be the one who can best bridge the divides between the different constituencies within the party.
On Saturday, Democrat Julian Castro held an event in his hometown — San Antonio, Texas, where he served as mayor for five years — to announce he is running for president. But Castro’s campaign might be a bit a of a long shot considering he’s polling between 0 and 2 percent in state and national polls. That said, he has all the makings of an inspirational candidate — he’s young and ambitious, he overcame a childhood of poverty to attend Stanford and Harvard Law, and if he wins the nomination, would be the first Latino presidential nominee on a major-party ticket. But he also disappeared from the national spotlight after 2016 and now faces an uphill battle to convince voters that he is the strongest choice to oppose President Trump in what could be a very crowded 2020 primary field.
Just 44 years old, Castro first held public office at the age of 26 when he won a seat on the city council in San Antonio. He then went on to run for mayor in 2005, but narrowly lost that race before handily winning in 2009. He was re-elected as mayor twice and made his first big national splash when he was selected as the keynote speaker of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Castro was the first Latino to fill that vaunted speaking slot, and was labeled a “rising star” as a result. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama chose him to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and in 2016, Hillary Clinton seriously considered Castro for her vice presidential pick, but she ultimately opted for Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine instead.
Following his tenure at HUD, Castro founded the political action committee Opportunity First to plan his next steps and promote candidates in the 2018 cycle. Leadership PACs such as Castro’s are often used as fundraising vehicles to build a foundation for a future campaign as well as a way to donate to other politicians’ campaigns. Opportunity First probably did more of the former than the latter — it only donated 10 percent of the money it raised to candidates and parties at the federal, state and local level. Castro also published a memoir in 2018 about his upbringing in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in San Antonio with his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, and their Chicano activist single mother and Mexican-born grandmother. Julian Castro has a story to tell voters. But it remains to be seen if he can sufficiently raise his profile to that of a real contender.
How Castro Wins
FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver recently broke down the five main constituencies of the Democratic electorate, and it seems that Castro’s path to victory likely involves gaining support from some mix of Hispanics voters, Millennials and Party Loyalists.
Much of Castro’s political career has been built on support from Latino voters. San Antonio’s population is more than 60 percent Latino, and in his successful 2009 mayoral race, Castro won the nonpartisan election by 27 points over his closest challenger,1 principally by running up the margins in San Antonio’s heavily Latino neighborhoods, particularly in the southern half of the city. In a cluster of precincts northeast of Lackland Air Force Base, for example, as much as 90 percent of the voting age population was Hispanic at the time of the election, and Castro won many of those precincts by more than 80 points. Conversely, in some majority-white precincts north and east of Shavano Park, a small independent city surrounded on all sides by San Antonio, Castro’s chief opponent won by more than 20 points.
Castro has also been vocal in his support for a renewed push by Democrats to reach out to Latino voters. Turnout among Latinos is traditionally low, but given how Obama energized turnout among African-American voters in his presidential bids, Castro’s candidacy could similarly boost Latino participation. But winning the Latino vote probably won’t be enough. Castro will also need to make inroads among millennial voters.
An NBC/Generation Forward poll released in October 2018 found that the personal quality millennials were most likely to say they wanted to see when deciding who to vote for was a candidate could bring about change. And, arguably, what could be more of a change from Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric than a Latino candidate of Mexican descent?
As a young Latino man from a San Antonio — a fast-growing, youthful and diverse city — Castro could try to make the case that his experience leading the nation’s seventh-largest city could be the right step for America’s future. And as a former member of the Obama administration, Castro could also play up his White House connection with Party Loyalists, who tend to be an establishment-friendly group. The former president remains incrediblypopular among Democrats, and Castro can use his time in Obama’s Cabinet to claim some of that legacy in his own campaign. Among potential Democratic presidential candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden might be the only one with a more obvious connection to Obama than Castro.
The challenges Castro faces
The Democratic Party is increasingly diverse and its voters show decreasing levels of racial resentment — a measure of racial attitudes, especially how whites feel toward nonwhites — particularly among younger Democrats. Yet, this doesn’t necessarily mean voters are ready to elect a Latino candidate. For example, 2016 primary voting patterns show that Clinton was seen as the “Obama candidate,” meaning Clinton’s support among Democrats with racially conservative views fell sharply compared to how she performed in 2008, when she was running against Obama and won many of those voters. What’s more, there’s a supposed “electability” argument that Democrats needa white (and probably male) nominee in order to defeat Trump in the general, so we shouldn’t underrate how race and ethnicity could affect the primaries.
Castro’s level of political experience is also a double-sided coin. On the one hand, he is a relatively fresh face and Democrats may want someone new and young to face Trump. However, Castro might have too little experience. Although he served as San Antonio’s mayor for five years and Obama’s HUD secretary for two and a half years, he’s never run for statewide office in Texas and it’s unclear where he stands on a lot of major issues. His relative lack of experience probably played a role in Clinton’s choice to not pick him as her running mate in 2016, and it could be an issue for him as a presidential candidate, too.
Castro will also need to gather the resources to mount a serious campaign. With his Texas connections, Castro could have access to lots of campaign cash. But it’s possible that another noted Texan, Beto O’Rourke, could pull away many Texas donors who could help jumpstart Castro’s campaign. O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign captured national attention that could translate into a presidential campaign. O’Rourke raised nearly $80 million for his Senate race, and among contributions large enough that their origins are reported by Federal Election Commission, a bit over half of his total cash came from the Lone Star State.2 An O’Rourke bid would also put two young Texans in the field, so Castro and O’Rourke could find themselves stepping on each other’s toes and making appeals to similar parts of the electorate.
If he gains traction, Castro might also take hits from The Left. When he was in contention for Clinton’s 2016 vice presidential nod, progressive groups attacked Castro for being too friendly toward Wall Street firms when dealing with delinquent mortgages and for not fighting hard enough for minority communities. Castro also improved his political fortunes in San Antonio by building a better relationship with the city’s business community, which had been skeptical of him in his first mayoral bid in 2005. Such coziness would not win him support from The Left.
It will be a while before we know if Castro is a true contender. But what we do know now is that he’s running and that his candidacy could make history.
With the 2018 midterms (mostly) behind us, focushasshiftedto the 2020 presidential election. The Iowa caucuses are usually the start of the presidential nomination process, and as of right now, they’re scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020 — just over 400 days from now. While we’re still more than a year out, two new polls found former Vice President Joe Biden in the lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. At least 30 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa listed him as their top choice for president.
The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll from Selzer & Co.14found Biden at 32 percent while a survey from David Binder Research on behalf of Focus on Rural America found Biden at 30 percent.15 In both polls, no other candidate cracked 20 percent. In an even earlier poll Biden led the field with 37 percent listing him as their No. 1 pick.16
Even though we’re still a ways from the caucus, these numbers could be read as a good sign for Biden. In the last four presidential elections where there was no Democratic incumbent running, the Iowa caucus winner went on to become the party’s nominee: Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Moreover, Biden has never polled this well in Iowa. In both his 1988 and 2008 presidential bids, Biden failed to hit the double-digits, and even when it seemed possible that Biden might run in 2016, his best Iowa marks were in the low 20s against Clinton and Sanders.
A good poll in Iowa doesn’t mean much … yet
Presidential aspirants that polled 30 percent or more at least one year prior to the Iowa caucuses
No. of Polls ≥30%
Best poll result
But according to FiveThirtyEight’s database of Iowa polls,17 most candidates who polled at roughly 30 percent more than one year before the caucuses have not won the caucuses or the nomination. From 1980 to 2016, eight different candidates hit the 30 percent mark in a survey taken at least one year out. Only three went on to win the Iowa caucuses: Walter Mondale in 1984, Bob Dole in 1988 and Clinton in 2016. Mondale and Clinton later won their party’s nomination, but Dole came up short against George H.W. Bush.
And some candidates polling at 30 percent or more withdrew or didn’t end up running. For instance, Gary Hart was the front-runner for the 1988 Democratic nomination and two surveys more than a year out found him polling in the high 50s, but after Hart got caught in an extramarital affair, he dropped out of the race, eventually re-entered and finished with less than one percent of the caucus vote. About a month after the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore to decide the 2000 election, a poll looking at the 2004 Iowa caucuses found Gore at 39 percent. Gore decided against another bid in late 2002.
Three others ran but failed to win the Iowa caucuses or their party’s nomination in the 2008 cycle. Clinton and John Edwards each hit the 30 percent mark in at least one poll more than a year out but both lost to Obama in Iowa. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani polled at 30 percent once but skipped the caucuses, instead opting for a Florida-first campaign strategy that completely failed.
We are a long way from the Iowa caucuses, and there will be myriad twists and turns and developments, such as debate performances and candidate announcements. Heck, Biden — who will be 77 years old on Election Day 2020 — might not even run, though he sure is acting like a potential candidate. We also know that early-state surveys aren’t very predictive until about two weeks after Thanksgiving in the year prior to the presidential election — or roughly two months before the 2020 Iowa caucuses. So as we speculate about the meaning of presidential polls more than a year out, know that they don’t necessarily tell us much other than which candidates have name recognition — and on that front, Biden seems to be doing just fine.
Other polling nuggets
30 percent of Americans said in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that 2018 was either “one of the best” or an “above average” year for the United States compared with other years. That’s the most optimism the poll has recorded since at least 1991, the earliest data point provided in the poll.
Approximately two-thirds of voters oppose shutting down the government over funding for the border wall, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
29 percent of Americans say that high medical costs stopped them from seeking treatment in the past year according to a Gallup poll; 19 percent say they avoided treatment for a serious condition or illness because of the price tag.
According to a Fox News poll, 39 percent of voters think President Trump will be re-elected in 2020, 52 percent do not.
Melania Trump’s approval rating has fallen 11 points from 54 percent in October to 43 percent this month according to a CNN poll. The first lady’s approval is down by 5 points among Republicans and 13 points among Democrats.
In a Gallup poll last month, 21 percent of Americans listed immigration as the most important problem facing the U.S.; this month only 16 percent did. The poll, which was conducted from December 3-12, was the first Gallup poll conducted on this topic since the November elections.
A HuffPost/YouGov poll found that the share of Americans who say that newcomers threaten “traditional American customs and values” declined by 12 percentage points from when the question was last asked in June 2016. The poll reported a decline among Democrats, Republicans and independents.
61 percent of Americans who say they did not vote on Election Day wish they had according to a survey conducted by Pew Research Center immediately after the election.
To understand whether the public believes President Trump when he makes misleading claims, The Washington Post and NORC at the University of Chicago created a poll that asked respondents to choose the true statement in each of 18 pairs of statements, where one was true and one was false. Eleven of the pairs included a false claim President Trump had made, and respondents mistook one of those falsehoods for the true statement 25 percent of the time, on average. Rates varied by party — Democrats chose the false statement 20 percent of the time and Republicans did so 35 percent of the time. .
84 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas said in a Economist/YouGov poll that they think that Santa Claus would rate them as “nice”; 16 percent expected to be rated as “naughty.” FiveThirtyEight has not yet developed a model to predict how Santa will rate you.
People in the Democratic Republic of Congo are supposed to go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president and national assembly, though the destruction of electronic voting machines in a suspected arson attack might postpone that. An opinion poll conducted by New York University and the polling firm BERCI in October showed incumbent party candidate Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary winning 16 percent of the vote, trailing behind opposition candidates Felix Tshisekedi who had 36 percent support and Vital Kamerhe who had 17 percent support. (Tshisekedi and Kamerhe have since joined forces). There have been concerns about election integrity, but if the opposition wins without incident, the DRC would see its first peaceful transition of power since its independence in 1960.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.1 percent approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.5 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.4 points). At this time last week, 42.5 percent approved and 51.6 percent disapproved, for a net approval rating of -9.1 points. One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.9 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -9.4 points.
CORRECTION (Dec. 21, 1:45 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly described the 1988 Democratic caucus results in Iowa. Gary Hart dropped out of the race after news broke that he had had an extramarital affair, but he later re-entered the campaign.