What Endorsements Matter Most In The Democratic Primary?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): Here at FiveThirtyEight, we’re interested in tracking presidential endorsements as they’re often a good indicator of which candidates the party is rallying behind.

So today let’s talk about the Democratic Party’s Kingmakers — or those endorsers that can make or break a candidate. First of all, who are they? And then second, what does a winning strategy in the endorsement primary look like? Should candidates prioritize endorsements from early-voting primary states? Does the type of office an endorser holds/held matter? Or is it all about the constituencies an endorser can bring to the table?

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): What’s interesting to me is how few people have endorsed! I guess it’s still very early, but the clearest example I can point to of the endorsement primary already being underway is when all the candidates (or so it seemed) headed to Jim Clyburn’s South Carolina fish fry in June.

He, of course, is a big deal in the national party as well as in an early primary state.

And I think the fight over Clyburn is demonstrative of the battle over important black endorsers. In fact, between Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Joe Biden, I’d say there is already a pretty big push to win endorsements from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): Yeah, a Clyburn endorsement would definitely be in my top five or 10. But the thing about this year is that since Everybody’s Running, the endorsements you probably want the most are actually from the other candidates. In particular, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Biden, who all command large, loyal constituencies.

clare.malone: Very true, though the big candidate endorsements likely won’t happen until next summer, right?

Or next spring, if things shake out neatly.

galen (Galen Druke, podcast producer and reporter): At this point, it seems like a lot of these candidates are going to have enough money to keep them going well into the primary season, so I’m not holding my breath on those endorsements happening anytime soon.

clare.malone: Maybe, though some candidates might see the writing on the wall and they’ll want to have their endorsement actually matter.

Speaking of a BIG endorsement — and a new one at that — who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decides to back is going to be big. My guess is it will come down to Warren or Sanders, but she’s said that she wants to wait to endorse, so I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see what she does.

galen: An endorsement from AOC would definitely confer progressive bona fides on a candidate, so it’ll be important to see who she endorses. And as we talk about endorsers, it’s important that we keep in mind what they represent: a demographic group, an ideological wing of the party, a certain state, or say, a figurehead like Obama.

natesilver: I mean, Obama is THE kingmaker.

But I don’t know if he’s going to endorse.

If does though, he’s like 10x more important than any other endorsement.

sarahf: But will Obama endorse?!

galen: NO

Unless it is Biden vs. Marianne Williamson at the end.

natesilver: I could see some circumstances where he would.

Especially if, like, a candidate he liked was ahead, but it seemed like Democrats were headed toward a contested convention, and he wanted to avoid that.

clare.malone: Yeah, Obama could endorse by early summer next year if things are still looking very crowded.

There will certainly come a point in the primary season where people start writing think pieces along the lines of “Have Democrats learned any lessons from the GOP’s disastrous 2016 primary??”

People will CLICK on those.

sarahf: But to the point Nate made earlier about people dropping out of the race and how their endorsements could be some of the most important endorsements this cycle … I have a question: How come their endorsements don’t get extra points in our tracker?

I, for one, would think they’d have a higher point value based on what we’ve discussed so far.

But I digress!

galen: Agree. I don’t understand why we give former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton the same number of points as Obama in the tracker.

So … explain that.

natesilver: I don’t think we should be thinking about this stuff in terms of the tracker.

The tracker tracks everyone, and we’re asking here if there are endorsements that carry SYMBOLIC and SUBSTANTIVE importance beyond that.

The value of endorsements isn’t in like “ohhh, Random Senator X endorsed Candidate Y,” it’s more that it’s a proxy for the “party deciding.” But some endorsements, e.g. Obama’s, really might persuade voters to think differently about the race.

sarahf: OK, so who are some other Democrats that might fall into this category, the “big names,” if you will?

We’ve got Obama, AOC and Clyburn.

galen: Apart from Barack, there is Michelle. Do you think the Obamas endorse together?

clare.malone: I think I disagree with Galen’s point about the weight of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton’s endorsements.

Clinton’s endorsement might be toxic in today’s party, but Carter is still seen as a moral leader.

galen: I agree with that, but I still don’t think his endorsement is as powerful as Obama’s.

clare.malone: No.

natesilver: HiLlArY ClInToN

sarahf: Oooh, I know Clare was talking about Bill Clinton’s endorsement being toxic, but I’m not so sure Hillary Clinton’s endorsement would be much better.

natesilver: Oh, you guys are totally wrong, the Clinton endorsements would still be a big deal.

clare.malone: Well, Hillary’s endorsement would certainly carry more weight than Bill’s at this juncture. Even if Bill still resonates with some communities, his sins (that were kinda forgiven in the past) are viewed very differently today by party elites.

galen: I honestly couldn’t tell you how this would play out, but I think candidates will play it safe and just try to keep the Clintons out of the conversation.

It is worth remembering that as of the 2018 midterms, Hillary Clinton’s approval rating among the broader public was still in the mid-30s.

natesilver: But Clinton won the primary by a WIDE margin four years ago! And a lot of Democrats like her! They didn’t want her to run again, but they still like her!

clare.malone: I don’t think she’ll endorse until there’s a named nominee.

Though, who knows–she might want to make waves! She does seem to occasionally throw bombs.

galen: Who of the top four would actively seek her endorsement?

natesilver: I think Harris and Warren, in particular, would seek her endorsement.

clare.malone: Harris for sure.

Warren I’m less sure about, though you could be right, Nate.

sarahf: OK, last call for the heavyweights. Who else?

natesilver: NaNcY PeLoSi

galen: Proxies for heavy hitters also matter — Valerie Jarrett, Eric Holder, for example.

natesilver: Ohhhh I totally disagree on the proxies.

clare.malone: I like the idea of proxies…

Why, Nate?

natesilver: Because who the hell cares who, say, Valerie Jarrett endorses. Nobody knows who she is.

galen: But party people know who she is and they might take it as a sign of what “Obama world” is thinking.

And that matters.

natesilver: ZZZZZ

clare.malone: Oh, I have one.

Pod Save America.

If they endorsed, they would be decently influential as a group.

galen: Hooo boy

clare.malone: I’m serious.

They’re a big platform for a core slice of the party.

natesilver: WHAT ABOUT CHAPO

sarahf: Hold on, I think Galen has a point about proxies, especially if many of these heavyweight endorsers won’t endorse until later. Sure, many people might not know who Valerie Jarrett is (she’s one of Obama’s longest-serving advisors), but say she and others from “Obama world” come out in support of one candidate. That matters, no?

Or at least political journalists (aka us) will write about it.

clare.malone: It would drive mini news cycles (maybe…)

natesilver: It matters in the “party decides” sense but not in the “kingmaker” sense. And we’re debating king- and queenmakers today.

sarahf: 👑

clare.malone: WHO IS MICHAEL DUKAKIS ENDORSING??????

sarahf: Warren. So that’s one heavyweight(?) down …

galen: Speaking of past presidential nominees … didn’t Walter Mondale endorse Amy Klobuchar?

natesilver: Mondale is for the Klob, yeah.

clare.malone: “The Klob” is the worst nickname ever.

Congrats.

sarahf: OK, let’s move away from who the heavyweights are (or aren’t) and back to the different endorsement strategies candidates should be using.

If a lot of these heavyweights are off the table, what lower-level king- and queenmakers should candidates be trying to win over now? Does it make sense to concentrate on just one state? Or maybe a state-specific strategy doesn’t matter?

galen: STATE KINGMAKERS

clare.malone: In Iowa, at least, you want people with a history of activism who drive people to the caucuses–so state lawmakers really matter there.

That’s why people always talk about the importance of courting activist types in those early states–it’s very retail politics driven.

galen: The upper Midwest just elected some new Democratic governors in 2018, who could make the argument that they know how to win those states as Democrats, and that they have a good sense for who should be the nominee.

I’m thinking Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan) or Tony Evers (Wisconsin).

natesilver: Yeah, Michigan seems like it’s a state that could be up for grabs.

galen: What if the Democratic governors of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania all endorsed together??

That could be kinda interesting

clare.malone: I don’t think it would happen, but sure! Interesting!

sarahf: What is a smart on-the-ground endorsement strategy at this point to win over these state kingmakers?

natesilver: Is there any strategy apart from kissing people’s asses a lot?

clare.malone: In the early states, a lot of national candidates go to local elected officials’ events, which makes the officials seem more high profile, in return for getting their on-the-ground/word-of-mouth push to voters.

So, yeah, ass kissing.

natesilver: Look, even Al Sharpton is getting a fair among of ass-kissing. That’s what this process involves.

clare.malone: What do you mean “even” Al Sharpton, Nate?

He’s a big name in Democratic politics.

natesilver: I mean that he’s pretty unpopular outside of narrow circles. Even in NYC, his favorability ratings are quite meh.

sarahf: So does this mean that candidates looking to have a strong performance in the early-voting states should concentrate their on-the-ground efforts there? Because I have to say, for all the talk of Iowa and New Hampshire as the first caucus and primary in the nation, it’s not exactly clear to me who the kingmakers are?

galen: Well, we know Clyburn is the kingmaker in South Carolina.

Perhaps Harry Reid is a kingmaker in Nevada?

And maybe there just fewer high-profile Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire at this point?

clare.malone: Unions are big in the Nevada caucuses, too.

In 2016, Clinton heavily courted Latino members of unions, for instance.

So maybe in Nevada things are more organized around unions.

natesilver: Nevada is also sort of a machine state, so I think Reid is one of those endorsements that could matter a lot in a very direct sense.

Nevada is a pretty hard one to figure out otherwise.

clare.malone: I think in Iowa, at least, there are clearer kingmakers in the GOP primary — for instance, Steve King and conservative family organizations have tended to be very influential.

sarahf: And there doesn’t seem to be the same Democratic equivalent, right?

But maybe that’s because the endorsement primary in these early states works differently and involves a much broader array of endorsers, including state legislators, labor unions, interest groups and even celebrities.

And so, say, the union vote matters more than anyone prominent individual.

Or at least this is the “party decides” view.

galen: Can we talk about endorsements from #NeverTrump Republicans? Does anyone think that these endorsements could matter?

natesilver: WHO WILL BRET STEPHENS ENDORSE?!?!?!?!

WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE OBAMA’S ENDORSEMENT OR BRET STEPHENS’S?

clare.malone: Bret Stephens will endorse Bill Weld or something.

OR…MARK SANFORD!!!

I’m so excited about Mark Sanford running (potentially).

Never forget the Appalachian Trail.

natesilver: I tend to think the media will overrate the importance of those cross-partisan endorsements. But I also think they COULD matter. In many states, the primaries are open to independents and Republicans, or there isn’t party registration at all.

sarahf: I don’t think we’re going to see anyone making explicit appeals to Never Trumpers in the primary, though.

clare.malone: Yeah, I don’t think Biden would seek out John Kasich’s endorsements in the primary, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt in the general.

natesilver: If Biden were to win the primary, I think it’s probably going to be a big part of his message.

sarahf: So it seems as if when it comes to the endorsement primary, there are two parts of it: 1) You want to build a broad coalition of support in the early states amid core constituencies whether that’s activists, unions or the like. 2) But you also want that extra boost from king- and queenmakers, except they often wait until very late in the process to make their endorsement … so how do you set yourself up for success there?

galen: Promise cabinet positions and ambassadorships.

I’m joking.

clare.malone: …. but are you?

galen: Yeah, I might not be joking.

Because what else can you do? You can make them feel special by wining and dining them and offer them something for their endorsement, or you can start winning so that people feel like they are on the winning team when they endorse you.

The first is easier to do. Winning is harder.

natesilver: I think it’s maybe more idiosyncratic and random than that. These are famous people with big egos. You build relationships, network, ass-kiss and yeah, maybe you can promise a few people a cabinet job or ambassadorship or even (!!!!!!!) the vice presidency (!!!!!!!!!). But there’s not THAT much you can do beyond that.

To the extent you’re spending more time in X state, it’s for all sorts of reasons — mostly that you think you can win that state — and not to gain more endorsements there.

clare.malone: And you as the candidate don’t need to make promises of jobs–people will assume they have your ear/a shot at influence, etc.

People like to think that their support for you will matter if you win.

natesilver: And they also like to endorse winners.

Sometimes the endorsements that matter the most are the unexpected ones. Like, if Beto O’Rourke were to get a big, unexpected endorsement, that might help him quite a bit right now because he’s sort of sucking wind otherwise.

Or if Bernie were to get Hillary Clinton’s endorsement, that would shake things up!

galen: Is anyone willing to argue that endorsements don’t matter anymore in Trump’s America?

natesilver: IN TRUMP’S AMERICA ONLY WHITE WORKING CLASS VOTERS AT TRUCK STOPS IN YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO MATTER. WHO ARE THEY ENDORSING?

clare.malone: No, because here’s the thing: People like it when other people help them navigate the political process.

And I don’t mean this condescendingly–there is A LOT going on in this election and people have A LOT going on in their lives. So they form bonds of trust in people/institutions and use those to guide their decisions. It’s the same way a lot of us make big decisions.

In politics as in life, endorsements matter.

natesilver: Yeah, I really … endorse that comment from Clare.

Voters aren’t able to pay as much attention to the race as we reporter-editor-journo-analysts might because they Actually Have Lives. So having a trusted person or institution endorse a candidate matters a lot.

galen: I also agree with Clare. The lesson from 2016 was not that the party can’t decide, but that the party wasn’t coordinated enough to decide, at least on the GOP side.

natesilver: We wrote about this a lot when we launched our endorsement tracker.

There’s plenty of reason to think endorsements still matter.

Also, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT BECAUSE TRUMP is generally bad analysis, sorry, Galen.

galen: THAT WASN’T MY TAKE

natesilver: I JUST WANTED TO GET SOMEONE ELSE TO TALK IN ALL CAPS

clare.malone: I LOVE IT WHEN WE FIGHT

natesilver: IT WAS LONELY HERE

Iowans Won’t Vote For You Just Because You’re Their Neighbor

Want a secret weapon for succeeding in the New Hampshire primary? Be a politician from a neighboring state. Want a secret weapon for succeeding in the Iowa caucuses? I’m afraid it’s back to the drawing board; hailing from a nearby state doesn’t look like much of a help.

Historically, candidates from neighboring states have had a checkered record in the Iowa caucuses, in contrast with the clear home-field advantage that exists for candidates from next door to the Granite State. In total, I identified 17 “major”1 candidates from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota or Iowa itself who have run in the caucuses since the modern primary era began in 1972, but only six of them won at least 20 percent of the vote and finished in either first or second. The 11 other candidates flopped, receiving 11.2 percent of the vote or less. One candidate even finished in eighth. (For comparison, in New Hampshire, politicians from neighboring states have always finished in the top two.)

Iowa doesn’t care where you’re from

“Major” presidential candidates from Iowa or neighboring states who have run in the Iowa caucuses, since 1972

IA Caucus Result
Year Party Candidate Home State Vote Share Finish*
1972 D George McGovern South Dakota 22.6% 2nd
1972 D Hubert Humphrey Minnesota 1.6 3rd
1972 D Eugene McCarthy Minnesota 1.4 4th
1980 R Phil Crane Illinois 6.7 5th
1980 R John Anderson Illinois 4.3 6th
1984 D Walter Mondale Minnesota 48.9 1st
1984 D George McGovern South Dakota 10.3 3rd
1984 D Jesse Jackson Illinois 1.5 7th
1988 D Richard Gephardt Missouri 31.3 1st
1988 D Paul Simon Illinois 26.7 2nd
1988 D Jesse Jackson Illinois 8.8 4th
1992 D Tom Harkin Iowa 76.4 1st
1992 D Bob Kerrey Nebraska 2.4 4th
1996 R Maurice Taylor Illinois 1.4 8th
2004 D Richard Gephardt Missouri 11.2 4th
2008 D Barack Obama Illinois 37.6 1st
2012 R Michele Bachmann Minnesota 5.0 6th

“Major” candidates were those included in national polls

* Among named candidates — i.e., not counting “uncommitted.”

Sources: State of Iowa, Des Moines Register, CQ Press, New Hampshire secretary of state

Why doesn’t it help to be from next door in Iowa when it is such a clear advantage in New Hampshire? I have several theories, but first things first — it is probably in part because candidates from around Iowa are just weaker candidates overall than candidates from around New Hampshire.

For instance, I found that the national polling average of Iowa-native and Iowa-adjacent candidates in the 30 days leading up to the caucuses was 11 points, on average, but for New Hampshire-adjacent candidates, it was nearly double that at 21 points.

But that’s not all that’s going on here. New Hampshire-adjacent candidates also did much better (19 points better, in fact) in the New Hampshire primary than their national polling average in the 30 days leading up to the primary. In Iowa, local candidates overperformed, but not by nearly as much. On average, these candidates did just 6 points better in the caucuses than they did in an average of national polls conducted in the 30 days before the caucuses — and that includes one candidate, then-Sen. Tom Harkin in 1992, who improved upon his national polling average by 70 (!) points in Iowa. (Harkin is the only major presidential candidate in the modern era actually from Iowa, so it’s not necessarily that surprising that he basically scared the other Democratic candidates away from competing there.) If we remove Harkin from the equation, Iowa-adjacent candidates’ advantage falls to 3 points, on average. That’s barely any better than the 1 percentage point by which candidates not from the area overperformed their national polls in Iowa, on average.

The reason home-field advantage is weaker in Iowa than in New Hampshire may be that many of the factors that make local candidates strong in New Hampshire do not carry forward to Iowa.

  • Distances, for instance, are longer in the Midwest than in New England, so it is not as easy for candidates from neighboring states to just pop in to Iowa for a quick visit.
  • Additionally, whereas a majority of New Hampshirites were born out of state, 70 percent of Iowans were born in Iowa, according to 2017 estimates from the American Community Survey. Only 4 percent were born in Illinois, 3 percent in Nebraska, 2 percent in Minnesota and 1 percent in each of Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In addition, only 5 percent of Iowa workers aged 16 or higher cross state lines to go to work.
  • Most Iowans — 66 percent — live in a broadcast media market (either Des Moines-Ames or Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City-Dubuque) that is wholly contained within the state, meaning there is no real reason for its news coverage or political advertising to feature politicians from neighboring states. Only 15 percent live in a media market shared with Nebraska, 12 percent live in a media market shared with Illinois and even fewer live in media markets shared with other nearby states. (For comparison, 84 percent of New Hampshirites live in the Boston media market.)

This is admittedly subjective, but I would also say that New England has a more uniform identity than the Midwest does. State borders seem to matter more in the Midwest (for example, most of New England roots for the same sports teams, but that is not true of the Midwest), and the Midwest is more heterogeneous. Perhaps this is why some candidates from neighboring states outperformed their national polls in Iowa, and others did not.

As for this year, the question of whether home-field advantage exists in Iowa might not matter much. That’s because there aren’t any candidates from Iowa currently running for president.2 There is one major presidential candidate from a state that borders Iowa: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. And she does appear to be putting a lot of her eggs in Iowa’s basket. But unfortunately for her, merely being from next door does not appear to give a candidate much of a boost in the Iowa caucuses. In fact, Klobuchar’s fellow Minnesotans (Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale and Michele Bachmann) have all done worse than their national polling average there.

Geoffrey Skelley contributed research.

Silver Bulletpoints: Iowans Seem To Like Warren And Buttigieg

We’re less than two weeks from the Democrats’ first debate in Miami on June 26 and 27. I’m looking forward to the occasion — not so much because I’m eager to hear Bill de Blasio trying to drop some too-clever-by-half insults on the front-runners, but because the debates should help us exit a doldrums phase of the Democratic primary in which not a lot has been happening.

Until then, we’re left with some pretty slim pickings for Silver Bulletpoints. So I want to focus this week’s edition around the recent Selzer & Co. poll of Iowa, which was conducted on behalf of CNN, the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. While I’m a little bit reluctant to give that much attention to a single poll, this is one of the only recent high-quality polls of Iowa — and Selzer & Co. is pretty much as good as pollsters can get.

Bulletpoint No. 1: Things are looking up in Iowa for Warren and Buttigieg

The Selzer poll shows a closer race in Iowa than what we’ve been seeing nationally, with Joe Biden on top with 24 percent of the vote, followed by essentially a three-way tie for second with Bernie Sanders at 16 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 15 percent and Pete Buttigieg at 14 percent. Kamala Harris is next at 7 percent, with no one else above 2 percent.

That’s already a pretty decent result for Warren and Buttigieg — but, in fact, the poll is a bit better than it looks for them on the surface. Selzer also asked voters for favorability ratings on each candidate; I translated those ratings to a 5-point scale in which 5 means “very favorable” and 1 means “very unfavorable,” throwing out voters who didn’t know enough about a candidate to formulate an opinion.

On average, Buttigieg had the highest favorability ratings on the scale (4.1), with Harris (4.0) and Warren (4.0) close behind him. Biden’s (3.8) and Sanders’s (3.7) favorability ratings were decent but behind the top three. Meanwhile, while Cory Booker (3.7), Amy Klobuchar (3.6) and Beto O’Rourke (3.6) have little first-choice support, they retain decent favorables.

Buttigieg, Harris, Warren are viewed most favorably in Iowa

Favorability ratings in the Selzer & Co. Iowa poll, June 2-5, 2019

Candidate Very fav. Mostly fav. Mostly unfav. Very unfav. Favorability score* First-choice support
Buttigieg 32% 29% 7% 5% 4.1 14%
Harris 30 33 8 5 4.0 7
Warren 37 34 10 7 4.0 15
Biden 36 37 14 9 3.8 24
Sanders 32 38 17 8 3.7 16
Booker 20 36 13 6 3.7 1
Klobuchar 12 32 13 4 3.6 2
O’Rourke 15 39 13 8 3.6 2
Castro 7 27 10 4 3.5 1
Inslee 5 16 7 3 3.4 1
Bullock 5 14 8 2 3.4 0
Swalwell 5 17 9 4 3.3 0
Gillibrand 7 31 17 6 3.3 0
Hickenlooper 6 18 12 4 3.3 0
Bennet 3 16 9 3 3.3 1
Delaney 6 21 12 5 3.3 1
Yang 5 14 10 5 3.1 1
Moulton 3 9 8 3 3.0 0
Ryan 2 14 10 4 3.0 0
Gabbard 5 18 11 9 3.0 1
Williamson 2 7 11 7 2.5 0
de Blasio 2 14 27 13 2.4 0
Messam 1 1 6 3 2.2 0

* Calculated based on a weighted average of favorability ratings, giving a candidate 5 points for a “very favorable” rating, 4 points for “somewhat favorable,” 2 points for “somewhat unfavorable” and 1 point for “very unfavorable,” and ignoring voters who don’t know or don’t have an opinion about the candidate.

Favorability ratings were calculated by a weighting of 90 percent of the responses from those who plan to caucus in person and 10 person of responses from those who plan to participate in the caucuses virtually.

I don’t have any hard-and-fast rule about how much to emphasize favorability ratings against first-choice support. It’s probably worth noting that President Trump’s favorables were often mediocre in polls of 2016 Republican voters, but he won the nomination anyway. Still, the Selzer poll is consistent with a story where voters who are paying more attention to the campaign are ahead of the curve on Warren and Buttigieg. And Warren and Buttigieg are good candidates for Iowa with a legitimate shot to win there.

Bulletpoint No. 2: Who makes for a good Iowa candidate, and who’s campaigning there?

What do I mean by a good candidate for Iowa? If I designed a candidate in a lab to win the Iowa caucuses, I’d want them to have four characteristics:

  • Perform well with liberal voters, since voters in the Iowa caucuses are pretty liberal.
  • Perform well with white voters, since Iowa is pretty white.
  • Be strong retail campaigners with good organizational skills.
  • Be from the Midwest.

Warren checks three-and-a-quarter boxes: She polls well among white liberals, she has a strong organization in Iowa, and she sorta counts as Midwestern if you think of her as being from Oklahoma rather than Massachusetts (and if you count Oklahoma as Midwestern). Buttigieg checks at least three boxes: He overperforms with white voters (and underperforms with minorities), he’s Midwestern, and by most accounts he’s a good retail campaigner. Sanders also checks three boxes (everything except the Midwest one).

But are the candidates who are the most Iowa-appropriate actually campaigning there more often? Last month, my colleague Nathaniel Rakich looked at which candidates have campaigned the most in Iowa and New Hampshire. I’m going to provide a twist by accounting for how long a candidate has been in the race. For instance, John Delaney has spent the most days in Iowa, but he’s also been campaigning for president since July 2017 (!).

Bullock, O’Rourke and Ryan are focusing the most on Iowa

Share of days with an Iowa event since campaign launch for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, through June 12, 2019

Candidate First day of CAMPAIGN No. of Days Days with Iowa events Share of days with Iowa events
Bullock 5/14/19 30 7 23.3%
O’Rourke 3/14/19 91 19 20.9
Ryan 4/4/19 70 12 17.1
de Blasio 5/16/19 28 4 14.3
Swalwell 4/9/19 65 8 12.3
Williamson 1/28/19 136 15 11.0
Klobuchar 2/10/19 123 13 10.6
Warren 12/31/18 164 17 10.4
Sanders 2/19/19 114 11 9.6
Bennet 5/2/19 42 4 9.5
Gillibrand 1/15/19 149 14 9.4
Booker 2/1/19 132 12 9.1
Hickenlooper 3/4/19 101 9 8.9
Delaney 7/28/17 685 57 8.3
Biden 4/25/19 49 4 8.2
Buttigieg 1/23/19 141 11 7.8
Gabbard 1/11/19 153 11 7.2
Inslee 3/1/19 104 6 5.8
Yang 2/10/18 488 28 5.7
Castro 1/12/19 152 8 5.3
Harris 1/21/19 143 7 4.9
Moulton 4/22/19 52 1 1.9
Gravel 3/19/19 86 0 0.0

The five leading candidates in the most recent Selzer & Co. poll of Iowa are highlighted.

Campaign launch dates reflect when candidates formed an exploratory committee, even if they hadn’t formally launched their campaign, since candidates generally do engage in campaign-style events during the exploratory phase. However, events only count if they occurred on or after the launch date listed in the table.

Source: Des Moines Register Candidate Tracker

Measured by the proportion of days with an Iowa event since their campaigns began, the most Iowa-centric candidates have been Steve Bullock, O’Rourke and Tim Ryan. Among the top tier, Harris has spent a notably lower share of her time in Iowa than the others. Perhaps that makes sense — she doesn’t check a lot of the boxes I described above. But it may also explain why she isn’t converting high favorability ratings into much first-choice support.

Bulletpoint No. 3: Biden is falling back to the pack

Six weeks ago, amidst Biden’s polling surge, I put him an extra step ahead of the other Democrats in my periodically updating, not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers, demoting Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris from tier 1b to tier 1c and leaving tier 1b blank to indicate the distance between Biden and everyone else.

But we’ve promised to make these tiers fairly polling-driven, and while the decline in Biden’s national numbers is predictable — pretty much all the previous candidates to get bounces have also seen them fade — I err on the side of paying more attention to Iowa and New Hampshire polls than to national ones. So that Selzer poll in Iowa is enough for me to repromote Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris back to tier 1b and to move Warren to there for the first time.

Nate’s not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers

For the Democratic nomination, as revised on June 13, 2019

Tier Sub-tier Candidates
1 a Biden
b Warren ↑, Sanders ↑, Buttigieg ↑, Harris ↑
2 a O’Rourke
b Booker, Klobuchar
3 a Yang, Castro, Abrams*
b Inslee, Gillibrand, Gabbard
c Bullock, Hickenlooper, Ryan, Bennet, de Blasio, Williamson

* Candidate is not yet officially running but may still do so.

For Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg, the case for promotion is reasonably clear. They’re all plausible Iowa winners — and if they win Iowa, they’ll have a pretty good shot at New Hampshire. I continue not to be super-duper impressed by Sanders’s polling, but he’s fairly consistently held on to second place nationally, and I’m not going to try to overthink things too much. Warren has some momentum, even if it’s a little overstated by the national media. Buttigeg’s modest name recognition could give him room to grow later, as he already seems to be doing in the early states.

Harris is the trickiest case, but her favorables remain pretty good, she’s a decent bet to do well at the debates, and it seems unlikely that a party in which 40 percent of voters are nonwhite is going to be entirely content choosing between three or four white candidates. All that said, Harris could also have a Marco Rubio-esque problem of being broadly acceptable but few voters’ first choice.