Democratic Field Grows, Then Shrinks

[ Posted Monday, December 2nd, 2019 – 18:26 UTC ]

We haven't formally taken the pulse of the Democratic campaign for a month now, so we thought it was time to dive back into the numbers.

In the intervening time, we've seen the total Democratic field (everyone who has run, even if they've subsequently dropped out) grow to a record-setting 29 candidates, although, thankfully, the number of active candidates is now down to "only" 16 left in the race. With so many left to still cover, let's just move right along and break them down one by one.


Campaign News

Since the last time we wrote a full overview of the race, three candidates have dropped out and two more have entered, for a new total of 16 Democrats in the presidential race. After Beto O'Rourke dropped out at the very beginning of last month the race stayed the same until mid-November, when Wayne Messam decided to hang it up. This was a wise move for Messam, since of 100 random Democratic voters, approximately 100 of them had yet to even hear his name.

This weekend, two more candidates bowed out: Joe Sestak and Steve Bullock. Sestak had been running a rather quixotic campaign effort, but Bullock truly believed he was a great choice as a candidate, since he hailed from a reddish state and still had won Montana's voters over to him as governor. But like John Hickenlooper before him, he finally realized that Mountain West state governors weren't exactly what the base electorate was looking for this time around. Bullock is still standing firm against making a run for Senate, which he would likely win, but we'll see what happens after the dust settles on his presidential campaign.

In their place, we now have Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts, and Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City. Both announced at roughly the same time last month, but their paths since then have not been the same, which we'll get into in a moment.

I hesitate to say it (since I have quite likely erroneously said it before) but it now seems like the field is set in stone. As time goes by, the filling dates for individual states (the deadline for when a candidate can get on the primary ballot) are beginning to pass, meaning if a candidate jumped in the race now there is no possible way for them to appear on all 50 state ballots. Iowa votes in a little more than two months, as well. So (hopefully) we're now at the point when the doors have swung shut on anyone else getting in the race. Whew!

November saw yet another Democratic debate, but it was a rather subdued affair, probably because it fell smack in the middle of the marathon of public House impeachment hearings. Personally, I am still recovering from that particularly stressful week, and I have no doubt other political junkies feel the same.


Top Tier

We're finally going to proclaim a four-way race at the top, this time around. Pete Buttigieg's rise, which really began in earnest two debates ago, has continued to swell, and he is now polling comfortably in the double digits. This is remarkable because he becomes only the fifth candidate to do so in the entire campaign cycle to date. Three of the other four are still in the top tier (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren) while the fourth (Kamala Harris) has fallen back considerably since her early spike in the polls.

Joe Biden still commands the frontrunner position, even more decisively since Warren's numbers have slipped. More on that in a moment. Biden has actually been remarkably consistent, although the Real Clear Politics graph looks more saw-toothed. As I've pointed out before, this is likely due to them moving to only a one-week window to average their polls over, rather than the two weeks they used to use (which means spikier graph lines overall). But if you discount the up-and-down jerkiness, Biden has been comfortably polling between 26 and 31 percent since mid-August. That's a consistency few of the others have seen (with the notable exception of Bernie Sanders, to be fair). Currently, Biden is on the lower end of this range, polling at 27.2 percent. But if history is a guide, he'll likely see his numbers creep back toward 30 in the next week or so.

Bernie Sanders now sits in second place, with 16.2 percent. His poll numbers actually went up after his recent heart attack, which was more than a little surprising (most health scares normally cause a drop in support). Bernie's also on a bit of a downward swing right now, as his numbers were at 19.5 percent on November 23. But like Biden, Bernie has a defined range that he never seems to slip below, while also never really improving upon. His range is further back, though, comprising the high teens and occasionally the low 20s.

Elizabeth Warren has seen some dramatic movement over the past month, and it's all been bad news for her. At the beginning of October, she actually charted a higher number than Biden (26.6 to 26.4 percent), but it only lasted a single day. Since then, she slipped back and appeared to be stabilizing around 21 percent or so up until late November, but since then has plummeted to 14.0, where she currently stands. Again, this is likely due to one particularly bad poll (she only registered 10 percent in one recent poll), which has a bigger effect on the trendlines because of the shorter window. The question is now whether that dip will correct itself once the one outlier poll drops off the average, which seems pretty likely. But for now, her trajectory has been a steep decline over the past two months, without ever bottoming out. So a turnaround is pretty critical for her at this point.

The other big movement this time around is the rise in Pete Buttigieg's numbers, of course. Mayor Pete has seen his polling improve considerably over the course of the past two months. After turning in two solid debate performances, he has gained the support of more voters than anyone else over the same period, rising from the mid-single-digits to the low teens in individual polls. He even led a state-level poll in Iowa, by roughly 10 points over the other top tier contenders, which likely helped his national numbers. But he still is struggling to find any support at all among African-American and Latino voters, which should be worrisome for any Democratic candidate. Buttigieg's polling average is now up to 11.4 percent, and you can see on the chart how dramatic an improvement this is. His trendline is following a sharply upward trajectory, so it'll be interesting to see how high it gets before levelling off (his best individual national poll to date put him at 16 percent). Buttigieg can no longer be dismissed as a second-tier candidate, and has (for now) taken his place among the frontrunners.


Second Tier

We're going to define the second tier this time around as anyone polling above two percent, but still in the single digits. This leaves us with four candidates who may still have a chance to break out in the same way that Buttigieg has now managed to do.

Not too surprisingly, Michael Bloomberg has leapt to the front of this middle pack already, coming in at a tie with Kamala Harris at 3.4 percent. However, this represents different news for these two candidates, as it may prove to be a crossing point for them. Harris continues her slow slide downwards, as her numbers continue to shrink. There are even finger-pointing articles now appearing in the media where campaign insiders lay the blame for "what went wrong," which is never a good sign for a candidacy. Harris has struggled to keep her numbers first in double-digits (after her dramatic early spike upward), then above five percent, and now she's going to struggle to even remain at the front of the second tier.

I say Bloomberg's position isn't that surprising for one big reason: he has already flooded the airwaves nationwide, running a jaw-dropping $30 million in advertising to launch his campaign. These ads are running in almost every state, coast to coast, which is a feat no other candidate has managed yet. And this is merely his warning shot across the bow of everyone else, since he's got a virtually unending supply of money to fuel his campaign. Bloomberg's 3.4 percent is really his entry number in the field, since he wasn't included in the polling until a few weeks ago. From here, he could go up, down, or stay the same, obviously. If his numbers creep upwards due to voters being introduced to him through his ad flood, he could soon dominate the second tier of candidates singlehandedly. It's impossible to predict which direction this is going to go, but Bloomberg's numbers are definitely going to be very closely watched over the next few weeks.

Bloomberg does have one big disadvantage, though, since he will not be in the December debate and may not qualify for the subsequent few debates either. Up until now, one of the qualifications for debate entry has been to have a certain number of individual donors (the last time, it was up to 200,000, if memory serves), but Bloomberg has absolutely slammed the door on any campaign donations from anybody. He is determined to totally self-finance his campaign, but this means he will never meet the current debate qualifications. There is some talk that the Democratic National Committee will change this criterion later, after some of the primaries have been held. So if Bloomberg can manage to get a decent share of the vote early on, then he may eventually appear on the debate stage.

But even this may be pretty late in the game. Bloomberg is now saying he's going to essentially ignore the first four states to vote (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina) and instead concentrate his considerable resources on Super Tuesday. This is an incredibly risky strategy, because by Super Tuesday many Democratic voters are going to be concentrating only on the frontrunners from the first four contests, but then again Bloomberg has such an enormous pile of money to tap into that he may beat expectations on Super Tuesday -- especially in the states that are incredibly expensive to run campaign ads in (like California and Texas).

For now, Bloomberg's entry at the top of the second tier is impressive enough, since he starts his campaign in a tie for fifth place. In a field of 16, that's notable.

Two other candidates also are polling above two percent, but neither of them has shown anything other than marginal movement recently. Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar both deeply believe they have what it takes to be president (for very different reasons, it should be noted), but so far not many voters seem to agree. Yang is now polling at 2.8 percent, while Klobuchar is at 2.4 percent. This is virtually unchanged over the month of November, as the last time we took a deep dive into the numbers Yang was at 2.8 percent while Klobuchar was at 2.6 percent. As you can see, neither has moved the needle at all.


Third Tier

Then there's everybody else. Finally, the Real Clear Politics chart can actually show numbers for every single candidate in the race, since the field has dropped to only 16 of them. But none of them seems like they're going much of anywhere, and half of the remaining eight candidates are mired below a single percentage point. For the record, here are the standings of the pack at the back of the field: Cory Booker (1.8 percent), Tom Steyer (1.6), Julián Castro (1.4), Tulsi Gabbard (1.0), Michael Bennet (0.8), John Delaney (0.6), Marianne Williamson (0.4), and Deval Patrick (0.4).

There are only two comments worth making for the bottom tier this time around. The first is to note that Deval Patrick has not exactly made the same splash as Michael Bloomberg after their late entry into the race. It's a bit mystifying why Patrick jumped into the race in the first place, but it was his bad luck that he did so right when a billionaire decided to do the same thing. Bloomberg's money has dominated the discussion, while Patrick became somewhat less than an afterthought in the media commentary. It's hard to see any path forward, at this point, for Patrick to even climb to the top of the third tier -- which is not all that high a climb, as you can see. Perhaps his candidacy will be the shortest of all in the 2020 cycle?

That nicely brings us to the second point worth making. Who is going to hang up their spurs next? In the bottom eight, we have three candidates who are essentially self-funding their campaigns, which means they can stay in the race as long as their ego allows. Tom Steyer, John Delaney, and Marianne Williamson all are running nothing short of vanity campaigns at this point, although Steyer did appear at the last debate (while the other two were shut out). It's a safe bet that they'll all stay in the race at least until the first votes are counted, because they can all afford to do so.

This leaves us with five candidates who are actual politicians (or used to be, at any rate). These are the people who are going to be more realistic about their chances, one has to assume. Of these five, my guess would be that the next three to exit the race will be Castro, Bennet, and Booker. I feel more confident of the first two than of Booker, who might stick around at least until South Carolina votes, in the hopes that Biden's African-American support might eventually collapse. Tulsi Gabbard seems like she's on a personal crusade, so she may stay in for a while yet, and Deval Patrick just began his candidacy. Patrick, as noted, may have a very short shelf life, but Gabbard seems destined to keep going at least until the voting begins.



The top of the Democratic race is now a four-way contest, but we're not quite at the point where we can just write everyone else off. There are several candidates in the second tier who could conceivably still take off in the polling, so none of them can truly be counted out yet. In fact, this likely won't happen until after Super Tuesday, with the Bloomberg wildcard in the race. We could still have five (or, conceivably, even six) viable candidates after the Super Tuesday votes are counted.

The field will continue to shrink, though, as we approach the Iowa caucuses. More of the marginal candidates will have to face reality (usually in the form of the campaign telling the candidate: "We don't have any money to pay for your travel anymore, sorry") and gracefully exit the field. Of the total number of Democrats who ran for president this cycle, we're still not even down to half of them left -- although we might be by the time Iowa votes.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


18 Comments on “Democratic Field Grows, Then Shrinks”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Did any of these Democratic candidates, save the former Senator from Delaware, speak at the Democratic convention in 2012?

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, just to be clear … there are a few reasons why I would choose to vote for Mayor Pete Buttigieg if, of course, I was an American citizen.

    First off, his military service record would be a top reason. Secondly, I think it would be great if the POTUS was a gay man.

    His presentation is a good one for a newcomer to the national political scene, though it is wearing a bit thin on me. Mostly because of his lack of experience in international affairs, despite having served in the military.

    The next president had better be comfortable in his own skin and knowledge of how the world works at its best and not have to rely on advisors to make up his own mind.

    There is only one candidate in the field who brings this most critical attribute to the table. Other than, you know, the ability to trump Trump.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    A quick look at Wikipedia shows the following spoke at the 2012 Democratic convention:

    Joe, of course
    Julian Castro (Keynote)
    Cory Booker
    Elizabeth Warren
    Tulsi Gabbard (candidate for HI-2)
    Deval Patrick
    Tom Steyer
    Kamala Harris
    Elizabeth Warren

  4. [4] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    I disagree. A good President stocks his administration with good advisors and relies on them to fill in the gaps of his/her knowledge. There is simply too much to know for one person.

    I'm highly sceptical of Joe Biden, for two main reasons:

    (1) He's waaay too moderate - America has been suffering under Reaganism ("lower taxes on the rich and somehow it will trickle down") for four decades. The only cure is to jack the top marginal rate back up to 91% ("...that's one for you and ten for me"**,) treat capital gains as ordinary income & to reinstate environmental protections. I had to hold my nose to vote for Hillary in 2016, and if Joe wins the nomination I'll have to get a grip on my schnazolla to vote for him. In many ways Hillary losing was the best thing to happen to the Progressive movement. INCREMENTALISM WON'T GET IT DONE -- only Bernie or Elizabeth can get us where we need to go.
    (**sung to the Beatles "Taxman")

    2- gaffes aside, I'm afraid that Joe doesn't have the debate chops to avoid Trump making him look like a befuddled old man.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I rarely watch Fox News. Michael and a good buddy of mine keep saying Trump is going to be reelected, often "in a landslide." Let's call that "Point B."

    Here we are at Point A. Trump has never broken even 50% job approval rating, his people keep ending up resigning in disgrace or in jail and recent poll shows 50% of us want Trump not only Impeached but Removed from office versus the same 43% who'll support Cheetogod no matter what.

    So where are the votes to reelect Trump, with or without a landslide? How do we get from Point A to Point B?

    C'mon Michale help me out here!

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Holy sh*t --- three (now four) posts in a row?!?

    I think I've got a touch of whatever Michale has! (smh)

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Well, if you start to think global warming might be a hoax, consult a cardiologist.

  8. [8] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Mt. [5]

    "His people keep ressigning in disgrace or in jail . ." or in DISGUST, I would add.

    Mike may be overlooking the possibility that many Trump votes were not even cast for Trump, they were cast AGAINST Hillary!

    Perhaps I'm imputing my own feelings to others, but it may turn out to be a factor in 2020.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    You missed my decidedly unclear point.

    good President stocks his administration with good advisors and relies on them to fill in the gaps of his/her knowledge. There is simply too much to know for one person.

    That is certainly true, generally speaking. But, I was talking about foreign affairs and comparing Biden with Buttigieg.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    That's not very much even on a bad day around here. :)

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So where are the votes to reelect Trump, with or without a landslide? How do we get from Point A to Point B?

    Those votes are in several unexpected places.

  12. [12] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Too bad that Mayor Pete wasn't invited to speak ...

  13. [13] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm highly sceptical of Joe Biden, for two main reasons: (1) He's waaay too moderate

    Moderate? Well, yes, I guess one might call Biden a moderate which is precisely where America is and will be in November 2020.

    Is accomplishing a ban on assault weapons in America being 'moderate'? Is devising an effective strategy for US policy in Iraq when Iraq was circling the drain circa 2005 and onward?

    Yeah, I suppose one might call those sorts of actions moderate and in line with the thinking of most Americans. One might also call it exuding competence and can-do attitude.

    Senator Biden has never been satisfied with the status quo.

    Financially speaking, there is no one in the Democratic field who understands what can be done to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Frankly, I wouldn't trust Elizabeth Warren on how to mitigate the next financial downturn or crisis - which I believe is coming soon to a main street near you - further than I can throw her as she still thinks the AIG bailout could have been handled as a bankruptcy!!!!!!!


    2- gaffes aside, I'm afraid that Joe doesn't have the debate chops to avoid Trump making him look like a befuddled old man.

    Actually, you haven't yet seen Senator Biden perform in a debate this year because, well, there hasn't been a 'debate' yet. Ahem.

  14. [14] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    On Giving Tuesday I'd like to announce my pledge to the Holiday Fund Drive … the money order will be in the mail shortly!

  15. [15] 
    John M wrote:

    Actually, Kamala Harris became the next candidate to drop out, not one of the bottom tiers.

    Totally blindsided her campaign staff by doing so too, as I understand it.

    So, with the most diverse Democratic party in history, all the front runners are now white, and with only one exception, all male. They are also all over 70, again with one exception.

    How about a Biden / Buttigieg ticket???

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    i also pledge to donate, but it would be more if there were puppies.

  17. [17] 
    Kick wrote:


    i also pledge to donate, but it would be more if there were puppies.

    Puppies!? Puppies!!!

    Pay no attention to the indisputable fact that "pies" are conveniently included. :)

  18. [18] 
    Kick wrote:

    Speaking of puppies... where are the kitties?

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