After two debates spread across two nights each with 20 candidates, the September Democratic debate will be cut in half. Only ten candidates qualified, leaving the other dozen or so out in no-man’s land… other than two who may still have a chance at an October (2019) surprise.
One of those who failed, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, has already dropped out. Smart move.
Five of the candidates – Senator Michael Bennett, Governor Steve Bullock, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Representative John Delaney, and Representative Tim Ryan – didn’t break 2% on any of the qualifying polls (they needed to hit on four of them) and didn’t get 160,000 donors. All of them should drop out.
Spiritual guru Marianne Williamson hit 2% on one poll and has the donors, but she has peaked in her momentum and really has no upside. She should drop out as well.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard made the mark on two polls and has the donors. She also still has some momentum after the last debate in which she was the star for calling out Senator Kamala Harris for hypocritical actions as California Attorney General. She also stands alone as a unique candidate in her policies, leaning Libertarian on some important issues, especially foreign affairs. There’s a chance that with some clever campaigning and a burst of donors to drive her, she could return to the stage in October.
That leaves billionaire Tom Steyer. He entered the race late and can use that as an excuse for not making it to the first debate since announcing his candidacy. Even then, he only missed by one poll. Moreover, he doesn’t suffer from the fundraising woes other candidates who miss the debate will have. His fortune gives him plenty of money to run a campaign indefinitely.
The ten who made the stage all have a chance. I know there are those who say it’s a three-person race (former Vice President Joe Biden, plus Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) while others are saying it’s a five-person race (add Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg), but the bottom-dwellers among the debate qualifiers should still be considered viable at this stage. Former Obama official Julian Castro, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar, businessman Andrew Yang, and Senator Cory Booker are all still going strong and have an opportunity on debate night to make a move.
Lest we forget, Rick Santorum came the closest to defeating Mitt Romney for the 2012 GOP nomination despite being at 1% in the polls at this point in 2011. He was given less of a chance than any of those who qualified for the debate in September.
As long as Steyer chooses to run, he’s a contender. For better or for worse, being a billionaire means having the ability to ignore the biggest challenges faced by other campaigns. He doesn’t need to pace himself. He can throw enough money necessary to move the needle. He almost did it with the September debate after spending $12 million to push his candidacy to a state of relevancy. He could (should) have spent twice as much; if he had, he would probably be on the debate stage.
As for Gabbard, if she can sustain her campaign and stay relevant in the news, she has a chance of returning to the stage in October. Doing so would instantly make her a contender as it would demonstrate mid-campaign momentum at a crucial time. That goes a long way towards building confidence among potential supporters.
This race is much more wide open than most pundits are seeing. Ted Cruz was 7th at this point in 2015. Rick Perry had a commanding lead in August, 2011. Any of the remaining candidates can surge or have an “oops’ moment. Any of them.
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