Special Briefing: Who’ll Be the Last Democrat Standing?

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Why you should care

Because primary season is finally here.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? Sunday marked exactly one year before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and three months from the Iowa caucuses. Yet the Democratic race remains as unpredictable as ever: In the kickoff state to 2020, Joe Biden’s losing ground in the polls, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren (right) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg are gaining it by offering significantly different visions of what their leadership will look like. That’s why whatever happens in Iowa definitely won’t stay in Iowa.

Presidential Candidates Speak At Iowa Democratic Party Liberty And Justice Celebration Event

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts and 2020 presidential candidate, waves on stage during the Iowa Democratic Party Liberty & Justice Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Warren has emerged with a slight edge, and Joe Biden has fallen to fourth place in a new poll showing a tight four-way race in the 2020 Iowa causes, with fewer than 100 days to go. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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Why does it matter? While President Donald Trump is fending off an impeachment effort that could theoretically end his presidency, beating him at the ballot box is still an uphill battle, OZY reports. Record-breaking fundraising, especially against the backdrop of a relatively healthy economy, is helping power a sophisticated reelection machine. And between ISIS and impeachment-hungry Democrats, Trump’s got all the right enemies to fire up his aggrieved base.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Could Biden bow out? Once the clear front-runner, the former veep is on increasingly shaky ground. While he still leads in national polling — recent national polls put him close to 30 percent of Democratic primary voters, with Warren in the low 20s — he’s sunk to third or fourth place in Iowa and New Hampshire, the earliest-voting states. That drop in popularity has been matched by a disappointing fundraising effort: In the third quarter of this year, Biden (below) banked merely $8.9 million against the $33.7 million, $25.7 million and $23.4 million raked in by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg, respectively.

Out of left field. Warren’s steady rise has made her look like the front-runner. But the road ahead is far from smooth: Her “Medicare for All” plan has attracted criticism for what analysts across the political spectrum say will be mathematical gymnastics just to make it work, from an employers’ tax that might hurt the very middle class workers she’s vowed to spare, to a politically difficult immigration overhaul and massive military cuts. Meanwhile, progressive peer Sanders is proving remarkably resilient, with his recent heart attack having seemingly reenergized his dogged supporters. An endorsement from liberal darling Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t hurt, either.

Presidential Candidates Speak At Iowa Democratic Party Liberty And Justice Celebration Event

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party Liberty & Justice Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Biden’s sluggish fundraising got a shot in the arm from online donors, who contributed $5.3 million in October, his campaign announced. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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The new Obama? Buttigieg, aka “Mayor Pete,” is channeling the onetime upstart’s promise to break through divisions to pull together a divided country. OZY’s Nick Fouriezos reports from the campaign trail that while every presidential candidate attended, no candidate arrived at Friday’s Liberty and Justice celebration in Iowa like Buttigieg — who was flanked by his mother, his husband, a marching band and some 2,300 supporters chanting, “I-O-W-A, Mayor Pete all the way.” His organizational chops were complemented by a breakout speech compared by many to Barack Obama’s in 2007. Buttigieg physically manifested his surge in the early caucus state, where he’s now eclipsed Biden and trails only Warren in recent polls.

Room for more. Still, none of these Democratic options appear unbeatable, which suggests there’s plenty of opportunity for others to break in. The problem is, few others have managed to break through. Senators Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar have flashed promise, but have yet to gain significant traction. Sen. Kamala Harris was supposed to be in the top tier, having attracted an enormous crowd at her debut speech in January and put on a commanding debate performance against Biden, but remains mired in the back of the pack. She’s since vowed to “f—ing move to Iowa,” and slashed her staff for a reboot. There’s also Andrew Yang — a marginal competitor so far, but one who quadrupled his staff since the summer.

WHAT TO READ

Several Democratic Candidates Hit It Out of the Park, by Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post

“These events are great levelers. The polls don’t matter. The fundraising totals don’t matter. It is just the candidate and the crowd.”

Arizona Could Decide the 2020 Election, by William A. Galston in The Wall Street Journal

“Victories in Pennsylvania and Michigan would leave the Democrats two votes short, and Arizona’s 11 electoral votes could fill the gap if Mr. Trump prevails again in Wisconsin and Iowa.”

WHAT TO WATCH

2020 Democratic Candidates Descend on Iowa

“[Harris] is trying to message to voters that she’s going to where they are.”

Watch on CBS News on YouTube:

Biden Unconcerned About Warren’s Rise

“I can stand on the world stage, I believe, and command the respect of world leaders on day one.”

Watch on the Associated Press on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Two polls diverged. Neither the Democratic presidential nomination nor the general election are conducted by a national vote. So while national polls are fun conversation starters, you’ve got to watch the states: For example, if Biden loses Iowa and New Hampshire, his still-strong national numbers will likely crumble. The same goes for the general election: A slew of national polls lately have shown every Democrat beating Donald Trump, some by double digits. But a closer look at key battleground states from The New York Times and Siena College, out today, shows an extremely tight race in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Arizona — with Biden still faring best against Trump.

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