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Briefly, Where the Democrats Stand Ahead of Tonight's Debate

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | October 15, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | October 15, 2019 |


Another round of Democratic debates are set to take place tonight, and somehow, more candidates qualified for this one than the last round. There will be 12 candidates on the stage tonight, which is about seven candidates too many. However, it will likely be the last time that four candidates who have not qualified for the November debate will take the stage: Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer, and Tulsi Gabbard (what? Gabbard is back?). This time, the debate will also be going up against This Is Us, so don’t expect viewers to pay as much attention as they did over the summer when the debates had no real time-slot competition.

Ahead of the debate, Elizabeth Warren has pulled out in front in most polls. In fact, a Newsweek poll now has her lead over Joe Biden in the double digits. That poll is an obvious outlier, but Warren does seem to have taken the lead both in national polls and in New Hampshire and Iowa. At this point, Joe Biden seems to be gambling on winning in South Carolina and using that momentum to buoy his prospects on Super Tuesday.

Briefly, here’s how things look:

Joe Biden — I think that Trump’s smear campaign has likely taken a small toll, particularly with independent voters, in addition to the surge of Warren. In the last quarter, his campaign was fourth in fundraising, and the Biden campaign looks like kind of a mess. Hunter Biden may not have done anything illegal, but the nepotism is not a good look. Biden needs a really strong performance tonight, otherwise, he’s going to get washed up in the Warren wave. Given Biden’s tendency to ramble, I wouldn’t expect a big comeback performance.

Bernie Sanders — Sanders is making his first major public appearance since suffering a heart attack a few weeks ago. At 78, his health is an obvious question. While I think he’s still in this race, it feels a little bit like he may pivot toward an issues-campaign, one in which he aims to ensure that his policy proposals are adopted by the eventual nominee. In light of his health, I think that Sanders supporters are starting to look toward Warren.

Pete Buttigieg — Buttigieg has been hovering in the 5-6 percent range for months, and while he’s managed to raise a lot of money, that hasn’t translated into more support. He didn’t help himself by stating that “We’re not going to beat Trump with pocket change,” which seems like a dig at small-money donors. That’s not a good look, either, from the Democratic candidate who has received the most donations from billionaires. He also called gun buyback programs “confiscation,” which, no. Buttigieg is polling well in Iowa, which suggests that his only real chance is by beating Biden in Iowa and consolidating the center-left of the party. It’s a long shot.

Kamala Harris — Harris may be fourth or fifth in the polls, but — with the exception of a bounce after the first debate — she hasn’t been able to catch fire. I’m not really sure why. She’s a great candidate, and I don’t really understand why she hasn’t gained a bigger following. She’s not left enough to cut into Warren, and not centrist enough to cut into Biden, I guess. I’m a Warren supporter, but I also think that Kamala may match up against Trump better than any other Democrat in the general. She has liberal cred, but she can also pivot toward the center, if need be. I think that might be what worries liberal Democrats.

Julián Castro — I like Castro, too, but the best thing to happen for his campaign since he yelled at Biden in the last debate was having Lin-Manuel Miranda play him on SNL.

Beto O’Rourke — Oh, Beto. He rolls up his sleeves! He selectively uses profanity! He’s made gun control a big issue. But I can’t help but feel like Beto goes where he thinks the vote will go, so he strikes me as particularly inauthentic. You can only reboot that campaign so many times, Beto, before you run out of opportunities (unless you bring back Linda Hamilton).

Tom Steyer — We’ll get our first look at Tom Steyer in the debate tonight. He’s spent millions to appear on the debate stage, millions of his own money he could have spent helping out other Democratic candidates.

Tulsi Gabbard — She’ll, uh, be there!

Amy Klobuchar — And so will Klobuchar!

Cory Booker — He’ll be there, too, and he’ll be bringing Rosario Dawson, who would probably poll better than Booker right now for no real reason other than there are just several better candidates. But hey! Sixth out of 22 isn’t bad, Cory!

Elizabeth Warren — There’s a reason she’s winning. She’s taking on Wall Street and Silicon Valley. She’s blaming Venture Capitalists for the shutdown of Splinter. She’s taking on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. She’s using Kate McKinnon in her political ads.

And y’all: Elizabeth Warren once called out a former employer for sexually harassing her … at his funeral.

She had been asked to eulogize longtime UH law professor Eugene Smith, who, as head of the faculty hiring committee in 1978, had been an early Warren champion, urging colleagues to look past her limited teaching experience and what some perceived as her second-rate Rutgers Law School degree.

Smith, who died of complications from the polio he contracted as a child, had specifically requested that Warren speak at his funeral. But what she said inside a small campus chapel stunned her former colleagues.

With a smile on her face and humor in her voice, Warren described how Smith had invited her to his office one day just a few months after she had been hired. He shut the door and lunged for her, she said, and as she protested, he chased her around his desk before she was able to escape out the door.


Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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