There’s no question that the first set of debates and the fallout from some of the post-debate interviews have shaken up the race a bit. But have things really changed all that much? Polls have tightened, but many of the stubborn realities defining the Democratic nomination process remain. And yet The Hill has definitely swizzled their own analysis this week and come to a rather shocking conclusion. According to them, Joe Biden is no longer in the lead and the new frontrunner is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. (Emphasis in original)
The first debates are done, second-quarter fundraising totals are rolling in and the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is intensifying.
Here are The Hill’s latest rankings of the top contenders.
1. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Oddly enough, they begin their explanation of Warren’s new top dog status by saying that she’s not leading in a single poll. Anywhere. But I’ll grant them that she has moved up considerably, along with Kamala Harris. They also make the case (rather anecdotally, it seems) that she “appears to be on the brink of supplanting [Bernie Sanders] as the standard-bearer of the left.” This is topped off by a claim that Warren was “the clear winner” of the first night of debates.
There’s a lot to unpack there, but it can be boiled down to a couple of points. The claims being made about Warren include one item that can be measured (poll performance, where she has improved considerably but is still not within the margin of error of being on top), and several items that are not quantifiable. Who “won” any given debate is much like beauty or art… in the eye of the beholder. I thought Warren did fine in the debate for the brief amount of time she had to speak, but she didn’t have any sort of breakout moment that I can recall.
Warren gets high marks from the media for her “I’ve got a plan for that” schtick. But as I’ve maintained for years, she is a mediocre campaigner on the stump at best. And none of her plans are all that different from the other candidates’ talking points. She’s just fleshed them out with a few more figures and specifics, many of which would never stand a chance of making it through Congress.
What did The Hill have to say of Joe Biden in all of this? He’s dropped to the number two spot. He remains there because he, “can’t credibly be placed lower than second, given that he is the leader in national polls and that his fundraising prowess is prodigious… But Biden has problems.”
All true, both the good and the bad. Biden remains a poll leader but he’s suffered enough self-inflicted wounds in the past couple of weeks to drag him down, possibly within reach of Sanders, Harris and Warren. (The Hill also includes Buttigieg in that tier, but he’s got a lot of work to do in terms of shoring up support among minority voters before I see him jostling for first place.) Still, Joe is sitting on a mountain of money and has a full, national campaign structure that many of the other candidates are struggling to establish.
All in all, if I had to pick someone else as the frontrunner right now it would be a tie between Sanders and Harris. Two weeks ago it would have just been Sanders, but he’s definitely losing steam while Kamala Harris is the new left media flavor of the week. I’d still put Warren around fourth place with Buttigieg rounding out the top five. Your mileage may vary.