There may not be even that many. Despite a field of more than twenty candidates vying for stage space in upcoming debates, The Hill’s Niall Stanage has concluded that only four Democrats have any hope of winning in the primaries. Too bad more of the other candidates haven’t yet realized that:
Marginal candidates at the bottom of the large field have begun to drop out — Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) became the latest to do so on Friday — and a deadline is looming this week to qualify for the third round of debates in Houston in September.
Meanwhile, at the head of the pack, only a major surprise would deliver the nomination to anyone outside the top quartet: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Those four lead the polls and suck up media attention. They also offer Democratic voters a potential standard-bearer from the left (Warren or Sanders), the center (Biden) or somewhere in-between (Harris). And, of course, either Warren or Harris could become the first female president.
Put it all together and it is difficult to see an opening for other contenders to make a serious run at the nomination.
Is Stanage sure about that number? Take a look at this RCP chart from today and ask yourself where you’d draw the line on potential for primary wins:
Any line drawn from this representation would either get drawn at the 15% line or at the 10% line — both of which would only leave three candidates in the race. Kamala Harris has tailed off so far that Pete Buttigieg has her within a margin-of-error gap. Everyone else is well below the 5% mark in a range best described as statistical noise.
The race actually looks very consistent over the last six months, with only one dynamic and sustained change — Elizabeth Warren’s rise. After a fumbled start, Warren has risen into the top tier since early June. At the moment, Warren’s tied with Bernie Sanders and seems to have risen at least to some extent at his expense. The two of them put together would only tie Biden, though, while Harris’ remaining support would barely budge the needle.
But how secure is Biden’s lead? A new Monmouth poll drops him into a three-way tie, with liberals fleeing from Biden:
The poll finds a virtual three-way tie among Sanders (20%), Warren (20%), and Biden (19%) in the presidential nomination preferences of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters across the country. Compared to Monmouth’s June poll, these results represent an increase in support for both Sanders (up from 14%) and Warren (up from 15%), and a significant drop for Biden (down from 32%).
Results for the rest of the field are fairly stable compared to two months ago. These candidates include California Sen. Kamala Harris at 8% support (identical to 8% in June), New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker at 4% (2% in June), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 4% (5% in June), entrepreneur Andrew Yang at 3% (2% in June), former cabinet secretary Julián Castro at 2% (<1% in June), former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke at 2% (3% in June), and author Marianne Williamson at 2% (1% in June). Support for the remaining 13 candidates included in the preference poll registered only 1% or less.
Biden has suffered an across the board decline in his support since June. He lost ground with white Democrats (from 32% to 18%) and voters of color (from 33% to 19%), among voters without a college degree (from 35% to 18%) and college graduates (from 28% to 20%), with both men (from 38% to 24%) and women (from 29% to 16%), and among voters under 50 years old (from 21% to 6%) as well as voters aged 50 and over (from 42% to 33%). Most of Biden’s lost support in these groups shifted almost equally toward Sanders and Warren.
Even this strongly suggests a three-way race has emerged. Biden’s losing support in this survey, but it’s not flowing to Harris or other lesser candidates in the field. Even if this poll is an outlier, it offers no hope to other Democrats who keep hanging on for the ride.
It would be in the DNC’s interest to force the issue and weed out the hopeless in order to produce more efficient debates. Unfortunately, the DNC’s credibility is somewhere around the Baghdad Bob level after their heavy-handed attempts to protect Hillary Clinton in the 2016 cycle. The easiest way to clarify the field would be to set a new bar of 10% support in four approved polls rather than 2% for the October debate, differentiating it from the September debate rather than using the same qualifiers for both. That would likely lead to a voluntary exodus of the also-rans while perhaps leaving Harris on the stage to get to four. The DNC won’t do it, though, because they don’t want to look as though they’re intervening … even if it is just to impose reality on fantasy candidates.