This seems curious, and potentially even more anxiety-inducing for Democratic Party leadership. Did Pete Buttigieg do this poorly in Friday’s debate, or is this a case of Berniementum? Both men took shots during the debate, but at least according to the Suffolk/Boston Globe tracking poll, only one man took damage:
Sanders 24% ➡️ 27% (+3)
Buttigieg 25% ➡️ 19 (-6)
Klobuchar 6% ➡️ 14% (+8)
Biden 11% ➡️ 12% (+1)
Warren 14% ➡️ 12% (-2) https://t.co/XETrrbnLuF
— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) February 10, 2020
Scan the two tracking polls at these links — one taken the two days preceding Friday night’s debate, and the other two days afterward. They aren’t long, and they don’t have a lot of data in them, so they’re pretty easy to parse. The most recent iteration has a slightly larger pool of unaffiliated respondents, but otherwise they’re pretty much the same, demographically.
So why the large shift? As Jim Geraghty writes, Buttigieg’s toughest moment relates more to South Carolina voters than New Hampshire’s:
If you didn’t watch, you missed Joe Biden trying his hardest to be feisty and combative. Bernie Sanders was particularly non-combative against the rest of the field, which is what you do when you’re now a serious front runner and will probably need to eventually win over the fans of your rivals. Pete Buttigieg had a generally good night, but he may have suffered some damage from some particularly tough questioning from ABC News anchor Linsey Davis about the increase in arrests for African Americans for marijuana after Buttigieg was elected mayor. Buttigieg initially tried to argue that the overall rate was lower than the national rate, but Davis emphasized that the rate increased after Buttigieg’s election. The former mayor insisted the arrests for drugs were connected to an attempt to reduce gang violence:
“We adopted a strategy that said that drug enforcement would be targeted in cases where there was a connection to the most violent group or gang connected to a murder. These things are all connected, but that’s the point. So are all of the things that need to change in order for us to prevent violence and remove the effects of systemic racism, not just from criminal justice, but from our economy, from health, from housing, and from our democracy itself.”
Davis then set up Warren for an easy lay-up: “Senator Warren, is that a substantial answer from Mayor Buttigieg?” Warren answered, “no.” The racial disparity in marijuana possession arrests in South Bend will come up again — say, as the South Carolina primary approaches.
Perhaps this was enough to call Buttigieg’s general-election viability into question for New Hampshire voters, but this isn’t a new issue for Buttigieg. Joe Biden’s devastating attack ad hammering Buttigieg over firing South Bend’s African-American police and fire chiefs began running over the weekend, which might have taken the bloom off the rose:
Again, these aren’t new issues. It might be that New Hampshire voters just decided that Buttigieg isn’t the right person for this fight, or it could be that they found someone they liked better in the debate. Take a look at Amy Klobuchar’s numbers, which have vaulted her into third place after running for almost a year in the bottom tier. She gained eight points in this tracking poll, and now RCP has her Granite State polling average in double digits:
CNN’s also seeing a surge for Klobuchar over the weekend:
New Hampshire voters must have liked what they saw from Klobuchar on Friday Night. If it’s for real and goes beyond New Hampshire, watch out. Nate Cohn sees a “Klobosurge” as trouble ahead for the Democratic establishment, and perhaps Bernie Sanders’ “dream scenario”:
A Klobusurge, if confirmed in the results tomorrow night, would raise the possibility of something of like a dream scenario for Sanders. And Bloomberg looms as a possible additional source of division on the center-left down the line
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) February 10, 2020
For Sanders, you can even dream about scenarios where he can get 50% of delegates on Super Tues. with even <30% of the vote with this many candidates. Not saying it's likely–it would be hard to maintain that kind of balance. But the number 15 starts to loom really large
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) February 10, 2020
The longer that different (quasi-)centrist candidates keep surging, the longer they stay in. Sanders benefits when more of those candidates remain in the field. A Klobusurge in New Hampshire, followed by a Biden rebound in South Carolina and a Bloomberg surprise or two on Super Tuesday could effectively give Sanders a large enough head start that the only hope for Democrats is the brokered convention.
It might get even better for Sanders after tomorrow, if this tracking poll accurately reflects voter sentiment. Elizabeth Warren dropped nearly three points (14.2% to 11.6%) after the debate, within the MoE but still going the wrong direction. If Warren can’t muster a good finish in her neighboring state — if indeed Klobuchar finishes ahead of her — then Warren’s likely to be out of the race entirely. Where does she win if she can’t compete in New Hampshire? And if Warren leaves, then Sanders can expect to pick up at least some of her support, even if it comes without Warren’s blessing.
Voters get the last say in New Hampshire, of course, and at least this time we’ll get a reliable result. One thing’s for sure — the circus will continue for longer than Democratic leadership will like.