National polling is beginning to show the profound impact of the recent Democratic presidential debates — and highlight why some candidates need to reconsider their campaigns.
The most dramatic change in the national polls was the rise of California Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Harris facilitates coin toss at Howard University football game Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE and the decline of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE. Based on national polls of potential primary voters by CNN, Harris's support jumped 9 points, while Biden’s slipped by 10 percent. That leaves four of the Democratic presidential candidates within spitting distance of one another. Biden has 22 percent of the vote, Harris is at 17 percent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenFederal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE has 15 percent and Vermont Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Democrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' MORE is at 14 percent.
The debate exchange on race that led to this reversal of fortune was high drama. It was Harris at her best and Biden at his worst.
Harris was a prosecutor before she became a senator, first as the San Francisco district attorney and then as attorney general of California. Her prosecutorial skills were on full display when she challenged Biden on busing. Many Democrats watching the debate must have imagined Harris challenging President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE in the same aggressive fashion in which she went after Biden.
She pressed Biden on his opposition to busing and then landed the haymaker when she said, "There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me."
Biden’s response to Harris started out well enough but went downhill fast. He pointed to his strong civil rights record as a senator and as Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOur remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 MORE’s vice president.
If he had stopped there, he might have been safe, but he didn’t. Instead, he tried to deny his opposition to busing by explaining the nuances of his position. His explanation was so convoluted that he sounded just like the politician voters love to hate. Biden, a seasoned pro, made a rookie mistake and forgot the political axiom that when you’re explaining, you’re losing.
It is also noteworthy that Warren’s vote increased by 8 percent, while the vote for Sanders decreased by 6 percent. Why did support for Harris and Warren jump after the debate? The answer is that the advantage Biden and Sanders had before the debate was that they were both better known than Warren and Harris.
The debates showed the two female senators could handle themselves well against the two male front-runners. The exposure that Warren and Harris received from the debates and coverage put them on an equal level with their opponents, and their support increased as a result.
The rise of Harris at the expense of Biden and the rise of Warren at the expense of Sanders suggests we may be on the way to two sub-Democratic presidential primaries: one a contest between the two liberal candidates, Sanders and Warren, and the other between the two moderate candidates, Biden and Harris. The winners will get to compete for the opportunity to run against Trump next fall.
The four candidates are the only candidates whose support is in double digits. The debates did not move the needle for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Blumenthal calls on Buttigieg to investigate American Airlines-JetBlue partnership LGBT film festival to premiere documentary about Pete Buttigieg MORE. But he did raise $24 million in the second quarter of the year, which makes him a player.
It’s time to cull the herd to give the survivors more time to respond to questions to complex issues such as health care, immigration, gun violence and climate change.
The Democratic National Committee created a tougher qualification requirement for the next round of debates. That should help thin the Democratic ranks.
All the candidates at the back of the pack will have trouble raising money and securing endorsement. Former Alaska Democratic Sen. Mike Gravel will be the first candidate to see the handwriting on the wall. Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperNY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case Florida Democrat becomes latest breakthrough COVID-19 case in House Wicker says he's recovered from coronavirus MORE also may be on his way out. His top campaign aides left the campaign after urging him to exit the presidential race and enter the U.S. Senate race against vulnerable Republican Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE.
During the debates, the candidates had to explain how they would move their agenda if Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnell'Justice for J6' rally puts GOP in awkward spot Republicans keep distance from 'Justice for J6' rally House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE is still majority leader of the Senate. The right answer is they won’t. The Senate leader will frustrate their plans.
Life will be hell for a Democratic president if the GOP defends its Senate majority and McConnell is still majority leader. Continued GOP control of the Senate will frustrate the efforts of a Democratic president to deal with the urgent problems facing the United States.
There are two Democratic presidential candidates besides Hickenlooper who could help ditch Mitch. They have much better chances of winning U.S. Senate races than they do of reaching the White House.
In Texas, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke could mount a serious challenge to Republican Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime MORE. O’Rourke came close to upsetting Republican Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant More than 10,000 migrants await processing under bridge in Texas Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State MORE in 2018, and he might have a better chance of winning in a presidential election year when turnout among Latino voters would be higher. Gov. Steve BullockSteve Bullock65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Arkansas, New Jersey governors to head National Governors Association Biden 'allies' painting him into a corner MORE is the only Democrat in Montana who has a prayer of beating freshman GOP Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Daines to introduce bill awarding Congressional Gold Medal to troops killed in Afghanistan Powell reappointment to Fed chair backed by Yellen: report MORE.
It’s time for all good Democrats to come to the aid of their party and clear the way for the next president to end gridlock in Washington. Hickenlooper, O’Rourke and Bullock could all do the next Democratic president and their country a great service by swallowing their pride and changing their plans.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.
This piece updated to reflect Harris was district attorney of the city and county of San Francisco.