3 Democrats should drop White House campaigns — and run for Senate
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 Harris and the decline of former Vice President Joe Biden. 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 Warren has 15 percent and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 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 Trump 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 Obama’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 Buttigieg. 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 Hickenlooper 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 Gardner.
During the debates, the candidates had to explain how they would move their agenda if Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell 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 Cornyn. O’Rourke came close to upsetting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz 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 Bullock is the only Democrat in Montana who has a prayer of beating freshman GOP Sen. Steve Daines.
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.
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