The 2 events that reshaped the Democratic primary race

The early state contests in Iowa and New Hampshire are less than three months away, so the pool of Democratic presidential candidates should be getting shallower. Right?

Wrong! The pool is getting deeper. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) did drop out a few weeks ago. But more recently former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergWhere the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad Judd Gregg: Bloomberg rising MORE filed papers to run in the Democratic primaries in Alabama and Arkansas, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickCandidates in Obama's orbit fail to capitalize on personal ties Trump seeks split-screen moments in early primary states Sanders leads Biden in latest Nevada poll MORE signed up in New Hampshire. Even former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Democratic demolition derby Juan Williams: Don't count Biden out Candidates in Obama's orbit fail to capitalize on personal ties MORE said she’s been under “enormous pressure” to throw her hat into the ring.

Why are so many candidates considering candidacies so late in the race?

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Two recent events reshaped the Democratic race.

First, on November 1 Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Budget hawks frustrated by 2020 politics in entitlement reform fight MORE (D-Mass.) released her plan to finance “Medicare for All." To help finance her proposal, Warren is calling for a tax increase on wealthy Americans. The plan would double down on the wealth tax she proposed earlier in the year, which would levy a 2 percent surcharge on the incomes of individuals worth $50 million or more.

Her proposal was the straw that broke the backs of bankers and billionaires. Soon the line of the rich and wealthy Americans who wanted to attack Warren formed on the right.

Among the financial giants who went after her were wealthy investor Leon Cooperman, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and billionaire Michael Bloomberg. With enemies like them, Warren will win a lot of friends among the masses in her quest to win the Democratic presidential nomination. 

Warren drew strength from these rebukes and even produced a TV ad, which ran on CNBC, the financial news network that many of her targets watch religiously. The ad was a scathing attack on her attackers for being selfish in response to the acute needs facing middle-income families.

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In 2016 Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad MORE (I-Vt.) was the billionaire bete noire. Now the fat cats and plutocrats have Warren squarely in their sights. This comes naturally for the senior senator from the Bay State, who was a severe critic of the excesses on Wall Street before she had a political career and before the great financial firms finally crashed in 2008.

To add heat to the fire, former Democratic presidents Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonJuan Williams: Don't count Biden out Consensus forming for ambitious climate goal: Net zero pollution Democrats' choice: Unite or go down to defeat MORE and Barack Obama just expressed concerns about the leftward drift of their party.

The second event was a November 4 battleground states survey conducted by the New York Times and Siena College. The results sent a cold shiver down the backs of Democratic insiders — especially the moderates in the party. 

Many Democrats were surprised that, after countless scandals and revelations from the impeachment inquiry, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRussian sanctions will boomerang States, cities rethink tax incentives after Amazon HQ2 backlash A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press MORE was running even with the Democratic candidates in the battleground states.

Many of these Democrats had bought into the idea that the president would be easy pickings for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad MORE and were dismayed that he wasn't faring much better against the incumbent than the other Democratic hopefuls.

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In Pennsylvania, which is key to a Democratic victory in the Electoral College, the best the top three Democrats – Biden, Warren and Sanders – could do against the president in head-to-head matchups was a statistical tie. Furthermore, Biden, with a three-point advantage over Trump, wasn’t faring much better than Sanders, who led Trump by one point, or Warren, who was running even with the president.

Democrats need to keep their chins up, though, and concerned moderate Democrats should take note of two factors. First, the president is on thin ice because the best he could do against any of the Democrats was to hover around 40 percent support. The president is down to his base, but he will need to do better than that to win reelection. Second, the two progressive candidates, Warren and Sanders, are doing almost as well as Biden, which suggests the campaign is more about the status of the incumbent than the identity of his Democratic challenger.

Another sign of Biden’s vulnerability is his weakness in Iowa. In a new survey conducted for the Des Moines Register and CNN, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegJoe Biden lost his fastball — can he get it back before South Carolina? Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes Bloomberg hits Sanders supporters in new ad MORE leads the Democratic field. Buttigieg is at 26 percent, followed by Warren at 16 percent and Sanders and Biden at 15 percent each. Biden’s support represented a 9-point decline since the two news organizations polled in the Hawkeye State in September. 

Up until the time he entered the race, Joe Biden was the 800-pound gorilla who would save the nation and the Democratic Party from a second Trump presidential term. Biden’s candidacy was better in theory than it has been in practice. The former vice president got a boost from his announcement in the spring, but it’s been downhill since then.

The slippage in Biden’s strength and the decline in Democratic moderate morale accounts for the recent buzz about Clinton, Bloomberg and Patrick. At this late date, it’s hard to see Bloomberg winning the Democratic nomination. It’s easier to envision Bloomberg’s moderate candidacy further undermining Biden’s campaign to be the centrist standard bearer in the fight to stop a Warren or Sanders nomination

After the unveiling of Warren’s plan to finance Medicare for All, and the disconcerting results of the New York Times battleground surveys, the next shoe to drop was Bloomberg’s entry into the Democratic contest.

Winning candidates anticipate events; losing candidates react to them. The primary obstacle Bloomberg and Patrick face is Buttigieg, who has already filled the black hole created by Biden’s decline. If Bloomberg and Patrick hadn’t been scared off by Biden’s early strength earlier in the year, one of them might now be in first place in Iowa instead of Mayor Pete.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.