By John Zogby
Democrats are not losers in any way with so many good candidates in the field. There is richness in both the diversity and the experience, as well as the ideas and personalities of these men and women to make these debates well worth watching. Here are my thoughts following the second round:
Joe Biden – sure, he was wounded in the first debate and looked a bit tired. But he did well enough this week to maintain and secure for now his frontrunner status. He was vigorous, moderate, feisty, and engaged. He also had the crowd with him. While he weathered attacks from Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris, he also underscored a clear advantage he carries: he was Vice-President under a President who is popular among 95% of Democratic voters. Attacking his record from decades ago is anachronistic – there were indeed racist colleagues who could not be ignored, and the fear of violent crime was paramount in 1993 and 1994. And to say that the Affordable Care Act did not go far enough is to forget that the Obama/Biden team got significant health care reform passed, something that every Democratic President since Harry Truman had tried. I saw nothing that knocked him off his perch atop the field.
Elizabeth Warren – is providing the most compelling persona of any other challenger. She offers the most details on her programs, is dazzlingly eloquent, and has a personal story (including attending a community college in Oklahoma) that is authentic. I think she has neutralized the “Pocahontas” ridicule by Donald Trump and any attempt to paint her as an Ivy League wonk. She is polling well in Iowa and New Hampshire – and I have watched her campaign. She is good out there. Above all, I can see her as President. She is helping herself in these debates.
Bernie Sanders – good grades for passion and consistency. He was told by John Delaney Tuesday night that he didn’t have to yell. But he does have to yell. That is his brand. He cares about what he says and he is the real deal for that reason. He has been criticized for giving the same speech for three years. Actually, he has been giving the same speech for over 50 years. He believes in it and he has his inflamed supporters. He also gets to remind Democrats that in all the years he has been yelling he also “wrote the damn bill” and served well as Burlington mayor. Sanders performed well once again and while he has slipped in the polls, his voters do indeed show up.
Kamala Harris – took a beating the other night. She looked tired but she performed well However, the attacks from Biden landed. She was especially knocked out by Tulsi Gabbard who went right for the jugular reminding the ten million who watched that Harris has been no progressive nor has she always been friendly to non-whites. She opened the attack season in the first debate and now she is reaping what she has sewn. Her poll numbers have also slipped from her initial bump in round one. Harris can bounce back but first she needs to stop the bleeding. She did not do anything to bounce back this week.
Pete Buttigieg—what is there not to like? He is thoughtful, articulate, experienced as a mayor, from the Midwest, attractive. He certainly conducted himself well in the debates but it looks like the boomlet may be over. He has been at 5%-6% in the polls and may recover. But I think he belongs in the first tier simply because he is positioned to become the next governor of Indiana and help it turn blue. As well, we are likely to see and hear from him for another 40 years. He is not hurting himself at all.
Corey Booker – another candidate for the future. His story is a great one and he is a powerful speaker. He is not yet connecting in the polls mainly because he is crowded out by Biden and Harris for African American support. Another year perhaps, but his road seems blocked for now. He did score points with his head-to-head against Biden. As a former mayor of a majority black city, he has the street creds among younger blacks, but his big problem is that he has little room to grow. He is not even on the radar screen in either Iowa or New Hampshire. His hope is to cut in to Biden’s strength among African Americans, especially younger blacks, in South Carolina. But he has to be a survivor in the early primaries. Thus far, history suggests little life for a candidacy if he or she does not survive the early contests first. He could be a contender for a ticket led by Biden but he better not come on too strong lest he look ageist or worse, disrespectful. He was on the border last night.
Julian Castro – has been very credible in both debates. He is knowledgeable and has carved out for himself some good positioning as a voice for the future, a former Cabinet member and mayor who knows what he is talking about and as someone who is ready to serve. He is strong and believable. Someone to watch as a possible runningmate.
Kirsten Gillibrand – did herself a lot of good in the second debate. She used her time well by positioning herself as the young Mom in the race. She has a significant record of taking on the male establishment in both the military and politics. She alienated liberal establishment institutions like Emily’s List by suggesting that Al Franken should resign and Bill Clinton should have resigned. And at the same time, she is a real mother of young children, a primary breadwinner, a triumphant candidate in a conservative district, and a person who has defied the odds by being chosen over Caroline Kennedy for the seat to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. She gave an outstanding performance in the debate. I am not sure where she goes from here but she is definitely in our future.
In short, Amy Klobuchar is an outstanding candidate with the same Ivy League credentials as Gillibrand. I thought she would catch on more in neighboring Iowa and she may still. But for now, I think Warren is sucking all the oxygen. And I still don’t get Beto O’Rourke. He needs to find a seat for himself somewhere in Texas and come back later.
I call Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper the two “turn-key candidates” – meaning they are ready and able to assume the Presidency today. They are simply outstanding and credible. They were very believable and strong records as governors on the environment, economic development, health care, and criminal justice. Tulsi Gabbard is the conscience candidate – a bona fide veteran who has a global vision and is against the US war machine. Bill De Blasio is the leftwing gadfly who is interesting but has to show he can govern New York and have people actually like him. Mayors of New York really never move up. Marianne Williamson not is not interesting at all. She is a snake oil salesperson and has revealed a set of beliefs that is as hard-hearted as Ayn Rand.
I am way over my limit on words. For now, Joe Biden is still on top; Elizabeth Warren is the main challenger.