Featured on The Hill, by John Zogby

With less than three months to go before Democratic voters go to the Iowa caucuses to vote, we are closely following the first tier of declared 2020 candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind. 

Further down in the polls nationally and in the early states is a second tier that includes Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker and Silicon Valley tycoon Andrew Yang

Booker is hoping for two long-shot possibilities. The first is that he can survive Iowa and New Hampshire while Biden runs out of steam, thereby capturing the lion’s share of African American voters in South Carolina (where turnout can be up to 60 percent of the total) to propel him into Super Tuesday on March 3. The second hope is that he can score enough points to become an acceptable running mate on the national ticket.

Both seem to be a bit farfetched for now.

Of this second tier, the ones to watch are Klobuchar and Yang — the former because she can become the late bloomer who can win the nomination; the latter for the harm he can do to one of the front-runners.

First, Klobuchar. She’s been elected multiple times, as a county prosecutor and U.S. senator in Minnesota, including outpolling other Democrats in conservative parts of her home state. There are no grand pieces of legislation that bear her name, but Congressional Quarterly reports that she sponsored more successful legislation in the upper chamber than any of her colleagues of either party in the past session.

There have been widespread reports of apparently being a cruel and demanding boss and that she doesn’t suffer fools — none of which disqualifies her from the presidency. (Perhaps the contrary: These reports, fed by current and former staff, could help to neutralize her appearance of being just a non-flashy Midwest extra on a stage with party stars).

Her biggest assets, however, are that she is articulating the moderate position in the party better than anyone else in the field, and she is from a state neighboring Iowa — always important in the caucuses. No showboat, she (in my view) was the most outstanding challenger of Judge Brett Kavanaugh when she questioned him in the Senate. Forceful without playing to the crowd, she truly stood out when he tried to put her on the defensive regarding his love of beer.

In short, if she can do better than expected in Iowa, she could position herself as the candidate to benefit the most from any possible Biden slide. In this, her main rival is Mayor Pete; it remains to be seen if he can keep up his momentum over the next three months.

Yang is a fascinating character, though he has no real chance to win the nomination. But he is a great “none of the above” candidate in the field — and as such, he can be a real threat, particularly to Sanders. Yang is certainly no socialist, and his combination of $1,000 a month promised to every individual American — funded by a value-added tax — is backed up by some dizzying math. But his real appeal is that he projects himself as a smart, overachieving techie, with a sense of humor no less, and has a loyal and growing following among millennials (the “Yang Gang”). Any rise in his polling numbers can cut more into Sanders’s key base of young people —, especially young men. He is the iconoclast, the outsider, and I say he is worth watching just for that. 

Both candidates are at 5 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire, which is better than most candidates. Pay attention to any movement they show in the weeks ahead — it could give a clue about any disaffection from the front-runners, and who may be able to step in to fill in any breach.

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