While it would be foolish to extrapolate an entire football season after week one, it can often be revealing as to which teams are moving in which directions. The first debates of the 2019-20 presidential primary season must’ve had quite an effect on the pollsters, donors, activists, and staffs. The playoffs may not start until next year, but there has already been considerable movement in each area— and at least one semi-major candidate is ready to push the panic button.
Politico led Tuesday with the news that former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper’s campaign is “in shambles.” His senior team urged him last month not to run for president at all, or against Cory Gardner in the Rocky Mountain State’s upcoming Senate race. Finance director Dan Sorenson jumped ship to Beto O’Rourke, and a new campaign manager was named on Monday. Perhaps most troubling of all, the campaign has only about 13,000 donors— about a tenth of what will be necessary to qualify for debates in the fall. Barring a sudden and miraculous infusion of cash, the Hickenlooper campaign will likely run out of money in a month.
The news was slightly rosier— and greener— for at least two candidates who announced second quarter fundraising totals. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is the early leader, with $24.8 million. That more than triples his first quarter fundraising, and is as good an indicator as any of his rising in the field. That number is particularly impressive, given the other candidate to declare, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Bernie raised $24 million this quarter, with $6 million transferred from other accounts. Candidates have until July 15 to make their totals official. Still, that a man with near-universal name ID, who has essentially been running for president since 2015, is being out-raised by a 37-year old rookie, is bound to raise some eyebrows.
Reactions from the pollsters— and the activists who answer those polls— was also difficult to ignore in its sharpness. Former Vice President Joe Biden has led every poll since mid-April, and all but four by double-digits. His post-debate lead is still intact, but a lot less comfortable than it once was. Biden’s lead in the RealClearPolitics average is down some five points in five days. Sanders’ numbers are down too, his hold on second place a lot more tenuous than it was before the debates. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), widely seen as the winners of each night’s debates, each saw dramatic increases in their polling fortunes. Instead of pulling away from the field, Biden’s battle has been joined.
Championships can’t be won after one game, but they can sure be lost after one. Likewise, the first round of debates didn’t settle the Democratic presidential nomination, but showed who probably won’t be long for the race. A top tier is emerging— Biden, Warren, Harris, and Sanders— with Mayor Pete not far behind. The fall’s stricter qualification requirements— 2% in the polls and 130,000 unique donors— will separate the contenders from those soliciting book deals.