Democratic Bases Go Back & Forth Between Harris & Warren Again
The Real “Electability” Discussion Among Democrats Is Which Woman Candidate Can Win the Democratic Nomination?
By Al Giordano
After the first Democratic debates in late June, Kamala Harris leaped to the top of our subscriber preferences with 48 percent to 34 percent for Elizabeth Warren, but now they’ve switched places again. Today it’s Warren who enjoys 48 percent of straw poll voters’ support while Harris is back to second place at 27 percent.
The latest results look very similar to our May straw poll results which had Warren at 44 percent, Harris at 27 percent, Joe Biden with 6 percent (today he has 8) and Beto O’Rourke with the same 5 percent he has today.
The voters, subscribers to the “América” newsletter for which Organize & Win is its online platform to cover the 2020 elections as no one does, are highly informed volunteers, small donors, opinion leaders and organizers from the many diverse moving pieces of the Democratic coalition.
Here’s how to understand how the same straw poll electorate has switched back and forth from Harris to Warren to Harris to Warren again in the last four surveys: About one quarter of them have been with Warren all along, another quarter steadily with Harris – and another quarter has now switched back and forth between them twice depending on which one has the perception of momentum at that moment. In each of our surveys between 73- and 83-percent of respondents chose one of the women candidates (in this one it was 78 percent).
There is an “electability” question that is not about Donald Trump that may prove more outcome determinative in the Democratic primaries and caucuses than the one the media always talks about. It is: Which of the women can best Joe Biden and the rest of the field for the nomination? There is considerable fluidity, and has been all year, between Warren and Harris supporters among the grassroots movers and shakers of Democratic politics and the resistance to Trump. This is likely to remain so right up until the Iowa caucuses: whichever of them (or another of the woman candidates) “gets hot at the end” and is perceived as having the momentum has a very good chance of winning the Iowa caucuses precisely because of this dynamic.
With each of the front-tier candidates (Warren, Harris, Biden & Sanders), the difficulty for each to reach the 15 percent threshold in many caucus precincts across Iowa is going to make second-choice balloting key in the outcome. Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have at moments come near that tier only to fade after a spell. If one of them or any other candidate gets some traction before Iowa caucuses that will make it even more difficult for all the frontrunners to reach the 15 percent threshold in a geographically even manner.
The way a caucus has traditionally worked in Iowa is that different sections of the hall are set aside for supporters of each candidate. Each group huddles together while caucus captains count heads. They pull out a calculator or pad and pen and compute which groups meet or exceed 15 percent and can be viable for the next step. The supporters of candidates that don’t reach the 15 percent threshold are then informed their candidate hasn’t reached viability in this caucus but they can now walk over to another candidate’s group – say, each’s second choice – and be counted for the final tally.
What we have seen month in, month out, in this poll of the fluidity between a significant number – one quarter – of all straw poll voters essentially making that caucus like walk from Harris’ to Warren’s corner, and from Warren’s to Harris’ group, and doing so multiple times depending on their own sense of the viability of each’s candidacy offers a preview of what seems very likely to happen in Iowa. And that dynamic gives whichever woman candidate is perceived as a more likely nomination winner an edge over Biden, Sanders and anyone of the other men in the first contest in the Hawkeye State.
I don’t anticipate, for example, that if Sanders doesn’t reach viability in a caucus (and he won’t in a great many at his current polling) that his voters might head over to join the Biden corner. That’s not likely to happen a lot. Nor is it easy to imagine the opposite happening either (although according to polling Biden seems the only of the candidates consistently enough above that 15 percent line to not have those worries). No, Biden’s concern has to be that his camp is not likely to grow from those all-important second-choice caucus goers who will swell the camp of the woman perceived as most able to defeat him in that caucus. That story will be repeated in every precinct in the state.
For Biden, the putative frontrunner, to overcome this “fluidity dynamic” among Democrats who want one of these two woman as the nominee and are willing to bet on the hot hand at the moment of voting, his floor in the polls would need to rise higher than it is right now in the 20-something percentiles. It’s not clear at all that in a contest with so many candidates he, or anyone, will be able to waterproof their caucus support that way.
The political press corps doesn’t seem to know about or understand this dynamic, or even how the process works. But you know who does? The field organizers for Warren and Harris in Iowa, who are targeting each other’s supporters, as well as backers of Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand and others, to get those second-choice votes when others inevitably fall short of the 15-percent mark on caucus night. There are a lot of what Warren might call “pinky promises” being made already toward that end and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, any of the boys in the race can do about it, except perhaps position themselves for the vice presidential pick. Speaking of which…
Events in El Paso This Week May Shake Up the Race
Meanwhile, another dynamic has erupted in the contest: Beto O’Rourke’s WTF moment in El Paso was what Joe Biden might call “a BFD.” Subscribers today will receive a newsletter that draws comparisons between O’Rourke’s lightning-strike commentary yesterday on Donald Trump and the media who cover him and a similarly explosive phrase, “estamos hasta la madre,” in Mexico that in 2011 launched a national movement against the war on drugs. It was a movement that intersected in June of 2011, upon the arrival of its caravan in Ciudad Juarez, with the rebel congressional campaign of a 30-something city councilor across the river in El Paso, Texas, who similarly campaigned – and later won – on a platform of ending the drug war. His name was Beto O’Rourke.
The intersection of gun violence, a youth movement to combat it already nationwide, racism and white supremacy, Trump’s role stirring up the worst of America’s past and conjuring it back into the present, the systematic discrimination, persecution and voter suppression of latinos and other nonwhite Americans, the separation of children from their families and all the rest of the immigration and border policies – each of them a hot button topic on its own stirring deep and urgent passions, they all have now crossed wires at a single epicenter: El Paso, Texas.
Into this explosive swirl of so many of the front-line fights against Trump and his agenda, Beto has returned home and is at center stage. Yesterday he made Trump blink and contradict two years now of his own hateful rhetoric. Trump claims he’s headed for El Paso tomorrow. O’Rourke has said “he is not welcome here.” The last time Trump went to El Paso, O’Rourke drew a larger crowd than the president had to a protest march. These coming days are going to be something to behold that whether or not they shake up and reboot the Democratic nomination contest for president – and they just might – will mark a new chapter in the resistance to Trump and those who enable him, and some new grassroots-generated language with which to speak of these things.
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