An Update on the 2020 Democratic Candidates

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By Eva Lynch

The most recent Democratic debate was a pivotal turning point for the candidates due to the amount and caliber of candidates squeezed onto the stage. So, how have candidates’ performances in this debate affected their campaigns thereafter?

Recent polls have shown a drop in Joe Biden’s support, and in light of recent news, the reason seemed ostensible. The Biden name has been in the news recently regarding President Trump’s calls for China to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden that surfaced with the transcript of POTUS’ recent call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky. Up to this point, it seemed like Joe Biden wanted nothing more than a head-to-head encounter with President Trump to prove to constituents that he is the Democratic Party’s best chance at beating Donald Trump. 

According to the New York Times, following Trump’s allegations, Biden wrestled between defending his son and avoiding an unnecessary fight he believed the President was baiting him into. Even so, recent polls show no significant drop in Biden’s numbers related to the President’s accusations. Instead, analysts credit Biden’s lower numbers to his failure to meet constituents’ expectations; his age, recent verbal gaffes and unpredictable debate performances have led to some doubt and worry among donors. According to the Hill, Biden’s third-quarter fundraising numbers came in below Warren’s, Sanders’, and even Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s. Overall, no matter what it is credited it to, the polling numbers show that the former vice president’s once-clear path to the White House continues to muddy every day.  

Bernie Sanders’ age continues to be a worry at the forefront of voters’ minds, an issue which has transcended this and previous election cycles.  But voters saw a tangible display of his fading vitality a week ago when he suffered a heart attack on the campaign trail, and now his age may pose more of a threat to his campaign than ever.  

Now, according to Politico, his campaign strategy is explicitly damage-control.  However, interviews with Sanders’ aides and campaign strategists portray a united and unwaveringly confident front within the Sanders campaign. Staffers mentioned in these interviews several new strategies they plan to employ when the senator fully returns to the campaign trail, including how his condition and procedures are a testament to the urgency of implementing a Medicare for All plan.  The Sanders campaign hopes that a speedy recovery and strong performance in next week’s debate will resolidify voters’ faith in him and his stamina.

With her front-running counterparts falling behind, Elizabeth Warren has eclipsed Sanders and Biden and is now polling as the top Democratic candidate.  But is her recent surge simply due to an empty open spot, or is there a more active reason for her upward trajectory?  

Primarily, analysts believe that along with Senator Sanders, Warren has begun attracting more moderates instead of only focusing on her long-standing relationship with liberal voters.  Warren’s broadening appeal beyond solely liberal voters shows that she may be a formidable force against President Trump, as many of her critics were previously adamant that her voter base would prove too concentrated to snag the Democratic nomination.  

Another quondam issue was that Warren was ignoring a pivotal constituency for Democratic candidates: white voters without a college degree.  A recent surge in support from this population could prove integral to the primary process, as two of the first states to vote in the primaries, Iowa and New Hampshire, are predominantly white and thus represent a large part of this constituency. 

Yet, arguably the biggest threat to Warren’s campaign was the whiteness of her support, a controversy which the polls show she has now rectified through doubling her support among black voters, who make up anywhere from 20-25 percent of the Democratic electorate. Critics conclude that Warren still has a lot of work to do in working towards garnering more support while maintaining the existing support among these minority groups.  However, critics also recognize her ascension coupled with her counterparts’ setbacks establish her as a powerful opponent entering next week’s debate.

The effects of candidates’ performances in the debate on their campaigns can perhaps best be analyzed in Andrew Yang’s campaign.  After his performance in the debate, including when he announced his plan to give ten families $1,000 a month, Yang’s third-quarter fundraising numbers skyrocketed a record 257%, more than tripling his second-quarter numbers.  

Analysts say these numbers are what Yang needed to break into the top-tier of democratic candidates this cycle.  Though his fundraising numbers put him on par with frontrunners Biden, Sanders, and Warren, his polling numbers keep him steady in the second tier.  However, Yang’s campaign reports confidence going into the fourth Democratic debate, where Yang reportedly hopes to build momentum from his trailblazing performance in September.   

While Biden struggles with his donors losing faith and Sanders recovers from heart surgery, Warren surges ahead supported by new demographics.  Andrew Yang reaps the fundraising benefits of his strong debate performance and seeks to mirror this success in his polling numbers. Overall, it is clear that voters’ opinions on these candidates are ever-changing, whether they are influenced by candidates’ debate performances or other factors. 

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