Biden vs. Warren

The Briefing, Vol. VII, Issue 31

This week:

  • Warren is waxing, but the Dems’ left field is suddenly getting crowded
  • Warren, Harris in a zero-sum game
  • Hickenlooper now openly flirting with Senate run

President 2020

Trump: President Trump is upset over his showing in the latest round of polling, and especially about the recent Fox News polls that show him losing to any of the top four Democratic opponents. But Trump is reacting in the wrong way.

First, he should be working to shore up support. Because yes, the polls are right that he is vulnerable. He doesn’t have to shoulder the blame for this — any president facing media coverage this negative by default (that he’s being blamed for mass shootings is rather egregious) is sure to be vulnerable — but he might deserve some of it anyway.

Second, Trump is always going to poll worse than he runs on election day. The result in 2016 came as such a surprise precisely because Trump was polling behind, yet he won. To some extent, the polling was wrong, although not in all cases — after all he was trailing in national polls, and he lost the (meaningless) national vote. There is a segment of the U.S. population that will vote for Trump but doesn’t want to tell that to pollsters.

Complaints about the polls aren’t going to be terribly productive. Trump needs to build on the increase in his approval rating, which is currently about five points ahead of where it was in August 2017, and his net approval, which is six points better than it was at that time, according to the RealClear polling average. In fact, Trump’s all-time high of his presidency in that average came in July.

Trump’s team rightly worries about Texas and Arizona, and it has a lot of swing-y Midwestern states to win in addition to Florida. On top of that, he has to worry about a recession, which still may not be on the cards but looms as a possibility. It’s a monumental task, and not one that’s going to depend on the results of early national polls.

Democrats: Elizabeth Warren continues to catch on as the Left’s preferred candidate. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that right now she is the runner up to Joe Biden. And while Bernie Sanders retains a lot of his left-wing appeal, she is increasingly being taken as the more viable socialist alternative in a party that is very much in love with socialism and could potentially leave Joe Biden for it.

To be sure, Sanders remains the more popular of the two in New Hampshire, which borders both of the states they represent in the U.S. Senate. In fact, one poll (not considered among the most reliable) actually has Sanders in first place over Biden already.

But Iowa precedes New Hampshire, and the Democratic winner in Iowa’s caucuses tends to get a huge bump going into the first-in-the-nation primary. And that’s where Warren is hoping to leave her mark. In recent Iowa polls, her main competition had been Kamala Harris, who is on the air in the Hawkeye State. Sanders has fallen into single digits. Warren wants to run away with it in Iowa in February, and after Harris’ poor debate performance, she may get her chance.

And in South Carolina, there are early signs — both as regards polling and crowd size — that Sanders-ism has run its course in favor of a Warren surge.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of August, Warren leapfrogged favorite-son Harris in newly important California, climbing into a close second-place position against Biden in a local TV poll by Survey USA. This further illustrates her potential to dominate if any of the other major left-wing candidates falls out of contention or quits.

Warren has not faced Harris yet on a debate stage just as a matter of luck of the draw, but the two are clearly engaged in a zero-sum game.

There is a snag on the progressive left: Tom Steyer, having reached the required donor threshold and posted surprisingly good polling numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, is now considered very likely to make the debate round in the second week of September. He’s a two-trick pony so far, talking up climate change and the overturning of the Citizens’ United Supreme Court case.

The idea of a well-funded left-wing challenger jumping in at this point is good for Biden, bad for Warren and Sanders (and Harris, if she remains relevant). Steyer may just be interested in promoting his issues and his vision, but to whatever extent he gains support on the Left, it’s going to have to come at someone’s expense.

Senate 2020

Colorado: Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke‘s attempted presidential campaign reboot is still going nowhere, but he genuinely doesn’t seem interested in another Senate race, this time against John Cornyn. In contrast, John Hickenlooper, having officially dropped out of the presidential race, is now openly flirting with a bid, stating that he is giving it “serious thought.”

As a popular former governor, he is the Democrats’ strongest possible recruit in Colorado, and he would also be their strongest recruit yet for any Senate race. Incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., won’t have an easy time of it either way, but a race against Hickenlooper is definitely the harder way.

House 2020

New York-27: Republican voters in this Buffalo-area district don’t seem too bothered by Rep. Chris Collins’ indictment for insider trading, but he’s polling low enough in an early poll that he can’t be too satisfied. A new poll shows him with 60 percent favorability, but he only leads already-announced state Sen. Christopher Jacobs 46 to 26 percent.

The poll does vindicate Collins’ philosophy up to now — that his support for Trump can cover a multitude of sins. But that’s no guarantee. Primary electorates are famously volatile because voters are usually choosing between candidates with similar ideas and beliefs. It’s a lot easier to switch sides if it doesn’t involve giving up everything you believe in.

Given New York’s June primary, Jacobs is surely in a good position to overtake Collins, should he falter at his trial in February. Even if he is acquitted, Collins can’t be satisfied as an incumbent to go into such a trial, with its potentially negative headlines, while polling at less than 50 percent in his own party primary.