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Happy holidays folks! It’s that time of year where we go home, spend time with the family, and decide if we’re going to run for President.
The skies are darkened by trial balloons, the magazines clogged with profiles, and Instagram saturated with Relatable Kitchen Content. Voters in Iowa dutifully wait by their telephones to be polled. Yes, the 2020 cycle is officially upon us. And so we must Predict: who will win the Democratic nomination for President?
I’m struck, at this stage, by how many people don’t really like their choices. People kind of want newness, but also someone good, and probably the candidate should really be a woman (oh, but not that woman I can’t stand her), and maybe the candidate should be good in the Midwest, but oh I don’t know. There’s no Barack Obama out there, basically. That said, there are like 40 people thinking of running and one of them has to win, right?
And so let’s take a look at the field. I won’t make an attempt at categorizing them (read Dave Weigel’s meta-synthesis of groupings others are using). Instead, I’ll rate them on the two things that I think matter: charisma and identity. (As opposed to all the bullshit that we tell ourselves matters like political ideology, electability, and so forth. Don’t kid yourselves, folks. You use that stuff to justify the decision your gut already made.)
As ranked by pricing in the PredictIt market, as of December 19, 2018:
Beto O’Rourke – 21c.
Charisma – very high.
Identity – mixed bag. Young, new, hot. But annoyingly also a white male.
His path – win Iowa, take second at least in NH. Finish respectably in SC/NV and come away with enough delegates from TX/CA/MA on Super Tuesday that he can ride momentum throughout the rest of March to emerge with the clear lead.
My take – Beto is clickable, likable, electable, _____able. He knows it (he loves it). The media want him to run (my god, the clicks). He wants to stand in front of the crowds again (but maybe he doesn’t say this out loud). His wife is probably against it (but what do I know). He will probably run (the betting markets will go insane if he doesn’t).
Beto isn’t Obama. (I mean, seriously, can you imagine Obama ever writing prose this self-indulgent?) But he can draw a crowd, hell he can fill a stadium, he can raise money. He probably has policy positions too? Not that I know what they are (and not that they would matter). We’ll know if Beto is going to win when we see his first fundraising numbers. If he’s maintained his support from his Texas run, look out.
Kamala Harris – 17c.
Charisma – moderate.
Identity – strong. New (enough), diverse background, black, female.
Her path – Respectable finish in Iowa/NH. Win SC/NV. Win CA by a good margin (will be hard!) and emerge as the consensus choice for black voters by the end of Super Tuesday (i.e. get Booker out of there). Then grind it out and make sure to win enough superdelegates in case she needs them.
My take – When I think of Kamala, I’m struck by how little organic interest there seems to be in her. Maybe I don’t follow the right people on twitter – but where is the buzz? Her tweets kind of suck too? She’s got a sharp, aggressive wit but seems to keep it restrained. Her public speaking is okay. But really she needs a Moment or two. People need to be inspired by her (the person) such that they talk about her, want to work for her, want to vote for her. We shall see, but I don’t think you can play it safe and expect to win versus a huge field. Sit down with Brian Schatz and learn how to tweet. Something!
Joe Biden – 17c
Charisma – very high.
Identity – weak/moderate. Old (really, a bit too old). Very much a white guy but also the kind of white guy that other white guys think will beat Trump easily because he will appeal to those Obama-Trump white guys. A bit handsy with women in photo-ops in a way that will be a nagging Topic of Discussion and turn-off for many D voters (women are the Democratic base in the end).
His path – Swat that punk Beto kid aside by stepping on his spotlight. Win two of the first four. Emerge as the Establishment Consensus heading into and out of Super Tuesday. Mop up by the end of March. (By the way, with how front-loaded the calendar is, this won’t happen. Some will drop out mid-March, but really there could be four or five candidates at that point jostling for delegates and no one will see a point in dropping out until April).
My take – If he were ten years younger, he’d be the Anointed One. Half the Senators running this year wouldn’t bother. But he’s not and so here we are. People like Joe Biden (except for a not-to-be-ignored chunk of mainly female voters that find him creepy, with some justification). He has the highest name recognition right now, his favorables are consistently good, and his experience will make him stand out on any debate stage. I actually think he might be the closest thing we have to a front-runner right now, but there’s plenty of time for Things to Happen.
Bernie Sanders – 14c
Charisma – high.
Identity – weak/moderate. Old (but also that’s kind of part of his brand?). Already lost! Very, very white dude. Retains a hardcore lefty base though.
His path – top three in Iowa, win NH (anything less is an embarrassment) and finish top three in SC/NV. Don’t get blown out on Super Tuesday. Hope the other White Dudes have faded and that the black vote gets split. Scrape by with a plurality of delegates by fighting hard in caucus states vs a big field and win it at the convention.
My take – I mean, he’s run before! (So has Joey B.) And he lost! Brutally! To Hillary! He’s charismatic and he maintains (some) of his original lefty base the same way Ron Paul held onto his libertarian base. But he won’t be the non-Hillary like he was in 2016. And honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose not to run, actually. But if he does run, and (as I lay out above) no one separates themselves from the field by the end of March, he is stubborn enough to stick around and try to win some caucuses and fight it out at the convention. Which would be an amazing outcome as far as betting markets go, anyway.
Amy Klobuchar – 10c
Charisma – low/moderate.
Identity – strong. Female, midwestern-moderate-white (to win back WI/MI/PA), nice, new(ish), the anti-Trump.
Her path – Actually run, win IA, top three NH, survive SC/NV, survive super Tuesday, hope to emerge atop the field by mid-March or at least be among the top three going into a split convention and hope the superdelegates pick her.
My take – why not Klobuchar? That seems to be what people say when they’re reaching for a candidate they might like (but don’t know much about) because the others aren’t really doing much for them. I like her – who doesn’t? But my sense is she’ll struggle to raise money, stand out from the crowd, and catch fire. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. She certainly stands a chance in a crowded field where anything can happen – and she also certainly might decide not to run at all.
Cory Booker – 8c
Charisma – moderate/high. He really likes the stage but has a way of extemporizing his way into wide-eyed word salads.
Identity – moderate/strong. He’s black, but that doesn’t mean he automatically gets the black vote.
His path – hope that he pops. Hope that he wins SC/NV. Hope that the field is unsettled by the end of March and that he’s still in the picture. Win a split convention, or, in some cases, actually win outright if the right combination of candidates quit early (Kamala, Beto, and Biden).
My take – He’s really not Obama, which is the inescapable (and clearly racist) comparison that he’ll have to deal with. But also kind of true! He has the potential but his delivery isn’t always there. He exudes passion but not vision. And I don’t think he has a national base. His biggest strength is that he’s really hungry, and unlike the somewhat more cautiously predisposed Kamala/Klobuchar/Warren he will take the risks needed to get himself into the spotlight. I can see him enjoying the campaign in a way that others won’t. I’m skeptical that he wins, but I think he will have his moments.
Elizabeth Warren – 8c
Charisma – moderate.
Identity – moderate. She’s a she, but she’s also not well-liked.
Her path – Put out lots of policy proposals thinking they’ll matter and drop out on March 11. No, uh, let’s see. Win NH and knock out Bernie, hoping he endorses her (their politics are close enough). Carry MA and hold her own in CA/TX on Super Tuesday. Hope the field is bunched enough that she can grind it out for a plurality at the convention.
My take – People dislike Warren in a way that’s quite reminiscent of the sexist ways they disliked Hillary Clinton. Men will bring up the sound of Warren’s voice (just like they did Clinton’s). And she does have an anxious energy at times. Yet she’s probably the smartest potential candidate out there (though unlike Obama she ain’t a cool academic). Put Warren’s ideas in Bernie’s mouth and his ideas in hers and people will take whatever comes out of Bernie over whatever comes out of her every time (this is my central theory of politics in a nutshell).
I think Warren runs but I hope she runs like an underdog because she is one. Fuck the cautious HRC approach, meetings, slogans, debating policy ideas. Go hard. Own the intensity and carve out an identity from it. Eschew the overproduced videos, write your own tweets, embrace your inner narcissist and see where it goes. Of course, none of this will happen.
Oh, who knows. Mike Bloomberg? Yeah I dunno. Tom Steyer? Ugh. Oprah? This would be amazing (and she’d vault to the top tier). The Rock? No, but lol.
I have an eye on Kirsten Gillibrand, Sherrod Brown, Martin O’Malley, and Julian Castro but really it’s tough to win from nowhere at this point. Trump at least had national name recognition and brand. For contenders to emerge from this tier they need to somehow get above 1% in the national polls, get on the debate stage, and make something happen. Or maybe that’s too 2012 of a path. Maybe they need to do some crazy shit on Instagram?
How to gamble on this mess
Honestly it’s December 2018 why pick a winner and marry that position? Play the swings and churn shares during the lulls; there’s not even a point to starting on a big neg-risk position now, in my opinion.
January/February/March is decision and announcement time, so expect those markets to find their resolutions (and for candidates’ prices to pop a bit when they’re in the news). After that, watch the polls and social media. Is someone catching fire? Building a loyal, Bernie-bro-like fanbase? Expect their price to become inflated. But ultimately it’s gonna take until September before we start getting a clear idea of what’s happening, so settle in folks.