November 18, 2015
The Democrats debated last Saturday. You probably didn’t watch, viewership was the lowest of this cycle. If you did, it’s unlikely your views on the field changed tremendously.
Normally, I’m able to complete a debate recap within 12 hours of the contest ending. Not this time. Sunday morning I drew a complete blank. Monday, nada. Tuesday, net negative insight.
A few things are clear. Martin O’Malley had a couple of good moments in the debate, but has not morphed into an interesting candidate. He still has no path. Post-debate polling continues to show him in low single digits.
The next debate will likely have even fewer voters. There’s no indication O’Malley will be able to create a sound bite that resonates afterwards. We can continue to ignore him for the immediate future. Nothing to see here.
Hillary Clinton “won” the debate in the view of many pundits. None of the post-debate polling contradicts this, her margins over Bernie Sanders are equal to or greater than before. However, she said a few things, like claiming her support for Wall Street was post-9/11 solidarity that sounded very off as she said it and will look even worse in an attack ad.
She remains a weak general election candidate. Hypothetical pseudo-matchups a year ahead of the election are flawed at best. That substantial caveat aside, Hillary trails all of the GOP front-runners (Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz) plus Jeb Bush in Florida, according to a very recent Florida Atlantic poll.
A new Qunnipiac poll in Colorado has her trailing each of the Big Four by double-digits (Bush wasn’t surveyed). Given how divided the country is, trailing by 11 to 16 points in a state won twice by Barack Obama is a problem.
While Democrats do not need Florida or Ohio to win next fall (those are a GOP must-win), places like Colorado, Virginia and Iowa are pretty necessary. Assuming they hold states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, they don’t need to sweep those states, but would require 2 of 3.
While Hillary has done an excellent job clearing away the competition, scaring away Joe Biden and marginalizing Bernie to put herself clearly in the driver’s seat for the nomination, she remains far away from having a general election advantage against a credible GOP nominee.
For the next couple/few months, i.e. until she actually has the nomination clinched, Hillary will continue to leave Bernie as little room on the left as possible. She will also hesitate to create too much room between herself and the Obama administration.
You can count on her to toss in a strangely tone-deaf comment every couple/few weeks too. We won’t know exactly how Hillary plans to recalibrate for the general election until she has it truly locked up. Even then, the approach will depend heavily on who the GOP nominee is, something we may not know until June or July. So once again, for now, nothing to see here.
What about Bernie? He’s going to continue being Bernie. This means sticking to his topics. When asked about Paris, ISIS, etc., both in the debate and on Sunday on the morning shows, he connected the recent terrorist events to global warming, and pivoted as quickly as possible to domestic inequality issues.
Though he did make specific reference to African-American (un)employment rates in the debate, for the most part, his answers continue to ignore specific Democratic Party interest groups.
He now is scheduling a major speech to discuss what socialism means to him. From what I’ve heard from a micro sample of Sanders volunteer supporters, the campaign is not organizing ground troops with the same efficiency as Team Obama in late 2007.
So, he’s doubling or tripling down on what got him this far. In the near term it’s not helping him in the polls. Gravis Marketing polled New Hampshire immediately after the debate and found Hillary ahead 46/25, her first large lead in Bernie’s backyard in months.
The numbers indicate a number of undecided voters, but they were previously in his camp. This isn’t progress. New polls in Florida and Virginia have Hillary in the 60s and Bernie in the 20s. This isn’t South Carolina, where Clinton is relying on a huge edge with African-American voters.
The most recent relative bright spot is in Connecticut, where Bernie trails 50/31 (Emerson College poll). He trails by a 2:1 margin in Colorado (Qunnipiac), a state Bernie absolutely needs to win to have a chance to make things interesting.
Before anyone starts worrying about a legit nomination race, one of two things would need to happen. First, Bernie would need to have a way to hold his supporters while seeming more viable to voters who like him and Hillary relatively equally. No indication of this.
Second, he would need to win persuadables over by convincing them the Full Bernie is the way to go. This looks like his strategy, but it’s not working yet. Perhaps he just needs more time, but until it actually gains traction, nothing to see here either.
As soon as a major shift occurs, we’ll start spending more time on the Democrats again, but for now, way more to see on the GOP side.