In the 2020 Race Reset series, we’re taking a fresh look at the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination as we approach the start of the primaries. We’re also examining what we got right and what we got wrong in our Preview series, published in January 2019. In part two, we’re looking at the candidates we identified as middle-tier underdogs. Where are they now?
Bloomberg said in March 2019 that he would not run for president. But speculation picked up in the fall that Bloomberg would enter after all amid front runner Joe Biden’s various struggles. In November 2019, the billionaire and former mayor of New York City finally decided to throw his hat in the ring. He is hoping hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money will be enough to offset his late entry, and his campaign has already been airing TV ads in all 50 states. But he has decided to not even compete in the first state of Iowa and didn’t even make the ballot in the second state of New Hampshire, instead turning his attention to the Super Tuesday states on March 3rd, when 15 states will hold primaries.
It seems silly to label a self-financing billionaire an underdog, but his polling numbers have been in the single digits since he entered the race. But with $54 billion to his name, he can afford to stay in the race as long as he wants and hope for a late surge as other candidates drop out after the February contests.
Robert “Beto” O’Rourke
O’Rourke proved to be the empty suit that many people thought he was. He truly believed he was the national celebrity the media made him out to be in his failed 2018 campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. He even briefly topped the polls in Iowa. But the media that hyped him up in 2018 did not care for him in 2019. O’Rourke’s most notable moments came in September, when he said, “Hell yes, we’re going to take you’re AR-15,” and in October when he called for churches and other religious organizations to be stripped of tax-exempt status for disagreeing with same-sex marriage. The quips did nothing for his poll numbers but fired up a lot of conservatives, who pointed to the remarks as evidence of the Democrats’ far-left agenda.
O’Rourke’s unimpressive debate performances, failure to break out of the low single-digits in polls after April, and weak fundraising led him to drop out on November 1st. The man who declared he was “born to be in it” in Vanity Fair is now without a job, having given up his congressional seat to run for Senate and then president.
Gillibrand tried to be a firebrand who played a hardcore identity politics campaign, but she never caught on, barely registering in most national polls. She could not shake the perception that she was a fake progressive who once supported gun rights as a blue dog congresswoman in upstate New York. She failed to make the third presidential debate stage and withdrew in late August.
Klobuchar’s Minnesota-nice claims were challenged early on by a BuzzFeed article that alleged she was “intolerably cruel” toward employees in her Senate office and subjected them to “bouts of rage and regular humiliation.” The article came out just two days before her official announcement that she was jumping in, damaging her right out of the gate. Other media outlets corroborated the reports, including one allegation that she blew up at a staffer on a plane for failing to get a fork for her salad and proceeded to eat it with a comb.
Klobuchar stayed in the 1-2 percent range in national polls for most of the year, but has gotten a slight bump to the 3-5 percent range in the fall. She has lately painted herself as an alternative to Pete Buttigieg. But her neighbors in Iowa haven’t been impressed, as she’s polling a distant fifth in the state and is a non-factor in Nevada and South Carolina. Barring a surprisingly strong showing in Iowa, she’s unlikely to be a factor going forward.
Brown was identified as a potential underdog candidate after winning re-election in the increasingly red state of Ohio. He did explore a bid, touring early primary states, but decided in March not to enter the race. (His niche as a blue-collar progressive was instead filled by Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, whose campaign was short-lived.)
Yang was a middle-tier underdog candidate I didn’t see coming. I had heard of him in early 2019, but I didn’t mention him in any of my 2019 preview articles. Yang wasn’t even asked about in national polls until March and hovered at 1 percent for most of the summer. But Yang’s campaign has relied heavily on the internet, and he has gained popularity on social media platforms like Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram.
Yang has qualified for every debate thus far, though his supporters have complained that he has been given very little time or outright ignored in most debates. The centerpiece of the technocrat’s campaign is a “Freedom Dividend,” a form of universal basic income which would dole out $1,000 per month to every U.S. citizen over 18. Yang says his “dividend” would partially replace welfare and help workers transition to new jobs as automation increases.
Let’s not get too high on the “Yang Gang” train though, because his highest national polling number is 6 percent and his average is 3.5 percent. He’s pretty much a non-factor in all the early state polls. But a relatively inexpensive internet-based campaign may allow his quixotic bid to continue indefinitely while he spreads his technocratic ideas.
Photos via Gage Skidmore, Flickr