The debate, the winner(s), and a lifetime to go

It is 11:15, Tuesday night, the latest presidential debate has just finished. On stage we had 12 Democratic Party hopefuls in the key battleground state of Ohio won in 2016 by Donald Trump. Attacks directed at Elizabeth Warren show that she has overtaken Joe Biden as frontrunner among Democrats. 

All eyes were also on Bernie Sanders, 78, who only two weeks ago suffered a heart attack, but yet spent three hours on stage and appeared as lively and passionate as always, and espousing his ideas of “political revolution.” He had an excellent night and came off as coherent and vibrant and ready for the rest of the race. Unbelievably, he might have been one of the winners of the night.

But really, who won? That’s hard to tell until we see poll numbers in the coming days. But as for a loser in this battle… I say it was Biden. He seemed to have fallen back into the crowd tonight, and when answering questions bumbled his way into oftentimes typically incoherent statements. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others, took shots at Warren and occasionally Sanders hoping to establish their moderate credentials. Weeks ago these attacks would have been directed at Biden. It was strategic move: They are hoping to pick off Biden voters who might be reading the writing on their candidate’s wall.

I would not be surprised to see Biden’s poll numbers take a tumble over the next few weeks, while a Buttigieg, for example, might see a rise.

But back to Warren and Biden who as of earlier this week still dominated the polls.

There is a stark difference between the two. Biden began the campaign as the choice of the party establishment. But among his many problems to date, he is mired in Trump’s Ukraine-gate. Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, has become a key factor in the Trump-Giuliani-Ukraine scandal, having received payments for joining the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was in office. On the surface it appears to be a conflict of interest for the former vice president. And Biden has not been very convincing defending himself or his son.

Warren, on the other hand, seems to have overtaken Bernie Sanders as the standard bearer of the left wing of the party, and over the course of the spring and summer has risen in the polls surpassing both Sanders and Biden nationally.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released Oct. 14, “Warren receives 30 percent of the vote among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic, while Biden gets 27 percent. Sen. Bernie Sanders trails the two frontrunners, getting 11 percent support, with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8 percent and Sen. Kamala Harris at 4 percent. No other candidate tops 2 percent.” 

But more importantly, I believe, in an Oct. 11 average of polls in the first Iowa Democratic Presidential caucus, Real Clear Politics (RCP) shows Warren with a 3.4 percent lead over Biden. The Iowa caucus will be held on Feb. 3, 2020, and it is the first nominating contest in the Democratic Party presidential primaries leading up to next year’s election. Iowa is followed by New Hampshire where Warren leads Biden in the RCP average of polls by 3.3 percent. Nevada follows New Hampshire where Biden bests Warren by 4 points. 

The primary that follows, South Carolina, is where Biden is banking on a comeback and hopes to overtake Warren. Currently, the RCP average of polls has Biden with a 24.8 percent lead over Warren in that critical southern state. The reason for the large margin? Black voters are still trending towards Biden, even when there are several black candidates still trying to become the party’s nominee.

As reported by The New York Times: “In a CNN poll, Mr. Biden was supported by 37 percent of likely voters in South Carolina over all, followed by Ms. Warren with 16 percent. Among white voters in the state, they were neck-and-neck, at 29 percent and 28 percent, respectively. But Ms. Warren was all but invisible among black voters: Mr. Biden was supported by 45 percent, compared with just 4 percent for Ms. Warren. A Fox News poll … and a Winthrop University poll … painted similar pictures of Mr. Biden far ahead of Ms. Warren among black voters in the state.” 

The same NY Times article explains, “While Ms. Warren is rising in polls thanks to support among liberals, women, young people and college-educated whites, black voters, who are the most essential part of the traditional Democratic coalition, have yet to embrace her in large numbers.”

You can’t discuss a political race in this country without bringing up the issue of money raised. As of the latest report (which ended in September) Bernie Sanders had out-raised all other Democrats with a haul, during the third quarter, of $25.2 million. The impressive thing about the Sanders fundraising machine is that he does not take money from big-money interests, Wall Street or bankers. His contributions are usually from individual donors who contribute under $50. Elizabeth Warren followed Sanders with $24.6 million. Biden, at one point a leading fundraiser of big money interests, reported $15.7 million, not a good sign going forward for the former vice president.

 One final note, and it deals with the Sanders campaign. After the debate, it was rumored that soon, “The Squad” as they are known, and led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), will be endorsing Bernie’s run for president. After Donald Trump, AOC may be our biggest political star and a polarizing figure. Her entry endorsing Sanders may have consequences — both positive and negative. 

So stay tuned. The key going forward for candidates like Warren and Sanders will be their ability to convince black voters to believe in them. I think this is key to their races.

Back to back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire may achieve this. The same as the victory in Iowa convinced black voters in 2008 to consider Barack Obama. Remember that until that win, black voters were solidly behind Hillary Clinton.

Twelve months is a lifetime. In a campaign for president, a year can change many lives.

Of course, there’s always the question of whether Trump can weather the many storms coming his way.