When Everyone Thinks They Have A Chance, No One Does

Photo by Emily Ross

It is past time for more candidates to drop out of the presidential primary.

Seventy-nine days out from the Iowa Caucus, we still have 17 Democratic contenders in the race. The total number started going in the wrong direction this past week with Deval Patrick’s entrance, and it could climb by one more if Michael Bloomberg decides to run. Roughly over a third of them have a 0% chance of winning at this point.

But because the field is so large, because social media can — in theory — catapult someone into stardom at any moment, because caucus-goers haven’t fully made up their minds, because we live in this weird, Trump-era politics, everyone thinks their breakout moment is just one small bit of luck around the corner.

It’s not.

Several of these Democrats’ campaigns have been done for weeks now, they just won’t accept it.

And that is, actually, having a real impact on how this race plays out. Just look at tonight’s Des Moines Register Iowa Poll.

Five candidates came in at 3%: Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. The problem is that to make the December debate stage, you need four separate qualifying polls where you’re at 4% or above.

Harris is fine because she’s already qualified for December, but this is yet another poll where the other four have come just shy of hitting that magic number. A big part of the problem is that every extra candidate on down the list is taking little fractions of a percent here and there, making it damn near impossible to cobble together a 4% showing.

You could criticize the Democratic National Committee for setting these hurdles that are rather statistically difficult to obtain in a 17-person field. Or you could criticize the candidates falling just short of the debates for failing to generate more support up to this point.

But here’s the thing: there are still realistic scenarios in which several of these low-polling candidates (we wrote about some of them here) could still move up in Iowa, get a surprise third or fourth-place showing here and then are off to the races in the later states. They’d still face an uphill battle, but there’s plenty of precedent in past national primaries where contenders down in the polls a few months out in Iowa have ended up winning it all.

Right now, however, some of these Democrats’ chances may effectively be over if they miss the December debate, a month and a half before any vote is actually cast.

This historically large a field of candidates have presented incredibly unique challenges that mean we shouldn’t simply dismiss those who haven’t broken into the top tier yet as losers.

Is it really that damning a statement about a candidate’s viability that they didn’t spark a national moment in their handful of 30-second responses in a debate where 11 other people were on stage? Or that a five or ten-minute speech at a major multi-candidate event wasn’t enough to win over the masses?

At the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Dinner, the lower-polling candidates were all pooled into the second half of the program, split up by an overly-long intermission that drove most of the crowd  to the exits. Several serious contenders were literally not given a fair chance, and this race may actually look a little different had a couple of the speakers later in the evening been able to appear before even a half-full arena.

But, as I noted, there is a difference.

There’s a difference between the low-polling candidates who are still in the debates, still have a decent ground game in Iowa, still have money for TV or still have a realistic path and those who don’t. Those others know who they are.

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And for those without a viable strategy, what the hell are you doing at this point? What do you think is going to happen? You have a tweet that goes viral that suddenly convinces millions of Americans and moves you up four or five points in the polls?

Give me a break.

Is that unfair when you may be a margin of error away from these other folks? Sure. But it’s even more unfair to the candidates who still do have a legitimate chance.

Because it’s not just the statistical numbers in polling, it’s the muddled media coverage and overall exasperation from Iowans when they realize they have 17 candidates yet to consider. It’s too much, and many have just checked out of that process, spending what little time they have on the ones in the lead.

Is there any real incentive for people to drop out, even now?

No. But you could also just be a decent person and realize when your time is up.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/16/19

4 Comments on "When Everyone Thinks They Have A Chance, No One Does"

  • Harsh, but true. Beto was never my candidate, but I do like him a bit more seeing that he was honest enough to recognize 2020 was not his year. I cannot say the same for the rest of the under 3 percent crowd.

  • Pat, I think you’re right, even if you are over-the-top in this blog. And I find it disturbing that Patrick (for all he’s a good guy and was a decent governor) and Bloomberg (who had already stated that he would NOT run!) have, at this time, decided to throw their hats in. It is only confusing the issue and giving the other side more ammunition on “how disarrayed the Dems are”. My candidate is polling low, and I just don’t understand it. It seems that, no matter what we do (we have a solid ground game here) she doesn’t move the needle. Would I ask her to withdraw? Hell, no; not yet, but sheesh! We need fewer candidates, not more. (sorry; I guess I need to chill, too!)

  • Completely agree with you and considering all the other national issues facing the Democrats we need to stop the distractions from new entrants and concentrate on the most likely to attain their goal.

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