With Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger and Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown skipping out of the legislative session for a European vacation, I thought today would be a good day to look at the presidential race. In the immediate aftermath of the debates last month, polls showed some pretty dramatic shifts. They’ve settled down and we can now see the more lasting impacts. We’ve also got a little better sense of the candidates and what they need to do to improve. 

Polls today show Joe Biden continuing to hold a substantial lead over the rest of the field. The NBC/WSJ poll released yesterday has Biden at 26%, Warren at 19%, Sanders and Harris at 13% and Buttigeig at 7%. The rest of the field is at 2% or less. 

The biggest takeaway is that Sanders is probably done. He came into the race with almost 100% name recognition and has done nothing to expand his base. Instead, he’s lost part of it Warren, who is emerging as the consensus candidate on the left. Sanders will hold a certain percentage of true believers but he’s done nothing to indicate that he can grow his support. Warren, on the other hand, should continue doing what she’s doing, offering solutions and appealing to working class voters.

Harris is the other candidate who is ascendant. She moved away from the pack and into top-tier status by going after Joe Biden on race issues during the debate. She had the best performance and excited Democrats who could see her taking on Trump in future debates. 

Harris still needs to grow as a candidate if she’s going to become the nominee. She’s shown that she can create moments, but she’s yet to really capitalize on them. She had the best kick-off of almost any candidate and then immediately lost the momentum by equivocating on her stance on issues. She also grabbed attention when she questioned Attorney General William Barr about whether or not Trump had asked him to investigate his political opponents. Finally, after nailing Biden on a busing question, she seemed to take the same position as the former Vice-President when asked about it later. 

Buttigieg had a good debate and showed that he’s probably the smartest, or certainly, the most thoughtful of the candidates. He moved away from the larger back of the 20+ candidates but not into the upper echelon. He’s still got time but his appeal is mostly to educated white people and he’ll need to expand that reach. 

While the national polls give a broad snapshot of the primary, they don’t really give an indication of what will happen once primaries and caucuses begin in earnest. Other candidates could breakout once voting starts. Several candidates are putting a lot of energy into Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina in hopes launching campaigns that go from less than 1% or 2% to national contender. 

A lot could change but I suspect Biden, Harris and Warren continue to lead the pack. Harris reminds me a bit of a less politically talented Barack Obama. A South Carolina poll out this morning shows Biden at 35%, Sanders at 14% and Harris at 12%. Back in the summer of 2008, Hillary Clinton led Obama and John Edwards by double digits in South Carolina. She held that lead into the fall, but once Obama started showing his staying power, African-American voters moved his way and he went on to win the South Carolina primary and solidify the black vote in states across the South, including North Carolina. If Harris can improve a bit as a candidate, we could see a similar scenario, especially if she does well in Iowa or New Hampshire. 

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