With a little more than two weeks to go before the first Democratic Party presidential debate in Miami, the closely watched Des Moines Register candidate preference poll holds few surprises.
Leading the gaggle of candidates is former Vice President Joe Biden with 24%, followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders with 16%. The only other candidates to crack double-figure support are Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at 15% and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 14%.
Meanwhile, two highly touted candidates — former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and California Senator Kamala Harris have faded badly. Harris, who many coastal Democrats believe to be a serious contender, has dropped to 7% while O’Rourke — who’s supposed to take Texas Democrats to the promised land of majority support — has nearly disappeared with just 2%.
“We’re starting to see the people who are planning to caucus start to solidify,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of the Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “There’s a lot more commitment than we normally see this early. And some of these candidates who’ve been under the radar start to surface and compete with Joe Biden.”
But many candidates in this historically large field are failing to break into the public consciousness in any meaningful way, she said.
As for other candidates, none have managed to make a serious impression on Iowa voters.
Seven candidates tally 1% support and nine earn no support. Two candidates — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam — were not listed by a single poll respondent as either first or second choice for president.
“There’s always been a question mark as to how many (candidates) can get any real traction,” Selzer said. “And we gave them every opportunity to show that they have some kind of constituency here. But there’s a fair number who, their constituency just isn’t very big.”
There are two things that can change the race overnight. The first is a strong debate performance by one of the also-rans. The debates are highly unpredictable and have been shown to change the fortunes — or destroy the candidacy — of one or more candidates. Think Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Both candidates were once thought to be strong contenders but disappeared under a Trump onslaught and their own weak performances.
Another factor that could alter the race is the state of California moving their primary from June to early March. In 2020, “Super Tuesday” will indeed be super. More than 1400 delegates will be at stake, including the haul from California. If any candidate can maintain viability through the early February primaries, Super Tuesday could be come a game changer.
This is what Senator Harris is banking on. As a “favorite daughter” in California, Harris is hoping to get some momentum from Super Tuesday that will boost her chances in the Illinois and Florida primaries later in March. From there, the field should be winnowed enough that it could devolve into a two or three person contest with the nomination up for grabs.
Given where Harris is right now, it would appear that this is a long-shot scenario. But we all know that anything can happen in politics — and it usually does.