Political News

2020 election is about to freeze in place

Posted November 24, 2019 6:01 p.m. EST

— With 71 days until the Iowa caucuses, the 2020 election will be here before you know it. Every Sunday, I outline the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they're ranked -- so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week. 

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5. Post-public-impeachment polls: President Donald Trump spent a lot of time over the past few days touting polls that showed his numbers rising amid the ongoing public impeachment hearings. But the poll he mentioned most -- the one from Marquette University out of Wisconsin -- was in the field November 13-17, catching just the start of the public hearings.

Because the hearings only ended Friday, there has been zero polling that could even capture the public's broad impressions of the hearings -- and whether or not they had any meaningful impact (positive or negative) on Trump or Democrats.

Those forthcoming polls are the ones to really look at as we all try to understand what the public impeachment hearings meant for Trump and his presidency. Might we get some numbers to begin to paint that picture this week? Maybe! But remember that this is Thanksgiving week (much more on that below) and pollsters might be loath to release numbers into that sort of news void.

So it's possible we have to wait until the first week of December to get any numbers that can be trusted about the impact (if any) of the impeachment hearings. The key is not to believe Trump (or anyone) who says that impeachment is working in the White House's favor. It might be! But that Marquette poll doesn't prove much of anything yet.

4. Trump heads home: Before the country officially checks out for Thanksgiving, Trump is sneaking in one last campaign event: A "Keep America Great" rally in Sunrise, Florida.

The rally will mark two firsts for Trump:

* It will be the first rally in Florida since both Trump and first lady Melania Trump changed their official residency to the Sunshine State late last month.

* It will be Trump's first campaign event since the House's public impeachment hearings into his conduct in regard to a pressure campaign aimed at forcing Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

If Trump's "Fox & Friends" interview Friday was any indication, brace for fireworks on Tuesday night. As Trump's political (and legal) situation has become more imperiled, he has grown increasingly willing to fully embrace wild conspiracy theories (Ukraine actually meddled in the 2016 election! Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff is actually the whistleblower!) and offer steam-of-consciousness rants about how "sick" and mentally unwell his various political opponents are.

There's also strategy in this Florida visit (and the residency change). Florida, which Trump won in 2016 and which Republicans swept into the governor's office and a Senate seat in 2018, is an absolute must-win for the President if he wants to have any sort of Electoral College cushion heading into the upper Midwest -- which is expected to be the central battleground in 2020 (as it was in 2016).

3. The race for the next debate: The last debate of 2019 will be December 19 in Los Angeles, and as of Sunday, only six candidates have qualified for it.

The six who have both 200,000 unique donors and either four polls with 4% support in early state or national polling OR 2 polls at 6% or more in one of the four early voting states are: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Kamala Harris (California) and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Three other candidates have a good chance of meeting those qualifications before the December 12 deadline: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, businessman Andrew Yang and billionaire Tom Steyer.

Yang has crossed the donor threshold and needs only one more early state or national poll at 4%. Steyer has the four polls at 4% he needs but hasn't crossed the donor threshold yet. And Gabbard has three of the four polls she needs but hasn't yet crossed the donor threshold either.

In all likelihood, those nine will be on stage in Los Angeles next month. The candidate currently on the outside looking in is New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who has more than 200,000 donors but not a single qualifying poll. If he misses the debate, it will be the first one he has failed to qualify for.

"Keep me on the stage," Booker implored viewers in his closing statement in last week's debate.

2. Bloomberg's millions: The planned $37 million ad buy from Michael Bloomberg in a slew of big states voting on Super Tuesday (March 3) and beyond -- 100 total media markets -- should tell us pretty quickly whether there's a constituency out there for the pragmatic politics the former New York City mayor is offering. (To be clear: Bloomberg is spending $37 million for just the next two weeks.)

The ad buy provides a telling window into where Bloomberg hopes to make his mark in the race. And the answer is in a handful of massive states that vote in March -- once the four early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) have had their say. Bloomberg is spending heavily in California, Texas and North Carolina (all states that vote on March 3) as well as in Illinois and Florida (March 17 primaries)

What's beyond doubt is that Bloomberg, a billionaire, is running for president the same way he ran for three terms as mayor of New York City -- with a hugely well-funded campaign underwritten by his own money. Bloomberg's immense wealth allows him to skip all of the time-consuming aspects of raising money (going to events, courting major donors) and to raise his name identification in a snap with voters in states where the ads are targeted.

What's less clear is whether Bloomberg's message of moderation will work in a Democratic primary and with a Democratic base that has clearly moved left rapidly over the past few years.

1. The 2020 deep freeze: This week is Thanksgiving. (You're welcome if you forgot. Still plenty of time to buy that turkey!) And 27 days later, it's Christmas. In between? Lots of holiday music. Packed malls. Travel plans. Stress. And most importantly for the men and women running for president, not a lot of politics.

People -- even those hearty souls in Iowa and New Hampshire -- simply have other things to do over the next month, things that take priority over politics in their minds. Which is why, if past is prologue, the 2020 race will freeze in place now -- not to re-emerge from its thaw until after New Year's Day when people start, again, paying real attention to politics.

That freeze is very good news for Buttigieg, who, according to recent polling in Iowa and New Hampshire, has surged to the front of the pack in both states. And it's not bad news for the other three top-tier candidates: Sanders and Warren, as well as Biden. Their support -- in the teens to lower 20s in all early state and national polling -- is likely to stay right where it is.

Who the freeze effects most negatively are those candidates trying to push into that top tier. Take Klobuchar, who off of a strong debate performance last week, is trying to build momentum in Iowa. Ditto Yang, another strong debate performer, who has trended slowly but steadily upward over the campaign.

There's still time for the Klobuchars and the Yangs to make their move when the thaw begins in early January -- especially since the Iowa caucuses aren't until February 3. But it's a very short window to move a very long way.

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