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The State of the Presidential Race

Don Rose 30 April 2019 No Comment

Joe Biden finally entered the fray, still a strong frontrunner in the 20-person Democratic primary field and 6-8 points ahead of Donald Trump in recent hypothetical presidential matchups. Bernie Sanders is the strongest runner-up in the primary and holds a 2-3 point lead over Trump, within the error margin.

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But–and the buts are many–Biden got a self-inflicted wound initiating a call to Anita Hill attempting a belated apology–which was a nonapology–for his behavior toward her during the Clarence Thomas hearings nearly 28 years ago. He just couldn’t assume personal responsibility, much as he couldn’t quite take personal responsibility for his hands and lips making women uncomfortable–a bad sign.

 

He also got whacked by Senator Elizabeth Warren for siding with credit-card companies against consumers years ago–and there are more landmines ahead on race and criminal justice. Given his propensity for ill-timed jokes and outright gaffes, one must consider his lead to be fragile, though there is plenty of time to set the course right if he can bite the bullet and admit personal responsibility.

 

Sanders stays strong and still has a vigorous youthful following if his  fervent reception at a recent CNN “town hall” with an audiences of college students is any sign–one of 5 serial hours where Senators Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren plus Mayor Pete Buttigieg took the stage.

 

Only Buttigieg outdrew Sanders in applause and cheers while Klobuchar seemed not to connect with the audience–actually having to ask for applause after an answer.  This could be because of the young crowd, but may explain why this favorite of many remains mired in low single digits along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker.

 

Sanders, however, hit a clinker that could haunt him especially in a general election by saying incarcerated felons–including terrorists like the Boston bomber–should have the right to vote while in prison. Buttigieg said no, not while in prison, but definitely after they are released and got one of the biggest hands of the evening from this youthful audience.

 

The only significant movement in recent polls shows Buttigieg climbing over everyone except Biden and Sanders, essentially replacing Beto O’Rourke, who slipped below Warren and Harris. Buttigieg, however, loses to Trump by 2-4 points.

 

This is all, of course, just the beginning of the beginning now that Biden is in. I am reminded of the large field of Chicago mayoral hopefuls whose poll ratings stayed stagnant for weeks until Lori Lightfoot zoomed up from3 points to a definitive lead all in two weeks. But  was the result of a bombshell corruption charge against a powerful alderman. No bombshells in sight yet.

 

Klobuchar might make a move among the large body of incrementalists if  Biden poops out. Warren’s well-thought-out ideas such as ending student debt could capture imaginations. Buttigieg may eventually look like a sure loser to Trump. It’s all much too early to tell, but these are the current field positions.

 

I can’t yet identify the strongest candidate against Trump but that’s who I’m looking for.

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Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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