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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Candidate Profile (D): #1. Hillary Clinton

For background to this series, click here. Previous posts:

8/15: 5. Lincoln Chafee
8/17: 4. Martin O'Malley
8/19: 3. Bernie Sanders
8/21: 2. Jim Webb

I have not been looking forward to this post. In fact, I've been dreading it. It's exceedingly difficult to find unbiased sources that do not use selective facts and specious conclusions to either defend or attack Hillary Clinton. Pro- and anti-Clinton camps feel so strongly about their information and preferred, closed-loop sources that these opposing sides resemble competing religions. Fortunately, I'm not telling you who to vote for. I'm just telling you how it's going to be.

The most likely Democratic nominee is . . .

#1. Hillary Clinton, 67, former senator from New York (2001-2009) and U.S. Secretary of State (2009-2013)

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.hillaryclinton.com--"This Starts With You"

PPFA Slogan--"Come On, People, It's My Turn and You Know It, SO KNOCK IT OFF, OKAY?!"

Educational Background--B.A. from Wellesley College (political science) and juris doctor from Yale Law

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): -6.25 (Individual rights: -9; Domestic: -8; Economic: -8; Foreign policy: 0) Aside from foreign policy, that is an extremely liberal. In the first three categories, Sanders scored -10, -8, and -8. Clinton almost replicates those scores. The lesson, as I've tried to tell you for the last couple posts, is that she's a lot more liberal than progressives give her credit for.

Liberal Rank based on above: 2 of 5. This kind of liberalism is why the theme of my last two entries was that attacking Clinton from her left won't ultimately last, especially after, closer to the primaries, she showers the airwaves with campaign ads reminding voters of her long history of pushing the progressive agenda.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--"She ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen." -Former Republican Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. After being a dutiful wife, mother, and First Lady, Hillary Clinton was finally able to step out from her husband's shadow. In 2000 she was elected a U.S. Senator from New York with 55 percent of the vote. She admirably served New Yorkers for eight years. In the midst of that run, she was so popular and effective that she was re-elected to a second term with 67 percent support, winning all but four of New York's 62 counties, many of them conservative leaning. In the process, she served on five Senate committees, including the Committee on Budget and Committee on Armed Services, crucial experiences for a future president. Her famous 2008 presidential run fell just barely short of Senator Barack Obama's, but even after a hard-fought campaign, she put her differences with the president-elect aside and agreed to be his Secretary of State. She proceeded to get four more years of valuable political and state experience, further bolstering her qualifications to head the branch that she has gotten to know better than has any candidate in either party.

Since conceding the 2008 Democratic Primary, she's been the presumptive Democratic nominee for the first post-Obama election. For the first time ever, a candidate for president has faced eight years of political attacks in anticipation of an election. As a result, the Republicans have keyed in on her every move, targeted her at every turn. They've stored every misstep she's ever made, dismissed every accomplishment she's ever had, and exaggerated, or even fabricated, every potential negative story. Her poll numbers and favorability have been dented as a result, but enough people still realize that she is the best way to not only revive the successful Clinton White House of the late Nineties, but also to continue the rally from the recession that the Republicans put us in.

Spin from opponents--From Republicans: She's the worst person on Earth--nay, the UNIVERSE!
Hyperbole aside, this latest email scandal is just the latest in a long line of shady and often inexcusable actions and lies, conveniently cataloged by conservativeamerican.org. Worst of all are the security lapses that led to the 2012 terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, for which she initially took responsibility before later passing the buck to "security professionals." No one has yet been punished or held accountable for that unforgivable tragedy, and the media continues to give Clinton a free pass on it. This family has, for decades, lacked transparency, misled the public, and done whatever they wanted for their political purposes. At the very least, these incidents show a history of poor decision-making that we cannot have managing the economy, negotiating with foreign countries, and ordering military action. Let's reject them the Clintons once and for all.

From Democrats: "The Democratic Party can and must have a better nominee than Hillary Clinton for President in 2016," says the "Democrats Against Hillary" Facebook page. Hear hear! In recent years, the Democratic Party has evolved into a progressive, forward-thinking organization, but Hillary Clinton is a page from the past. When the party tackles income inequality, is it really best to nominate someone so wealthy? When the party wants to criticize corporate money controlling our politicians, is it really best to nominate someone who has accepted millions and millions more dollars of corporate money than any other Democrat? When the party wants to put big banks in their place and help Main Street over Wall Street, is it really best to nominate someone who has accepted big checks from Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and more like them? Last year, Politico wrote an article titled "Wall Street Republicans' dark secret: Hillary Clinton 2016." Exactly. Though she'll probably at least partially run on President Obama's fiscal policies, which have led to an improving economy, Democratic candidate Jim Webb reminds us not everyone has benefited from it: "If you own stocks, if you've got capital assets, you're probably doing pretty well. . . . Working people's wages have gone down since 2009."

This election will be about the future, not the past. Let the Republicans be the party to perpetuate an old, out of touch dynasty. Let the Democrats reflect the name of their party.

How do the polls look?--Not as close as the media, which prefers a horse race over a blowout, would have you believe. In national polls, her RCP average is 49.3, which is a 24.3 point lead on Bernie Sanders in second place. In Iowa, the numbers are almost identical--she's at 50.5, good enough for a 24.2 lead. Incidentally, these big numbers feel pretty awkward to write after all the small numbers I've been using through both the Republican and Democratic rankings. It's a good reminder about how strong her position is.

In New Hampshire, always expected to be homefield for Sanders, her RCP average lead is down to 1, 40.7-39.7, and Sanders won the most recent poll by seven points. This development is not surprising.

Overall, Sanders without question has the momentum nationally and in the opening two states. Clinton's lead has been steadily chipped away throughout the summer. The question is--will the lead ever be chipped all the way through?

PPFA analysis--It's still extremely unlikely. We can't forget how large her 24-point national advantage actually is. It needs context. One way to put it is this: Clinton's RCP average lead over Sanders is 24.3. That's about the same distance between Sanders in second place and Lincoln Chafee in last place. (Chafee is 25 points behind Sanders.) That should be a cage-rattling statistic that you're free to whip out next time in you're in a debate with a Sanderholic about his chances. However, since it's such a tiny field and three of the five declared candidates are polling under 2, we're kind of talking ourselves into this being a race between two equally realistic horses.

Another kind of context is my specialty--that of the recent historical kind. Some argue that lots of favorites--Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton herself--have blown their leads in recent primaries, so why is it so unlikely that yet another favorite will crumble? To see how this large lead makes her a special kind of favorite, let's work our way back.

In the 2012 election cycle, only the Republican nomination was contested. If we start the cycle the summer before the primaries--that is, the summer of 2011--we find a tumultuous race that still gave way for the favorite. Romney's largest national poll number prior to the primaries themselves was 33 points. When Rick Perry entered and popped in late summer, he quickly reached 36 points before quickly tumbling. Romney regained the lead but couldn't get above 30. In October, it was Herman Cain's turn, but 30 was his peak as well. In the beginning of December, Newt Gingrich had his run and in one poll got all the way up to 40 percent, but that also evaporated. Momentum slid back to Romney after his ostensible Iowa victory, and he also hit 40. Then, Gingrich wrestled back the national lead after the South Carolina Primary in late January before both he and Romney were outstripped by Santorum in February. Santorum reached 39 in a poll, but then Romney grabbed the lead back for good, still never hitting 50 percent until Santorum withdrew from the race when it was all but over.

To recap, the biggest leads ever achieved by candidates while the race was competitive were 33, 36, 30, 30, 40, 40, and 39. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has lived in the 50s and 60s. Her lowest result was 47 percent--albeit in the most recent poll--still higher than anything any candidate was able to earn four years ago.

I'll spare the mathematically challenged another numerically-filled paragraph, but a quick look at the race four years before that--Republicans in 2007--yields similar ceilings. Rudy Giuliani never topped 38 percent, Fred Thompson never topped 32, Mike Huckabee hit 25 nationally only after he won Iowa, and John McCain never hit Clinton's low water 47 percent until he was seen as inevitable after the first few primaries.

I'll circle around to the 2008 Democrats in just a moment, but if we for now go back to the 2004 Democratic race (the 2004 Republican race was uncontested), we see more of the same kinds of numbers--no Democratic candidate ever polled more than the low 30s.

To find the last race that had a favorite like Hillary Clinton in it--that is, a contested primary where one of the candidates is regularly around or north of 50 percent support--we have to go all the way back to 2000. In that election cycle, Democrat Al Gore polled Hillaryesque 50s and 60s throughout 1999. The result of that primary? He swept all 50 states. Also polling around there was Republican George W. Bush, who ended up taking "only" 43 states in his blowout win. Similar to today's campaign, both of those big frontrunners had a faux challenger--Gore with Bill Bradley and Bush with John McCain--who got a minority of voters very excited and gave the media hope that it would not be a runaway. But then it was.

Gore's and Bush's numbers then are Clinton's numbers now. Our closest comparison screams at us that she's not as vulnerable as the media would have us think.

One might argue that of all the recent historical primaries, the most relevant, for obvious reasons, is the 2008 Democratic Primary, when favorite Hillary Clinton blew her lead against the underdog Barack Obama. So let's take a closer look there. I again count on FiveThirtyEight for their telling charts, like this one, which compares polling averages between this summer and the summer of 2007.
enten-datalab-clintonlead-1

We can see she is polling considerably better nationally and in key states than she was eight years ago. Of course, her numbers aren't in a vacuum. Also important is the strength of the challenger, right? But again we see a much stronger Clinton today. Her lead over Senator Obama then was less than her lead over Sanders now. A poll done on August 21-22, 2007 had her at a lead of only 12 (35-23).

Plus, Sanders has the advantage of no other big candidates in the race. Don't forget that John Edwards had a nice run in 2008 right up through Iowa, in which he came in second to Obama and ahead of Clinton. Sanders has already soaked up all of the non-Clinton juice and still trails by more than Obama did. Unlike Obama steadily siphoning support from the other candidates in 2007 and 2008, Sanders has little left to siphon. All that's left for his surge to consume are Biden supporters, but with Biden as an establishment politician, it's no sure thing that they would turn to a non-establishment candidate.

But polls aren't everything, I acknowledge. Opinions can change. What changes them? Among other things--funding. Again we can learn by contrasting Clinton and her chief opponent in 2015 to Clinton and her chief opponent in 2007. At this point eight years ago, here are fundraising totals:

Clinton: $63 million
Obama: $58 million
Edwards $23 million
All other candidates (Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, the gnomish Dennis Kucinich, and the immediately forgotten Mike Gravel): $33 million
Clinton's percent of total Democratic fundraising: 35 percent
Obama's: 33 percent

In 2015, as of July 31:
Clinton: $67.8 million
Sanders's: $15.2 million.
All others: $3 million
Clinton's percent of total Democratic fundraising: 79 percent
Sanders's: 18 percent

These aren't votes, of course, but there's a reason campaigns raise money and run ads--they translate to votes. Clinton will unleash a barrage of ads closer to and then during the primaries themselves. Neither Sanders nor anyone else will be able to compete, and it should be more than enough to keep her challengers at bay.

In addition to polling support and fundraising, there's that endorsement factor (endorsements are imperfect but strong indicators of primary victors) I harped on with the Sanders column. Since Sanders indisputably still has a lot of work left to change enough people's minds, and he has a lot less cash with which to do it, he needs support from important members of the party so they can campaign for him in places he can't be. But for reasons I mentioned on Wednesday, he has largely alienated that party.

As a result, he's getting no support from it. In 2007, Barack Obama was. That gives us another difference between the 2016 and 2008 Democratic primaries. Clinton was indeed outpacing Obama's endorsements at this time eight years ago, but at least Obama was getting some traction with them, while Clinton's lead in the category wasn't quite as gargantuan:

enten-datalab-clintonlead-2

Three things should jump out: 1) Clinton's jaw-dropping endorsement performance this time compared to 2008; 2) Barack Obama was already getting endorsement recognition at this stage eight years ago; and 3) That purple line is Sanders staying at zero endorsements. He can't take on the entire party by himself.

Frankly, with poll numbers, fundraising, and endorsements all at her back, the only way Clinton loses this primary is if the campaign implodes in some way. Could it be the email scandal? It does seem to be gaining steam. But then again, the Clintons are used to this. How many controversies have they fought through in their day?

Plus, not only are the Clintons used to loud dissent, but so, too, are all heavy favorites seen as inevitable. Since 1988, there have been four favorites that measured 50 percent or more support in primaries that were contested. In each of those instances, the success of their challengers when making pushes in Iowa and/or New Hampshire resulted in many voters thinking the race was a lot closer than in actuality. All these plucky challengers poured most of their time and treasure into one or both of the opening states in order to then get the subsequent "bumps" from victories, and those state's polls reflected those pushes. Meanwhile, the media seized on those polls and the ratings opportunity to reinforce the narrative. Finally, for all four of these favorites, once that new storyline developed, cracks seemed to emerge in the frontrunner's status and people began questioning his inevitability.

We're seeing that same story play out before our eyes again, so we must ask the question--how did those four favorites do? Take a look:
silverclinton1NEW2
Of the four, only Al Gore was able to more than break even in the first two states, and he almost lost New Hampshire. Yet, despite this early success from the challengers, never has that strategy worked out to ultimate victory. The big candidate with the money and support from the party ultimately triumphs convincingly after the primaries go national. All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

Sanders will win New Hampshire, and he might even win Iowa. But after that? It's not looking good. All told, Sanders supporters, your guy Bern might just win, but it would be, without question and without rival, the biggest upset in recent political history.

PPFA nomination rank--1 of 5 (Odds: 1:4). It's certainly possible that the email scandal will be the last straw on the camel's heretofore sturdy back. (In fact, I've moved her odds from 1:5 to 1:4. A Biden entry would move it to 1:2.) Still, I'd bet on the large sample size of Clintonian resilience, frontrunners of this magnitude finishing the job, and the reliable advantage of money and endorsements over the hot take of the last few weeks.

PPFA general election rank--2 of 5. Her task will be to reassemble the Obama coalition. The President won two terms on the backs of minorities, young voters, and women, while white men were largely punted:

Obama won blacks and the youth vote in huge numbers, and he won women unlike any candidate of the last 20 years except for Bill Clinton's 1996 blowout win over Bob Dole. Moreover, not reflected in that chart is the Latino vote, where Obama demolished Romney with 71 percent of the vote to Romney's 27 percent.

Considering her strength with minorities and women, discussed in detail here on Wednesday, she's on her way. Sanders, however, has won over the youth. Will they come out for Clinton in a general like they did for Obama or would for Sanders? That could be the deciding factor.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Candidate Profile (D): #2. Jim Webb

For background to this series, click here. Previous posts:

8/15: 5. Lincoln Chafee
8/17: 4. Martin O'Malley
8/19: 3. Bernie Sanders

Here's a good time to once again remind you that this ranking, like the Republican one, is in order of likelihood to win the nomination. They are not predictions of the order in which the candidates will finish in the final delegate count.

With that once again behind us, the second most likely Democratic nominee is . . .

#2. Jim Webb, 69, former senator from Virginia (2007-2013), U.S. Secretary of the Navy (1987-88), Assistant Secretary of Defense (1984-1987)

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.webb2016.com--"Leadership You Can Trust"

PPFA Slogan--"Hear That Hillary? Leadership You Can TRUST!"

Educational Background--U.S. Naval Academy; juris doctor from Georgetown University

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): -3.25 (Individual rights: -4; Domestic: -2; Economic: -5; Foreign policy: -2) He's technically 0.25 left of Martin O'Malley, but as I discussed on Monday, O'Malley is running a campaign close to Bernie Sanders's ideology in order to outflank Clinton's left. For reasons explained below, Webb is a much more centrist candidate and is without question more palatable than O'Malley to moderates and Republicans.

Liberal Rank based on above: 4 of 5. See above.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--In a political climate where Donald Trump enjoys headlines from criticizing a prisoner of war, Jim Webb reminds us what courage really is. The man is one of the few presidential candidates, and the only Democratic one, who has shed blood for this country. His dedicated Vietnam military service includes the Navy Cross for heroism, the second highest decoration in the Navy and Marine Corps, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. His war wounds left him with shrapnel in his knee, kidney, and head. After the war, he attended and graduated from Georgetown Law. Under the Reagan Administration, he was an Assistant Secretary of Defense and then the Secretary of the Navy.

It was that kind of background that helped legitimize his subsequent criticism of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Seven months before the Iraq War, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he doubted ousting Saddam Hussein would "actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism," and explained that, "Unilateral wars designed to bring about regime change and a long-term occupation should be undertaken only when a nation's existence is clearly at stake." He suggested that knowing when not to go to war was critically important for true leaders. Hillary Clinton's Iraq War vote in the Senate tells us she could not delineate what Jim Webb and his valuable experience had already figured out. What makes him so special is that he did not make up his mind on political grounds; instead, it was his experience with military strategy that fed his decision. Ultimately, no candidate in either party is more prepared to be Commander-in-Chief, the most important job a President has, on Day One.

Meanwhile, he's a good Democrat. In 2006, he took on the very conservative and heavily favored George Allen, then widely considered a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president, for his U.S. Senate seat out of Virginia and defeated him. He then served on the Armed Service and Foreign Relations committees, further boosting his national security credibility. He's center-left on most issues--center enough to have rare crossover appeal. Yet, he's also been a vocal critic of income inequality and connects really well with the working class, recently "shining" at an Iowa labor convention. Indeed, the very first bullet on his Issues page is "Economic Fairness." His résumé is diverse; he's more than just a military man. He taught literature at the Naval Academy, he's been a journalist, he's made documentaries, he's written ten books, he speaks Vietnamese; he's at once an everyman and an intellectual. Above all, he's a leader.

Spin from opponents--What are Democrats to make of Jim Webb? He's politically all over the map; the Washington Post notes his "conservative bent" and "idiosyncratic collection of positions." He has spoken out against affirmative action, he's a defender of the Second Amendment, and he's more critical of illegal immigration than his Democratic peers. He also came out against his president's Iran Deal, and he was particularly disappointed for those angry at Chuck Schumer for not following the party on it. Last week, at the Iowa State Fair, when asked who his favorite twentieth century presidents were, he picked one from each party--FDR and Ronald Reagan. Not coincidentally, the Guardian notes how he "out-Reagans the entire Republican field."

The Democratic Party has made a lot of progress in the last eight years; should it really go back and nominate a Reagan Democrat?

How do the polls look?--In national polls, he's averaging 1.3, far behind Clinton and Sanders, duking it out with Martin O'Malley for fourth behind the undeclared Biden, and ahead of Lincoln Chafee, whose average is now an awkward 0.0. In Iowa, his 1.5 is again only ahead of Chafee, while in New Hampshire he's at 1.3, which is surprisingly good enough for third place among declared candidates because so much support is getting sucked up by Clinton and Sanders in The Granite State Death Match (TM).

In other words, he's polling terribly and you think I'm an idiot for putting him above your boy Bernie Sanders.

PPFA analysis--Okay, so he's "a Democrat a Republican could like," but does that actually help in a Democratic Primary? Sure, there are still some conservative Democrats. Gallup recently pegged that number at 19 percent:
Trend in Identification as "Conservative," by Party ID
Some of these conservative Dems attended June's Western Conservative Summit, which held a Democratic straw poll that Webb won in a landslide. But aren't these terrible poll numbers among all Democrats indicative of the party not buying into his centrism?

It certainly seems so. Just as the Republican Party has moved right in recent decades, so, too, has Webb's party moved left. FiveThirtyEight shows us that Webb would have felt much more at home in the late Nineties; he has an ideology most similar to Bill Clinton and Al Gore, while modern Democrats like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders are far more liberal than they were.



Webb, in fact, recently acknowledged this leftward slide, which he thinks has alienated some of the party's elements. He's likely referencing the party's "white man's problem," which suggests the Dems have become reliant on handily winning women and minorities in national elections while counting on just enough white men to come along for the ride despite the party not speaking to them. Webb thinks he's the candidate to bring them back into the fold.

The likelihood of such a drastic change in the Democratic electorate--that is, women and minorities ditching a liberal Hillary Clinton to join a moderate candidate that working class white men could get behind--is remote to say the least. But if we're ranking the four long-shot Democratic candidates in likelihood to win the nomination, we have to find the candidate that could most capitalize on Clinton's weakness.

As I'll write more about in her entry, Hillary Clinton is actually a lot more liberal than Sanders and O'Malley give her credit for. They think that outflanking her left is the way to victory, but she's pretty shored up there. A barrage of ads, thanks to her considerable war chest, closer to the primaries will remind voters that they're getting an experienced candidate with a liberal record and a husband they adore. Moreover, with post-surge Sanders and O'Malley adopting the same left-of-Hillary strategy, they'll undermine each other's efforts by splitting each other's donors, support, and votes.

Instead, as FiveThirtyEight wrote last year, her weakness is not to her left but to her right, or the center of the political spectrum. The article wonders, "Let’s say you’re a high-powered campaign strategist shut out of Hillaryland, and you’re looking for a candidate to back; you might ask, “Where is Clinton weakest?" It goes on to observe, "Like 2008, Clinton continues to perform worse among men than she does overall." It also notes that Clinton polled better with liberals than non-liberals, so "It seems that a candidate who attracts moderate and conservative Democrats would be in a stronger position to win anti-Clinton voters." Another article from the site reinforces this conclusion, saying:
"Three CNN surveys have asked Democratic primary voters whether they prefer Clinton, a “more conservative Democrat” or a “more liberal Democrat.” Clinton has averaged 67 percent in these surveys. The more liberal Democrat has averaged just 11 percent. The more conservative Democrat, on the other hand, has averaged 18 percent. Again, Clinton is the heavy favorite, but anti-Clinton voters prefer a more conservative option."
So does Webb have a great shot? Absolutely not. Conservative and moderate Democrats do not make up a majority of the party. But does he have a better shot than the two candidates who are coming at Clinton from her not-too-vulnerable left and the one candidate named Lincoln Chafee? I think so. It's much better to surge in the winter of primaries than in the summer of stump speeches. After the debates start, he might begin polling well with moderate voters and liberal men. Then he can surge in December to become the new anti-Hillary. People will not only continue talking about Clinton's problems, but they will start asking "Who has the best chance to beat the Republicans in November?" Their answer will be Jim Webb.

PPFA nomination rank--2 of 5 (Odds: 18:1). It's only a sliver ahead of #3 Bernie Sanders. While I think Sanders has the better shot to be the number two delegate winner, I prefer Webb's chances at actually being able to defeat Clinton. After all the pre-Iowa surges we saw in the Republican Primary of 2012, Santorum's is the one we most remember. Why? Because his was last. When Sanders's surge cools, another candidate will get their chance. It might be O'Malley, but I don't see why his won't similarly fizzle. Webb is the only other candidate who could claim a chunk of the electorate and never relinquish it to another candidate saying similar things. If (and probably when) he does fall short, however, I think he's a good bet to be Secretary of Defense in the Clinton White House.

PPFA general election rank--1 of 5. He's a Reagan Democrat with potential crossover appeal the party hasn't seen since Bill Clinton. He's enough of a liberal to lose no Democratic votes and enough of a moderate to win the center, especially if the Republicans nominate favorites Bush, Walker, or Rubio. (A Webb vs. Kasich, Christie, or Paul election could be really, really quirky.) Webb might not win 49 states like Reagan himself did, but I don't think any candidate in either party could come as close. The Democrats already have electoral math working in their favor, but whereas Hillary Clinton is a divisive figure who would mobilize and unite Republicans against her, Webb's southern centrism with blue collar appeal could put a lot more states into play without giving anything up.

---

You'll never guess who #1 is . . .

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Candidate Profile (D): #3. Bernie Sanders

For background to this series, click here. Previous posts:

8/15: 5. Lincoln Chafee
8/17: 4. Martin O'Malley

Now we get to the candidate that has convinced way too many hopeful liberals that he can actually win. The third most likely Democratic nominee is . . .

#3. Bernie Sanders, 73, Congressman (1991-2007) and senator from Vermont, 2007-current

Campaign Website and Slogan--berniesanders.com--"Ready to Start a Political Revolution?"

PPFA Slogan--"WE GONNA BURN THIS MUTHA!"

Educational Background--B.A. from the University of Chicago (political science), where he joined the Youth People's Socialist League.

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): -8.5 (Individual rights: -10; Domestic: -8; Economic: -8; Foreign policy: -8) Holy Friedrich Engels, Bernman! Not only does his -8.5 lie further from center than the ideology score of every other Democratic candidate, but it's also further from center than every other candidate in either major party. Even Rick Santorum is only +8.25! So as cuckoo and unelectable as moderates and Democrats think Santorum and Ted Cruz are, so, too, is Bernie Sanders to moderates and Republicans.

Liberal Rank based on above: 1 of 5. News at 11.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--(Cue Handel's "Messiah") Are you tired of being handed a false choice between two candidates who are bought and paid for by special interests? Are you sick of being told that your voting duty is picking between the lesser of two evils? Do you want to catapult American society into the twenty-first century so our citizens can enjoy the same benefits as the rest of the civilized world? If you answered yes to these questions, then Bernie Sanders is the candidate for you. Bernie Sanders wants to "fight for a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides health care for all." He wants to take big money out of politics because "Freedom of speech does not mean the freedom for special interests and corporations to buy the United States government." Democracy itself falls under assault by these recent developments in American history. We cannot count on candidates who win by getting big money to change the big money system.

Making these changes is not a pipe dream. Scandinavian countries already offer us a model; we need only choose to treat them as exemplars. Sanders reminds us that, "In those countries, health care is the right of all people. And in those countries, college education, graduate school is free." He asks, "What's wrong when you have more income and wealth equality? . . . They have a stronger middle class in many ways than we do, higher minimum wage than we do, and they are stronger on the environment than we are." His ideas have caught fire. Sanders is attracting historic crowds. He is tapping into the complaints of everyday Americans, and they're thronging to see him. This chart shows just which candidate of all 22 has spoken to the largest audiences, as of July 20:
Furthermore, as of July 31, donations of $200 or less comprise 80.7 percent of his fundraising, highest among all candidates. Ultimately, he's dominating the field in audience size and has many average Americans donating what they can. It's all because people are realizing someone is finally telling them the truth about America.

Spin from opponents--From Republicans: SOCIALIST!

From Democrats: Do you want to win, or do you want a Republican in the White House? In June, Gallup ran a poll asking if people would consider voting for hypothetical candidates who are each of the following: female, Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, African American, Hispanic, Gay/Lesbian, evangelical, Muslim, atheist, and socialist. Coming in dead last: socialist. In fact, it was the only demographic for which a minority of those polled--47 percent--would consider voting. (Joining socialist in the bottom three were Muslim and atheist, but each polled more than ten points better.) Of course, many of those who said they wouldn't consider a socialist probably don't have a firm handle on what socialism actually is. Nor is Bernie Sanders actually a socialist. He calls himself a democratic socialist, which is different. Still, good luck trying to explain that difference to the American electorate and erase the stigma to the point where a democratic socialist can be competitive in a national election.

Even if he rebuked socialism, his tumultuous past with the Democratic Party should give most Democrats pause. He has a history of ripping on the party, including calling it "morally bankrupt." In fact, he's still an independent, a fact #4 Martin O'Malley noted when he boasted, "I choose to be a Democrat, not just in presidential years, but in every year of my life." Sanders's history of being critical of the party from which he now asks a nomination is hypocritical bordering on Trumpesque. (BURN! Or should I say, "BERN!") You might argue that if he wants to effect change on a large scale, he must join one of the two major parties so he can become a national official, but he has specifically said, "You don’t change the system from within the Democratic Party." It makes one wonder--why is he actually running? Is it to raise his own profile, or has he been corrupted and become that which he once chastised? It also begs another question--why not support someone who has always supported the party?

How do the polls look?--It's been an amazing ride for the Sanders Campaign. Here were the first fourteen national polls of 2015, which all came before he announced his candidacy on April 30: 4, 2, 3, 3, 5, 4, 5, 3, 5, 6, 3, 5, 8, 4. In the two months that followed, most of his polling was between 6 and 11. But then. THEN! In the last eight polls, he's never been below 16, and he's hit 22 or higher four times. His RCP national average is now 22.0, trailing only Hillary Clinton, albeit by 32.5 points.

More impressive are his performances in the early states. In Iowa, he's come on very strong. His RCP Iowa average is 26.3. Although he's still 24 points behind Clinton, that has fallen from being over 60 points down in February. The most recent Iowa poll--CNN/ORC's from last week--had the deficit down to 19, 50-31.

And then we get to New Hampshire. Sanders's next door state is treating him like a favorite son. His ascent here is even steeper than in Iowa. Dating back to May, he's hit over 30 in seven of the last eight polls, and in the most recent poll of all, this one from the Boston Herald and Franklin Pierce University, he is leading--that's right, leading--Clinton by seven points, 44-37. Her RCP lead in the Granite State is down to a solitary point, 40.7-39.7.

PPFA analysis--Time to throw some icy waters on those licking flames. I am not nearly as bullish on Sanders's chances as his supporters are, and I think the media overplays this as a two-candidate dual as well. It's best to separate this analysis into five threaded arguments against Sanders's chances.

1) Crowd sizes are nice, but don't read too much into them. They measure passion, but a passionate voter is still just one vote. If one counted for more, Ron Paul would have been the Republican nominee in the last two elections. While they certainly can help spread the word of a candidate, there are much more reliable indicators about a candidate's potency. Besides, that same article from which I got that crowd size chart also warns us against drawing firm conclusions from it. It admits:
"Crowd size is a notoriously imperfect indicator of a candidate's prospects in a coming election. In the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney played to roaring crowds in a number of states, including Ohio. On Election Day, he would lose there by more than 100,000 votes. . . . Some campaigns are purposefully eschewing large venues, hoping to connect to voters in smaller, more intimate settings. Hillary Clinton's campaign has made a point of hosting relatively small events and roundtables with voters — her largest rally to date was her campaign launch on Roosevelt Island in New York, after weeks of small get-togethers with caucus-goers and voters in Iowa and New Hampshire."
Indeed, caucuses and primaries are more known for retail politics than sold out arenas. The Clintons have been here before.

2) According to the statistics, the faces in these crowds look too similar. Sanders is competitive and often leading Hillary Clinton with a certain type of Democrat--young, affluent whites, especially men and ultra liberals--while Clinton dominates every other type. Take a look at some demographic splits from Sunday's national Fox News poll (found on page 16) that had Clinton up on Sanders by her narrowest national margin yet, 49-30.

Among men: Sanders 41, Clinton 38 (Sanders +3)
Among women: Clinton 57, Sanders 22 (Clinton +35)

Among whites: Sanders 43, Clinton 37 (Sanders +7)

Among non-whites: Clinton 65, Sanders 14 (Clinton +51) (!)

Voters with a college degree: Sanders 44, Clinton 37 (Sanders +7)

Voters with no college degree: Clinton 52, Sanders 26 (Clinton +26)

Voters under 45: Sanders 43, Clinton 42 (Sanders +1)

Voters 45+: Clinton 55, Sanders 20 (Clinton +35)

Income $50,000 or over: Clinton 40, Sanders 39 (Clinton +1)

Income under $50,000: Clinton 59, Sanders 19 (Clinton +40)

Democratic voters who identify themselves as liberal: Clinton 47, Sanders 40 (Clinton +7)

Democratic voters who do not: Clinton 51, Sanders 28 (Clinton +23)

These remarkable trends partly explain why Sanders supporters have started to grow a little too confident in their chances--they're probably surrounded by people similar to their own demographic makeup. Sanders is comfortably carrying their social group, to say nothing of their Facebook feed.

Meanwhile, the Clinton family is extremely popular with everyone else, including minorities, especially African Americans, a big chunk of the Democratic electorate. Her competitors struggle here. The Jewish Sanders is fighting a particularly steep uphill battle; some studies have found entrenched anti-Semitic views in measurable chunks of the black and Latino communities. This is a problem, especially in the Democratic Party. Thirty-five percent of the party is black or Hispanic. (By comparison, the number in the GOP is just eight percent.)

Sanders has struggled making inroads with the African American community. Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement infamously took his microphone in Seattle. His supporters will argue that his policies would be the best thing to happen to minorities, but conservatives make the same exact argument and it hasn't yet won them over. It's extremely tough to shift entire demographics away from who they trust. In this case, who they trust is the Clinton family.

The question then is: can Sanders win with Clinton dominating the African-American vote? Not likely. In 2008, when Clinton faced off against Senator Barack Obama, he did incredibly well with blacks, and yet he only barely defeated her and in fact lost the popular vote. Remove blacks from the equation, however, and the NY Times shows us in these telling maps that he would have been, as the paper of record says, "crushed." Is it safe to say Bernie Sanders won't approach Barack Obama's favorability among African Americans? I think it is.

3) The general demographic with whom he is popular--white liberals--explains his success in Iowa and New Hampshire, but it can't carry him much further. The two states are tailor made for him. Look at this chart from FiveThirtyEight:
silver-datalab-bernieland
First of all, I don't think it's ever seemed so absurd that Iowa and New Hampshire get so much sway over the primary if they are so similar demographically, to say nothing of small (Iowa and New Hampshire will combine for 86 delegates out of the Democratic National Convention's 4,483), but that's neither here nor there. (To their credit, they seem to genuinely take their job seriously as litmus tests for the nation). Those two states are two drops in a large bucket. While Sanders victories in the opening caucus and primary would certainly boost his campaign, his gap just about everywhere else is enormous bordering on insurmountable. The chart suggests his chances are best in four particular states--Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Massachusetts--but it just so happens that two of those are the first two contests in the primary.

Now, while New Hampshire and Iowa respectively sport Democratic electorates that are 54 and 50 percent white liberal, the subsequent contests lag far behind in that demographic. The third and fourth states are South Carolina then Nevada, where only 19 and 29 percent of Democrats are white liberals. Polls there reflect that demographic drop. In Nevada, a July poll had Clinton with a 37-point lead on Sanders. In South Carolina it's even more pronounced. The last poll, done this month at the heretofore height of Sandersmania, has Clinton at 78 percent and Sanders at 8, a 70 point spread. So even after Sanders opens up with two victories, Clinton will wrest back all the momentum in the next two states.

4) Therefore, to win, he needs to play well across the party and country, not just in the two opening states. Interestingly, his socialist label is not what's keeping the bulk of the party away. "Socialist," in fact, isn't as bad a word with Democrats. That same Gallup poll from earlier finds that about six in ten Democrats would consider voting for one. The fact that his ideas have become so embraced by the left wing of the party is further proof of that.

However, he's far from winning over the majority of the party, especially its officials who could be stumping for him. Hurting him is that past criticism of it. True, Donald Trump has stormed out to the GOP lead by being critical of the party from which he's seeking the presidential nomination, but there's a difference here as well. According to the Pew Research Center, Republicans are less favorable right now toward their own party compared to Democrats theirs:

To catch Clinton, he needs to win over a party that feels pretty good about itself, and to do it nationally, he needs money and surrogates working for him in places he can't be.

5) However, his funding and campaign infrastructure pale in comparison to Clinton's, which will make it difficult for him to overcome her still sizable lead in the polls. As for the money, it's not even close. She has raised more than three times as much hard money, and total donations to the Clinton cause outweigh total donations to the Sanders cause four and a half times over.

Meanwhile, notable Sanders surrogates will be nearly impossible to come by, thanks to that history of lambasting the party. He's made a lot of Democratic enemies. In contrast, Democratic officials across the country would kill for the Clintons to come hold their hand up at a rally. They are still the party's first family. As proof of this support from party leaders, consider the endorsement primary. Clinton has garnered 307 of FiveThirtyEight's endorsement "points" from nearly 130 elected officials. Sanders has zero. (Even Martin O'Malley has one!)

Therefore, it'll be exceedingly difficult to fully overcome Clinton's lead, which should not be overlooked in favor of recent momentum. The support that has left her for Sanders was soft on her anyway; those who hang on are going to be harder and harder to pry away. Let's not forget, his 32-point national deficit is enormous. It's a tiny field and three of the five candidates are polling under 2, so we're kind of talking ourselves into this being Clinton-Obama Redux, but it's not. I'd get more into her still impressive lead, but Hillary Clinton has hijacked this entry long enough; I'll talk more about it when we get to her post in a few days.

Finally, I think there's a comparison to be made between Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul. It's not a political comparison, obviously; they couldn't disagree more on economic issues. No, the comparison here is with their outlier campaigns and their devoted, and some might say delusional, followers. Both candidates are old, anti-establishment, incredulous members of Congress who, despite their age, are popular with young voters. Both seem to have a pie-in-the-sky agenda that, even if they were elected, would stand little chance in passing through Congress. Both have many supporters convinced that if everyone else just thinks about it for a second, they'd see the light.

Ultimately, both men probably knew they couldn't win when they entered the race, but they weren't in it to win it anyway. They wanted the debate. They wanted the field to speak to their issues. They wanted the national dialogue. Since that's already happened, Sanders supporters should remember this when his surge is over and Clinton's blowout is complete. When is a loss still a victory? When you move up the goalposts and claim the match. In other words, please don't send me hate mail.

PPFA nomination rank--3 of 5 (Odds: 20:1). "JUST THREE?!" I hear all the Sanders supporters screaming. Considering Joe Biden is not part of this countdown until he declares his candidacy, this third place ranking probably surprises a lot of people. For the record, the #2 guy will only barely be ahead of him (I've penciled in 18:1), and if the Sanders surge lasts into December and the other guy doesn't get going, I'll swap them.

Until then, Sanders is working against too much history here. Neither party has ever nominated someone this old. Neither party has ever nominated a Jewish candidate. Neither party has ever embraced socialism, still a bad word to too many Americans, in their nominee.

It's been said that Republicans "fall in line," while Democrats "fall in love." But this is just a one night stand that has lasted an entire summer. The Sanders surge will succumb to the same gravitational pull that ended Howard Dean in 2004, to say nothing of the handful of Republican upstarts who led the pack four years ago. For both parties, the base almost always has a flirtation. Then it tries to win. The man ranked ahead of Sanders, though with a much lower floor, also has the best chance, however unlikely, to seriously challenge Clinton.

PPFA general election rank--4 of 5. That's how little I think of Lincoln Chafee's chances.
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