Warren’s path to the nomination, how the economy is doing in swing states, what Biden and Bullock ate on sticks at the Iowa State Fair yesterday, the Biden gaffe heard ‘round the world, an update on that rumored Hickenlooper Senate run, and Yang releases a playlist of his “favorite jams.”

Show Transcript

Note: This is the speaking script for the show, so the audio as delivered will differ very slightly from the below. This script also does not include audio clips from third-party sources, or advertisements, which may appear at various points in the show.

Warren’s path to the nomination

Today in New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore wrote a piece with the headline: “Surging in Polls, Elizabeth Warren Now Has a Path to the Nomination.”

As I mentioned earlier this week, Warren continues to rise in national polls, and is now firmly in competition for the number-two spot behind Biden. In many polls, she’s already there, having displaced Senator Bernie Sanders, but in others, their positions are reversed or they’re essentially tied. In the real RealClearPolitics polling average, which attempts to take a bunch of polls and average them together, Warren and Sanders are statistically tied at just over 15 percent, behind Biden at 31 percent. Now, yes, both of them are way behind Biden nationally, but Warren has steadily improved her position for several months now.

Not only is Warren doing well in national polls, she’s doing SUPER well in specific early states, notably Iowa, where a recent Monmouth poll puts her firmly in second place, just 9% behind Biden. In other early voting states like New Hampshire and Nevada, she’s just behind Sanders. She has a very large organization on the ground, especially in Iowa, and apparently is gearing up a similar effort in Nevada.

Kilgore’s article lays out a detailed path that involves those early states, plus New Hampshire, that could cement her standing as the key rival to Biden. You’ll have to read the article for all the math and little side-trips along the way, but it’s interesting where it ends up. Reading from New York Magazine:

“This scenario helps explain why Warren has been so careful to avoid any friction with Sanders. She’s in a good, if hardly unassailable, position to squeeze Bernie out of the race by the beginning of March if Bernie-or-Bust voters don’t talk him into staying the course at Warren’s expense. If she can win that implicit progressive sub-primary and Harris continues to flounder, she could be in a one-on-one competition with Joe Biden earlier than anyone might have [imagined], and that could produce her best shot at the nomination.”

This all gets back to the idea that Warren and Sanders are essentially sharing a similar ideology, and thus, we presume, the same voter pool. Reading once more from the article on the topic of electability:

“Warren has made recent progress in both objective (head-to-head polls versus Trump) and subjective (the all-important perception that she could beat Trump) measurements of electability, which often improve as a candidate does well in the primaries. If she gets that one-on-one competition with Biden, the question may be whether Democratic voters want her to be president enough to take a bit of a risk. Warren probably has a plan to make that happen.”

How the economy is doing in swing states

Yesterday in Fortune, Bob Sellers wrote an article with a simple, and useful, premise: “Here’s How the Economy Has Performed in Every Swing State Since Trump Was Elected.”

This is a useful time to recall political strategist James Carville and his comment on the economy that helped Bill Clinton win the presidency in 1992. Carville hung a sign in Clinton Campaign HQ that had three points:

“1 – Change vs. more of the same.
2 – The economy, stupid
3 – Don’t forget health care.”

That second one, about the economy, has become particularly famous. The idea there is that if voters perceive a good economy, they may ascribe it to the current president. The same holds true for bad economies. So, here we are nearly 30 years later churning through the same message and wondering whether it’s actually influencing voters.

In the Fortune analysis, Sellers looked at growth in Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, within a handful of states. Now, he admits that picking swing states is kind of arbitrary, so his selection might not quite match reality, but it’s close. He chose to analyze Arizona, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In those states, he looked at how GDP grew back in 2016 compared to specific periods both in 2018 and 2019. Now, let’s be clear—the economy has been growing in all three years, so the difference here is HOW MUCH it’s growing. And keep in mind, we haven’t seen a substantial recession within the past four years.

OKAY, so what did he find? Well, in every state he examined, except Arizona, economic growth slowed between the third quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2019, which is the latest data he has available. The differences are fairly modest, though one that jumps out is Michigan growing a rate 2.4% slower than it was under Obama, and Maine growing 2.2% slower. The other states are around 1 percent or less in terms of their decline, except for Arizona, which is now growing 1 percent FASTER than it did under Obama.

Then Sellers ran a similar analysis, but used Q3 2016 and Q4 2018. The reasoning behind this has to do with national GDP, and I don’t want you to turn off the podcast because of math, so I’m just gonna get to the summary. Basically, comparing THOSE periods, the swings states are much worse off—except Arizona, which only grew 0.7%. The big outlier then becomes Maine, which has a net loss in growth of 4.1%. You also start to see some interesting stuff like Ohio and Michigan both losing 2.4% in growth.

Sellers also looked at unemployment in those same states, and, surprise, that picture has gotten BETTER since the Obama administration, as has personal income growth. Now, go read the story for the details, but the gist of it is—there’s a very mixed picture here of what is happening economically within these states. Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, but what will really matter is what those voters FEEL about the economy. We’ll have to wait for more polling to determine that.

What Biden and Bullock ate on sticks at the Iowa State Fair yesterday

Every year, the Iowa State Fair draws about a million people to its many attractions, including the famous butter cow—that’s a giant cow sculpted from butter—and this year, a companion sculpture, which is a butter Cookie Monster watching a butter TV while eating a butter cookie. And people come for the many, many fried things on sticks.

But every four years, you can add a little political sideshow to all of that. Candidates show up, they eat weird fried stuff, some take a turn handling the grill, and they all give speeches. There’s also a “corn poll,” in which you drop a kernel of corn into a jar with your preferred candidate’s name on it. This year, there are many, many jars more than unusual.

Then there’s the Soapbox, where candidates get up and give their speeches, often mentioning their ties to Iowa and making their case to local voters. Yesterday on the Soapbox, Governor Steve Bullock likened the Iowa Caucuses to the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books, but he did not identify which House he would like to be sorted into. Instead, he suggested he just wanted to be among the top three. This raises MANY questions, but this is, sadly, no longer a Harry Potter fan podcast.

Yeah, that’s not what we’re here for today. Today, it’s about food on a stick. Both Joe Biden and Steve Bullock stopped by the fair on Thursday and managed to find some stuff on sticks that they enjoyed. I am going to read to you a few of the options on the menu, just so you get a sense of what they’re up against. According to the The Gazette, this year’s new foods include something called a Corn Stalker Cocktail, funnel cake-flavored beer, Boozy Apple Pecan Caramel?—and I’m not even sure which noun in there is the main one?—but anyway, next is an Apple Cider Shake Up, and finally something called “The Chief.” The less said about that last one, the better. But let’s not forget classics like ice cream on a stick, egg on a stick, pork chop on a stick, and of course, the corn dog, which, where I’m from, intrinsically includes a stick.

For the record, Biden cited ice cream on a stick as his favorite, while Bullock said that pork on a stick was his preference. Both of them managed to tweet photos as evidence. Later, Bullock tweeted a video contradicting his earlier tweet, and suggested instead that deep-fried Oreos were in fact his favorite. Now at press time, it was still unclear whether the Oreos had been eaten from a stick or not, and I will keep you updated as this story develops.

The Biden gaffe heard ‘round the world

Next up, the Biden thing. Now, as I just mentioned, Biden spent his day campaigning in Iowa. He spoke at the Iowa State Fair, he ate things on sticks, and in the evening, he gave a speech as well. At that evening speech, a fourteen-second clip from his remarks caused an uproar online. Brace yourself, here it comes:


Yeah. Here we have Joe Biden saying “white” when he apparently meant “wealthy.” Or, a less charitable interpretation is that Biden really DID mean “white,” and slipped up and let that out. It takes him a moment to notice that he has made this truly awful statement, but you actually hear people clapping before he corrects himself. He was speaking in front of the Asian & Latino Coalition PAC in Des Moines.

The clip was immediately picked up and disseminated by Trump’s rapid response director on Twitter. And Twitter rapidly responded. I won’t read you the tweets, you can go find those yourself if you want. Just search for the word “Biden” today and you will get an earful. Now, is this remark offensive? Yeah. Is it wrong? Oh yeah.

Did Biden mis-speak? Well, probably?, maybe? I’m inclined to think so, because he has made similar statements about opportunity for kids before, minus the whiteness thing—there’s a link in the show notes to one example.

But even if he did misspeak, a lot of people feel that that’s equally disqualifying—that Biden’s mental and verbal acuity are not up to the task of being president right now.

So this is genuinely a mess, and we’re caught within a kind of roiling stew right now. I don’t blame voters for looking at this statement and seeing totally different things. Mike Memoli, a reporter who was in the room, said on MSNBC that most people there didn’t seem to register what had been said, which accounts for the applause.

But as I scan the reactions to this Biden thing online right now, they fall into three broad categories: 1) He’s a racist, 2) He’s too old to be president and this is key evidence, or 3) The guy mis-spoke, cut him a break. Now, which of these you prefer? That’s up to you.

In trying to offer you context for this news, I am reminded of part of the speech from Senator Cory Booker that I played on yesterday’s show. Let me play you a brief clip of that. Listen in:


I think it’s clear from Biden’s recent statements and actions that he IS concerned with racial justice. But that doesn’t erase what he said. And I should also mention that Booker went after Biden in the most recent debate because of the lingering effects of Biden’s crime policies back in the 90s on Booker’s community and people of color.

I do think one thing is clear here—the Trump team is trying to draw a false equivalence between this statement by Biden and Trump’s consistent and RECENT history of racist rhetoric and policies. So the issue here is not so much, you know, is Biden equivalent to Trump? The issue is whether this statement is, for you as a voter, disqualifying. I am genuinely curious to see what next week’s polls might say about that.

An update on that rumored Hickenlooper Senate run

On Wednesday, I reported that former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is keeping his options open about possibly-maybe-PROBABLY running for Senate in his home state rather than sticking with his presidential bid.

Well, in an article for Politico, James Arkin argues that Hickenlooper might be too late for that Senate run as well. Reading from the article:

“Nearly a dozen Democrats are running in Colorado, which is seen as the party’s best opportunity to flip a GOP-held seat, and there is a top tier of roughly five candidates. They’ve spent months courting supporters and raising money, and few would immediately step aside for Hickenlooper, according to conversations with several candidates, aides and a half-dozen Democratic operatives in the state.”

The article goes on to describe in detail the many, many campaigns that are competing in a major primary for that Democratic Senate run. And it sounds like several of them are close to Hickenlooper in terms of fundraising, even though Hickenlooper has been operating at the national level. So if he does turn around and head back to Colorado, he would face a smaller field than he does now, and probably thus have better odds, but it wouldn’t be a runaway success. Part of that problem really is money, and Hickenlooper’s fundraising has only been so-so in the national context.

Reading once more from the article:

“If he were to enter the Senate race, according to multiple Democrats, the initial fundraising quarters would be a key test for whether he would be able to run ahead of the rest of the field. Democrats in the state expect other candidates to push in the third and fourth quarter of this year to increase their fundraising to keep pace with the former governor. If he significantly outraises the field through the end of the year, it could change the dynamics quickly in his favor.”

Yang releases a playlist of his “favorite jams”

Last up today, earlier this week, Andrew Yang released a Spotify playlist of what he calls his “favorite jams.” He did it to celebrate a Q3 fundraising goal. While this is not news that needs a ton of analysis, I did go through the list to figure out which artists got the most representation.

In what is a genuine surprise to me, Yang appears to share some musical interests both with me and others at the Ride Home network. With four songs each, The Smiths and Florence and The Machine are on top.

Next up, with three songs, is The Cure—including “Friday I’m In Love,” which is a good Cure song, and “Boys Don’t Cry,” which is a GREAT Cure song.

Nobody else came close, though I do want to mention that we have tracks in there by Prince, Maxwell, Drake, 2Pac, and two songs by U2, but I don’t count one of them because it’s a club remix. And it’s not even a remix of a particularly U2 song, either.

So all I’m saying here is, if Yang ever puts five bucks in the jukebox, I would listen.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. All right, so, welcome to all of you coming from This American Life, this is the show I do now. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, today This American Lifeaired a re-run of a true story I reported for them back in 2010. There’s a link at the top of the show notes, so you can check that out if you like. Oh, and, by the way, there is now a movie inspired by that piece of reporting—it’s called Ode to Joy—and it opens today in theaters in LA and New York City, plus on iTunes. It’s a rom-com with some amazing actors in it, and if you’ve got either iTunes or a certain ZIP Code, you can check that out today. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all on MONDAY.