Where the candidates will stand on the debate stage

First up, we now have the physical lineup for the candidates on the stage for September 12th. By the way, I neglected to mention that the debate is scheduled for THREE HOURS, running from 8pm to 11pm Eastern that night. So, you know, Friday morning maybe plan to sleep in. Anyway, here is how the candidates will be placed from left to right in their row of podiums:

Klobuchar, Booker, Buttigieg, Sanders, Biden, Warren, Harris, Yang, O’Rourke, and Castro.

So, this lines up with data we already have—the highest-polling candidates LATELY are in the middle: Sanders, Biden, and Warren, in that order from the left to right.

So Biden will essentially be in a competitor sandwich there, and this is the also the FIRST time we’ll have Warren on any debate stage with Biden. That’s important because that pair has a history of tangling over bankruptcy legislation way back in the day. EXPECT CONFLICT on that issue, and if you want more detail on the history there, check out the show notes for a whole story about it.

As for how this placement was figured out, reading from El Kilgore’s piece in New York Magazine, it was: “based on candidate polling rank in the last ten surveys treated as “qualifying” by the Democratic National Committee.”

This is notable for fans of Andrew Yang, who has been doing better in polls more recently, and thus is lined up with Buttigieg in a third-from-the-outside position. Not a bad place to be, given this field.

Kilgore also notes the challenges this one-night three-hour event will face in primetime:

“The debate will compete for viewers with Thursday night NFL and college football broadcasts, but at least the one-night format will preserve Friday night for nonpolitical pursuits.”

Which voter coalitions support each of the top three candidates

This morning, Amy Walter wrote a polling analysis for The Cook Political Report. In it, she analyzed the detailed data from six recent national polls, digging into the crosstabs. By the way, this gives me a moment to define that term, which you may have heard polling folks talk about. Crosstab is short for “cross-tabulation,” and is a chart which, in the kind of polling we’re talking about, shows the breakdown of how people answered by the sub-category they belong to. The sub-category could be age, political party, race, whether they watched the debate, lots of stuff like.

So, what Walter was looking for was demographic subgroups within the Democratic cross-tabs and which candidates they preferred. She wanted to know, for instance, in the AGE groups or RACIAL groups—how are the people in those groups responding to certain candidates, rather than just the overall top-line number who say, yeah, I’d vote for so-and-so. In the crosstabs you can dig into how many people under age 50 would vote for so-and-so, and stuff like that.

I should also mention, there can be some peril in diving too deeply into the crosstabs of these polls, because sometimes the sample size is so low that they give you a skewed view. So Walter took the crosstabs from SIX national polls in an effort to get this data, and also to see whether the results differed based on the poll. Okay, so what did Walter find? Reading from her analysis, QUOTE:

“In looking across the six polls, some clear patterns emerge (as does Monmouth's outlier status). Biden is strongest among older, African-American, and moderate/conservative Democratic primary voters. Sanders is strongest among younger voters, while Warren is strongest among the most liberal voters and those with a college degree. That's not a new discovery, of course. What was striking, however, is how consistent these coalitions were among all the different polls — regardless of what the head-to-head poll numbers showed (well, except for Monmouth).

What also stuck out to me was the size of the lead candidates held in certain demographic groups. For example, while Sanders does best among younger voters, he doesn't rack up the large margins with these voters that Biden does among older voters. Scroll along the age breakouts in the chart and you see Biden with double-digit leads among voters over 45-years-old. Meanwhile, Sanders' lead among 18 [to] 34-year-olds is in the single digits. In the Quinnipiac poll, for example, Sanders takes 31 percent to Warren's 25 percent, and Biden pulls up with just 10 percent. But, among those over the age of 65, Biden has an almost 30 point lead over his closest competitor (Warren), while Sanders sits at just 4 percent.” END QUOTE.

Walter made a composite table that helps show these specific trends, and in that table she compares the relative size of each group to how those groups voted in 2016. Meaning, if you say, hey, what’s the overall percentage of Democratic voters who are aged 18-34, well, we have those numbers from 2016, so she uses those as a baseline to estimate the makeup of the possible 2020 voting group. Check out the article—there’s a link in the show notes, as always—for a useful analysis of how ideology, age, and race play into how folks plan to vote. At least, how they plan to vote right now.

A look at one Democrat who IS running for Senate in Montana

After Montana Governor Steve Bullock made it very, very clear he will not run for Senate, the natural question arose, okay, who will? There’s a race there against incumbent Republican Steve Daines, and while it’s a bit of a stretch goal, you know, it’s technically possible. Well, thanks to a listener, I have been introduced to Wilmot Collins, who is one of the Democratic primary candidates in that field. He faces at least two opponents to get to the general election, but I found his story to be unusually inspiring.

Collins is a refugee from Liberia, who is currently the mayor of Helena, Montana. Prior to this year, he identified as an Independent, but he is now running as a Democrat. He narrowly won that mayoral election against a 16-year incumbent with 51% of the vote, and it made him the first Black person to EVER become mayor in any city in Montana since it has been a state in the Union. Technically, trivia time, there was one Black mayor in 1873, but that was back when Montana was still a territory, not a state. Anyway, fun fact. Moving on.

Collins came to the US in 1994, fleeing the first Liberian Civil War in which two of his brothers died. His wife had made the same journey two years earlier—and at the time, she was pregnant with their daughter. She had managed to get to Montana thanks to a connection with a family she had lived with there as an exchange student back in high school. Collins’s first time seeing his daughter was two years after his wife left for the US, and, obviously, she had given birth in Montana without him.

Collins started working as a janitor, but six months after arriving in the US he joined the Montana Army National Guard. He served in the Army Reserves for a decade, then the Navy Reserves for eight and a half years. Meanwhile, he worked as a public servant for the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, and of course, is now mayor of Helena. Oh yeah, and both his wife and daughter also served in the military.

And now Collins is looking to take on Steve Daines. Here’s Collins’s announcement video. Listen in:


So, just to be clear, Montana is a purple state. One of the Senate seats is held by Republican Steve Daines, the other by Democrat Jon Tester, and of course Steve Bullock is a Democrat. The state went for Trump by just over 20 points in the previous cycle, but it’s possible—albeit unlikely—that both Senate seats could turn blue with just the right candidate and just the right political moment.

I haven’t seen any polling on this race yet, but this is certainly a candidate to watch. As of the Q2 FEC filings, which included just about six weeks for Wilmot to fundraise, the incumbent Daines had more than $3.5 million dollars in cash on hand, versus just over $50,000 dollars for Collins. Still, I’ll be keen to see whether the power of his story can propel his campaign.

[CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, in the second-to-last paragraph, Steve Bullock was listed as "Colorado Governor." He is, of course, Governor of Montana. In the updated audio file, he is simply listed as "Steve Bullock" as he was identified in the first lines of this story correctly as "Montana Governor Steve Bullock." Thanks to listener Greg Richardson for the correction!]

Biden’s mixed-up recollection of a war story

Yesterday, The Washington Post reported on a war story that Joe Biden has been telling since 2008. The reporters are Matt Viser and Greg Jaffe, and the piece has a video at the top that kind of tells the whole story. I’m not going to play that here, in part because it’s more than three minutes long, and also because there’s a lot of text onscreen that gives vital context.

The reporting revolves around a story Biden told on the campaign trail as recently as last Friday. It’s about a time he visited the Konar province in Afghanistan and met with US military forces who were on the front lines. The core of the story is essentially that the local commanding officer wanted Vice President Biden to present a Silver Star to a Navy captain who had tried to rescue an injured comrade from a deep ravine. But the injured soldier did not survive. In Biden’s telling, the captain resisted the medal, saying he didn’t want it because his fellow soldier had died.

It’s a touching story, it’s gripping, and it humanizes the cost of war. The problem is, in multiple video accounts spanning more than ten years now, you can see how the details of the story have shifted—and most drastically now in the telling from last week. Biden has repeatedly mis-stated the number of times he visited the region, inflating the number more and more as time goes on—but that’s more of a detail; the bigger problem is that this war story just didn’t happen like Biden says it did. Reading here from the Post about last week’s version of the story:

“…[A]lmost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect. Based on interviews with more than a dozen U.S. troops, their commanders and Biden campaign officials, it appears as though the former vice president has jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened.
Biden visited Konar province in 2008 as a U.S. senator, not as vice president. The service member who performed the celebrated rescue that Biden described was a 20-year-old Army specialist, not a much older Navy captain. And that soldier, Kyle J. White, never had a Silver Star, or any other medal, pinned on him by Biden. At a White House ceremony six years after Biden’s visit, White stood at attention as President Barack Obama placed a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, around his neck.
The upshot: In the space of three minutes, Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the type of medal, the military branch and the rank of the recipient wrong, as well as his own role in the ceremony.
One element of Biden’s story is rooted in an actual event: In 2011, the vice president did pin a medal on a heartbroken soldier, Army Staff [Sergeant] Chad Workman, who didn’t believe he deserved the award.
In a statement Thursday, Biden’s campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said Workman’s valor was “emblematic of the duty and sacrifice of the 9/11 generation of veterans.””

Check the link in the show notes if you want to read more, or see the video. The Biden campaign did not dispute the Post’s reporting, though later the same day, Biden himself appeared on a Washington Post podcast called “Cape Up” and said in part:

“I was making the point how courageous these people are, how incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we’ve lost. I don’t know what the problem is. What is it that I said wrong?”

So the ongoing narrative of whether Biden’s misstatements actually matter to voters—that continues to be debatable. It’s clear that he did get the details very wrong on this one. But it’s also clear that the point of the story was valid and important. But at a political moment when we call out political figures for saying things that are not true, I don’t think we should be totally numb to the idea that truth matters. It would be relatively easy for Biden to say, essentially, yeah, I mixed up the details, but my point still stands. In fact, given what he has done in this campaign cycle so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if he does just that next week—assuming anybody still remembers this after the holiday weekend.

So far, for all the gaffes and stuff that have come up in Biden’s 2020 campaign, nothing I’ve seen has actually hurt his front-runner status. We shall have to see if this one matters, but I suspect it will not.

Gabbard says she will NOT run as an independent

This is a quick one.

In an interview on CNN, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard explicitly ruled out the possibility of an independent run for president if she doesn’t get the Democratic nomination.

When asked directly about the possibility of an independent run, Gabbard said:

“I will not. No. I’ve ruled that out. I’m going to continue to focus on moving our campaign forward, continuing this grassroots campaign, continuing to deliver our message to the American people and ask for their support.”

Walsh says he actually might run as an independent

Meanwhile, Republican primary candidate Joe Walsh took the opposite position. When asked by Real Clear Politics whether he would consider some kind of independent or third-party run if he does not win the Republican primary, Walsh said:

“[T]hen who knows? I think there is certainly room for a viable third-party challenge next year.”

A candidate anecdote from Harris

All right, last up today, it is Candidate Anecdote time. Again, this is a new segment we’ll run occasionally, featuring candidates talking candidly about stuff that is not politics. And by the way, this may be the LAST such segment if I don’t get any more listener suggestions of clips that might work here.

So, again, if you’ve got a video, or an audio clip of a candidate telling a story that is just human and interesting, please send it along—there are a bunch of ways to find me on all the socials using the links near the top of the show notes.

All right, today’s short anecdote is from Senator Kamala Harris, and I just thought this was delightful—a nice way to close out the week and head into a holiday weekend. This comes from an interview at the 92nd Street Y in New York City in January this year, where Harris was promoting her book The Truths We Hold. She was in conversation with Cleo Wade, and the subject of her marriage to Doug Emhoff and her in-laws came up. Okay, listen in:


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, I am excited to get on with my three-day weekend. Little bit of yarden, little bit of home improvement, and I hope a lotta relaxation. I also realized that the CNN climate forum is on Wednesday—like, you know, this coming Wednesday—so maybe mark that on your calendars if you intend to watch. I’ll cover it on the shows next week, but, you know, I guess don’t make big Wednesday night plans if you wanna see that live. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all on TUESDAY.