What’s Left: Heart of Progressivism Beating as Strong as Ever

The 2020 Democratic Primary race has seen plenty of drama in the last month, yet polling numbers have scarcely changed. Of the initial 20-plus candidates, three appear to have a shot at the nomination— former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Once-promising candidates, such as Senator Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have now drifted into the “rest of the pack” and sit at 4.8 and 5.5 percent respectively, using Real Clear Politics averages. 

The front runner, Joe Biden, has taken the biggest hit in the polls this month following increased media attention surrounding his dealings with Ukraine, specifically the question of how his son ended up on the board of oil company Burisma (a position many argue he had no qualifications for). However, media attention has focused more on President Trump’s phone call to the Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky regarding this affair than Biden’s role in the affair itself. Biden remains in the lead according to the RCP average, but several recent polls now have Senator Elizabeth Warren in the lead.

Of the current three frontrunners, Biden would likely be the easiest for President Trump to defeat. Running an establishment politician with shady connections would make it clear that the party has learned nothing from 2016, and would make it easy for President Trump to paint him as one of the members of the “D.C. swamp” that he has insisted on “draining.” Biden’s consistent gaffes and frequent tangents also play right into the President’s “Sleepy Joe” caricature of the former vice-president. Most importantly, Biden does not represent the popular progressive values that much of the Democratic base does. He is hostile to single-payer healthcare and refuses to answer for the millions of deportations carried out under the Obama administration. While Obama maintains strong popularity among the Democratic base, it is troubling that Biden remains unable to distance himself from Obama. 

Recently released third-quarter fundraising data confirms that the energy of the Democratic electorate is behind the two most progressive candidates. Sanders and Warren raised 25.3 million dollars and 24.6 million dollars respectively, with Sanders leading in total contributions, 1.4 million to 940,000. Over the same period, Biden raised only 15.2 million dollars, and with an average contribution of 44 dollars to Sanders’ 18 dollars and Warren’s 26 dollars, according to Vox. This data confirms what should be obvious to those who have been closely following the primary race—Biden’s campaign has less overall excitement and is relying on wealthier donors, whereas both Sanders and Warren have relied on enthusiastic small-dollar donors. If Democrats want a candidate with enthusiastic grassroots support that has a serious shot at defeating Trump, they should look to the left. 

While the media often portrays Sanders and Warren as near-identical, they have different bases of support. Sanders’ base is younger, more diverse and has a higher percentage of support from low-income voters. It is this constituency who will be crucial, as they were in the 2018 midterms, for the Democrats in 2020. Bernie will drive a larger turnout and among the  realistic Democratic candidates, has the best chance to beat Trump. 

However, Senator Sanders has had the most drama of all the candidates this month, suffering a heart attack last week. For a candidate who has frequently fought off criticisms for being too old, this was far from ideal. However, Sanders appears to be making a strong recovery, tweeting on Friday that he “feels great” and is “looking forward to getting back to work.” No official polls have been released since the heart attack, but it is likely that Senator Sanders will see at least a small dip in his numbers. 

Senator Warren has been the only candidate of the top three to remain unscathed recently, but she is yet to come under as intense scrutiny as other candidates, and it is unclear whether she will maintain her upward trajectory.

The next debate will feature a record 12 candidates, but hopefully the progressive front runners will make their voices heard, as we are just four months away from Iowa.