LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Presidential politics move fast. What we're watching heading into a new week on the 2020 campaign:
Days to Nevada caucuses: 5
Days to general election: 260
With Iowa and New Hampshire behind them, the Democrats' 2020 field lurches toward a decidedly more diverse set of voters and, with them, huge new tests for the leading candidates. After winning (or tying) in Iowa and in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders is looking to Latinos to build a delegate lead that could make him difficult to catch after Super Tuesday. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are fighting to prove their embarrassing polling numbers with people of color don't reflect reality on the ground. And it's put-up-or-shut-up time for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, who need a strong showing to prove they still belong in the race. Oh, and if Mike Bloomberg qualifies for Wednesday's debate, he'll be forced to perform under the brightest lights of his career.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
Who can show strength with voters of color?
Biden's shockingly bad finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire have forced voters and pundits alike to question their underlying assumption about the former vice president's strength with people of color. Like most Democratic primary voters, minority voters care most about picking someone who can defeat President Donald Trump. And Biden certainly hasn't inspired confidence on that front. Can anyone take advantage? On paper, Buttigieg and Klobuchar have the most to gain as black and brown voters weigh in. And Sanders is looking to Latinos to prove he, not Biden, is best positioned to assemble a winning coalition. The question of minority support is perhaps the most significant unknown in the 2020 contest. And Nevada will begin to answer it on Saturday.
Will the elephant be in the room?
Bloomberg has risen in the polls and become one of Washington's favorite candidates largely on the strength of his saturation level TV ads, resume and bank account. If he qualifies for Wednesday's debate — he needs one more show of strength in polling — he will be forced to perform on a debate stage far grander than when he was running for mayor of New York. He is the untested newcomer, so look for his rivals to go after him early and often. Even before new questions surfaced about allegations of sexual harassment at his company, the 78-year-old billionaire former Republican had a lot to prove.
Will we see another caucus meltdown?
After a drama-free primary election in New Hampshire, we're back to another quirky caucus system in Nevada run by a state political party. Tensions are understandably high given the caucus disaster in Iowa (which STILL hasn't reported final results two weeks later). The Nevada State Democratic Party abandoned its plans to use an app like the one that caused trouble in Iowa and has scrambled to come up with a new system to tabulate results. Party officials insist they're confident about the changes. We'll forgive you if you're skeptical.
Does the moderate muddle get worse?
Some establishment-minded Democrats tell us they're increasingly concerned that the glut of center-left Democrats is essentially clearing the way for Sanders to win the nomination. There are at least four prominent moderates fighting to emerge as the Sanders alternative: Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden and Bloomberg. And as we saw in 2016 with Trump, the longer they stay in the race and split up the anti-Sanders vote the easier it will be for Sanders to win contests with a relatively low percentage of the vote. Remember: He needed only 26% to win New Hampshire. Democrats who prefer a center-left nominee need the moderate lane to consolidate in a hurry, although it would be a surprise to see any of the leading moderate candidates get knocked out in Nevada.
Will Trump's turnout machine keep rolling?
There is no serious primary contest on the Republican side, but Trump found a way to generate extraordinary Republican turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, shattering recent incumbent presidents' turnout totals. Trump has hosted local rallies before each of the first two contests, as he will do in Nevada later this week. Yet we suspect the turnout has more to do with the Trump campaign's vaunted data operation, which appears to be light years ahead of where it was four years ago. Either way, a third consecutive strong showing would be cause for concern for Democrats who have claimed a consistent enthusiasm advantage in the Trump era so far.
THE FINAL THOUGHT
It's later than you think in the Democrats' 2020 nomination fight. By the end of Super Tuesday, in just 15 days, more than one third of all delegates will be awarded. Smart campaign operatives tell us that delegate allocation rules will make it extremely difficult for anyone to catch a candidate who emerges from Super Tuesday with a significant lead. That means that absent a contested convention, the Democratic primary could be effectively over far sooner than any of the candidates will admit.
2020 Watch runs every Monday and provides a look at the week ahead in the 2020 election.
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