Post-December Debate: Trends Leading Up To Iowa

The December debate turned out to be one of the most engaging events in the primary season this year. This pretty much applies to just the second half of the debate, as the first half was incredibly uneventful. Each of the candidates must have been told during the break. “Listen, you need to go out there and start punching!” It certainly worked, and some surprising things took shape.

Even then, let’s all stop to remember the dumbest question ever posed, “who would you give a gift to, and who would you ask for forgiveness?” As Joe Biden would say: come on, man!

Now, to be clear, it is not likely that there will be any massive change in the polling besides the current trends. However, the effect of the media’s reaction may be felt in the first caucus of Iowa.

Here, we’ll be going over the performances of each candidate, their current trajectory, and what they should probably be doing to win the first state. After all, even small campaigns can pick up steam after an early win. Look at Barack Obama in 2008: he was trailing Hillary Clinton all the way up until his win in Iowa. On the other hand, look at how both Mike Huckabee in 2008, Rick Santorum in 2012, and Ted Cruz in 2016 were unable to really capitalize on those victories. It all depends on the pulse of the voters and the organization of the campaign.


Bernie did incredibly well in this debate. He was clear and passionate, as is the norm. What I am happy about is that he finally started to take the gloves off. Bernie turned his attention towards the two leading moderates, Biden and Buttigieg. He joked that they were in a competition for who has the most billionaire donors.

Aw, just look at Pete’s face when he said that!

Further, he connected that with the corruption of the American political system of today. Without seeming like a jerk, he made his opponents look like corporate tools compared to him. Thanks to the depletion of contenders on stage, Bernie and Joe Biden finally had a healthcare spar.

While I admit to preferring a Medicare-for-all program, an argument can be made that it led to a draw. Both Bernie and Joe made their case for and against, and left it at that. Hopefully, there will be more opportunity to point out the flaws of a means-tested public option.

Bernie surprisingly received the most speaking time during the debate, clocking in at over 20 minutes. This can only help his campaign, as it’s been my theory for a while now that the Democratic base is behind all of his platform initiatives.

Let’s look at the trends surrounding the debate. He has been consistently gaining momentum since mid-October. A few months ago, he had to go through an emergency heart procedure, which caused all of mainstream media to essentially count the days to his departure from the race.

Not only did this moment galvanize his base of hardcore followers, but it also brought newly elected Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar to bravely endorse him at his lowest moment.

This is not something typical politicians do. Most will abandon ship when the going gets tough. However, these three Justice Democrats got their start in the political revolution Bernie started in 2015. After hosting the largest rally of 2019 in Queens (which I attended) he started to slowly gain in the polls. This is unmanufactured ascension which was virtually ignored by CNN, MSNBC and other networks.

What happened was Bernie’s volunteer organization was gaining ground, just as the media began turning on Elizabeth Warren in the Fall. This December, Bernie has been in 2nd place in Iowa, 1st place in New Hampshire, and 2nd place nationally (reclaiming the position from Warren). The mainstream media may actually start noticing him after this, so watch out for the current blackout to turn into negative coverage.

Success in Iowa depends on the volunteer/grassroots organization, of which he has the largest and most dedicated. His strategy: bring in independents, non voters, young people, non-white voters, anti-establishment Democrats in the Yang and Tulsi camps, and working class people. Meanwhile, his campaign needs to convince Warren and Biden people on caucus day that he has the best shot to win against Donald Trump.

Going after Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden is the right move, and he should continue pointing out their corporatism. That’s what led Bernie to tie with Hillary Clinton last time, so he should do it again with them. However, he should think about hitting Buttigieg more so, as he currently holds first place in the state.

Somehow. Liz Warren is still technically an ally, and the best option is to not alienate her supporters by attacking, but to distinguish himself as the best progressive candidate. Liz’s numbers are suffering, and their second choice is Bernie anyways.

Overall, his chances to win are good.


Pete Buttigieg was attacked by everyone on the debate stage, and while it wasn’t a disaster, he definitely came off as a smug, corporate hack. His answers continued to be vague and flowery. While this nebulous posturing might have worked 10 or 20 years ago, it falls flat in today’s zeitgeist.

He had no satisfactory response to the attacks on his experience, “policies”, and the infamous wine cave. He easily suffered the most in this round. Not as disastrously as Kamala Harris or Beto O’Rourke’s debate failure… but as a media construction, it still hurts nonetheless.

This barrage was expected a month ago, when he began taking Elizabeth Warren’s voters in early state polls. November was a great time for Pete, as he continued receiving endless adoration from media pundits while escaping any legitimate criticism on his job as South Bend Mayor. The candidates up on stage in November weirdly avoided a tangle with the new flavor of the month, even as word got out about his fake endorsement list, bad record on racism, and obvious flip-flop on healthcare.

It took a while, but once protests began cropping up at Pete Buttigieg events, the news networks began to finally pay attention. While it hasn’t be drastic yet, the networks are slowly turning on Pete, like Warren and Harris before him.

Since the start of December, there has been a dip in support as Bernie, Mike Bloomberg, and Amy Klobuchar (of all people) have risen.

If he wants to succeed in Iowa, he needs to siphon support from Liz, Amy, and Joe. Despite his earlier tactic of playing up the “uniter” archetype, he would be better off tearing down the smaller competition who are chipping away at his numbers. This may be risky, as that opens Pete up to more criticism, but, unfortunately for him, his supporters are not committed to him. He’s got to show that he’s the best for the early state.

His chances of scoring a win are good.


Amy Klobuchar caught the media’s attention this time around, and this may shift their adoration to her as the main moderate. While I recognize that this is a low bar, the December debate was her best yet.

Amy was very aggressive towards Pete Buttigieg, pointing out his inexperience as only an evil regional manager could. Amy even angled herself as the uniter, giving compliments to Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. It may boost her standing in Iowa, if the exchange is covered well, of course.

Not every fight goes positively. Look at poor Julian Castro.

Aside from the debate, Amy has been slowly benefiting from the downward slopes of Warren and Buttigieg in recent weeks. Despite this positive situation, her ability to win the state of Iowa depends on a number of outside factors… as her organization is middling compared to Bernie Sanders.

In order to sustain a real rise, she needs to be even more aggressive. Stop with the cheesiness. Don’t promote a stupid dance. Don’t let people know about your reputation as an abusive boss. And pray for the media to start showering you with love. She isn’t as naturally talented as Liz or Pete, so this supposed uptick may not even materialize… but who knows?

Amy’s chances of winning are still low.


Joe Biden didn’t help or hurt himself in the debate. And that means this was his best performance of the year. He finally started making coherent sentences and managed to avoid putting his foot in his mouth for once.

Not exactly high praise, but for someone who called a voter fat, bragged about a child’s obsession with his hairy legs, recounted his confrontation with Corn Pop, and bled out of his eyeball, this was a good moment.

He sustained attacks from Bernie, coming to a draw on healthcare. At the same time, he came across looking evasive on his foreign policy record when asked about Afghanistan. Joe’s reparations answer was utter nonsense, but it wasn’t as bad as calling Obama, “the first African-American that is articulate and bright” from 10 years ago.

He also looked stunned at being called out for his list of billionaire donors, which was just delicious for Bernie Sanders supporters. Overall, he seemed overshadowed by the others. I can’t see how this helps him in Iowa.

He’s at fourth place in the first state, which is abysmal for a supposed frontrunner. If he can keep the heat off him for the next month or so, he might have a shot at getting the Pete, Amy, Liz, and other moderate voters to coalesce behind him in the caucus. But really, the only case he can make is “I’m the frontrunner now, so why go with someone else?”

His chance to win in Iowa is so-so. The reason his chances aren’t low is that the noncommittal moderate voters currently shopping around may just decide on Joe during the caucus night. Never count out the perception of being the “most electable”.


Elizabeth Warren did decently enough during the December debate with her laser focus on corruption. It’s a winning message, as shown by the successes of the current progressive movement.

But very now and then, Warren’s messaging it gets derailed by dumb talking points… the kinds of eye-rolling statements that remind me of Kamala Harris’ Twitter Ban BS. What I am talking about is her repeated point about taking hundreds of selfies.

Honestly, that is laughable as an argument. It was an obvious ploy to get more young voters, and it failed, in my opinion. She brought it up so much that the audience actually started giggling when she brought it up.

Additionally, Elizabeth Warren was pretty much forgotten about on the healthcare debate and foreign policy sections. However, Liz got a good shot in at Pete about his wine cave fundraiser, implying that he is beholden to rich donors. While technically you could call it a draw due to Pete’s rebuttal about her own fundraising hypocrisy, it’s a win for her.

Because it was a damn wine cave Pete went to. And you can’t defend begging wealthy people for money while sipping the finest alcoholic grape juice money can buy.

That being said, It’s hard to say that that moment was enough to get back to the top of the polls like she was a couple months ago. She began dipping hard once the media turned on her in the Fall. In fact, her descent can be traced back to her backtrack on Medicare-for-all, proposing an overly complicated plan that attempted to address every criticism that’s been lobbed so far. The media think that her support for single payer is why she is failing, but those of us on the ground know it’s from her own trepidation on embracing the program.

As of now, Warren’s in third place in all the first states and nationally. If she can keep hitting Pete in Iowa, she might be able to bounce back once something (like the wine cave) sticks. You see, she claims this middle lane where Liz appeals to both Bernie people and Pete/Amy/Kamala people, and if she can successfully thread the needle at the caucuses by grabbing some voters here and there from everyone, she can win Iowa.

All she needs is another shot of momentum. After all, her organization is pretty strong compared to the others, and really… the only things stopping her are Bernie, Pete, and herself.

Her chances of winning Iowa are still good overall.


Andrew Yang had a really good night with the amount of speaking time he was given. Like Bernie, he seemed like an outsider commenting on the absurdity of the system. He brought forth his fresh perspectives and ideas, and that has helped him garner 3%.

However, he’s been at this state in the race for months and months. He feels like Ron Paul in that his message is unique enough to get attention, but it’s clear that he doesn’t seem to have much of a shot anywhere. He appeals to anti-establishment types and independent voters, like Bernie.

In order to win Iowa, he would have to replicate his strategy as well: bring in non voters, young people. Unlike Bernie, he is unlikely to pull from any other candidate.

His chances are low.


Tom Steyer has the worst shot to win Iowa, and it’s tough to see him score a win in any county. He is trying to position himself in the Liz lane of appealing to both business-friendly moderates and climate-wary progressives. However, his status as a billionaire who bought his way on stage hurts him immeasurably. Tom doesn’t own the issue of climate change, but seems to really believe it. His ads in New Hampshire are so annoying that the voters there actively dislike him.

He could only win Iowa if Bernie, Joe, Andrew, Amy, Pete, and Liz all drop out. And even then, he might get beat by Tulsi or Cory.

Low chances, obviously.


  • In conclusion, these are the candidates with the best shot to winning Iowa: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg.
  • This is the candidate that has an average chance of success: Joe Biden.
  • And here are the ones with the lowest chances of picking up the state: Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer.

Everyone else has basically a 0% chance. I don’t think we should even bother with the rest of them anymore. Yeah, that includes Bloomberg. 100 million dollars of ad buys in Super Tuesday states without appearing in one single debate will only hurt Joe Biden and help Bernie.

Originally published at on December 22, 2019.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store