Doug Schoen: Dem primaries spell trouble for moderate candidates

The state of the Democratic race for the party’s presidential nomination has shifted fundamentally.

Though most polls have former Vice President Joe Biden still leading the pack by a notable margin, Biden’s lead has slipped significantly since the first debates. Further, progressive candidates like Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have surged in the polls, while moderate candidates like South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg have slipped slightly.

To be sure, this shift away from center-left candidates and towards progressive candidates is indicative of the leftward shift within the Democratic Party and does not bode well for the party’s chances of defeating President Trump in 2020.

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To beat President Trump, Democrats must nominate a moderate candidate with a wide base of support who can carry states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – states that Trump won in 2016 but that President Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012.

Prior to the debates, Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were the only candidates consistently polling in double digits, while the other leading progressives such Warren and Harris were polling at around 8 or 9 percent.

Further, Biden was once the clear, unambiguous frontrunner, leading by double-digits in nearly every national poll. At one point he led the pack by as much as 32 points, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll from early May.

However, since the debates, Biden is polling at just under 27 percent and has seen his lead substantively decrease to 12 points, according to RealClear Politics, though he still maintains his frontrunner status.

On the other hand, Kamala Harris has enjoyed a significant post-debate surge. According to an Emerson poll from earlier this week, the progressive senator is polling in second-place to Biden at around 15 percent. In the days following the debates, a CNN poll had her polling within five points of the former vice president.

Bernie Sanders has also slipped and is now polling at around 14 percent according to RealClear Politics, putting him neck-and-neck with other far-left candidates, namely Harris and Warren, both of whom he once led by a significant margin.

Aside from Sanders, who was the marginal loser of the debate, it is evident that progressive, far-left candidates with radical policies have recently gained at the expense of moderates.

Buttigieg, a 37-year-old moderate with some progressive ideals, has also seen his support slightly dwindle recent weeks, despite a massive fundraising campaign that brought in $24.8 million in the second quarter.

In the weeks to come, we can expect the race to narrow and the margins between candidates to shrink. Monday, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., dropped out of the race, the first in a soon-to-come exodus, as many of the nearly two-dozen candidates will inevitably realize that they have neither the support nor the funding to continue.

Ultimately, for myself and other moderate Democrats looking to remove President Trump, these shifts in the race are concerning.

Throughout the debates, moderate candidates like Biden responded to a series of attacks from inexperienced candidates seeking to popularize their progressive talking points and cut into the former vice president’s lead. While Biden still maintains his frontrunner status by a notable margin, his losses in the last week are telling of the leftward shift within the Democratic primary electorate.

Indeed, national polls confirm the need for a moderate nominee. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll revealed that Biden, a self-proclaimed moderate who favors incremental policies like strengthening ObamaCare, was the only candidate with a reliable lead over Trump.

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Further, the same poll reported that Sanders, Harris and Warren were each ahead of Trump by a mere two points or less – leads that are well within the margin of error – while Biden held a significant 10-point advantage over Trump.

Ultimately, it’s anyone’s race now, and only time will tell whether Biden will be able to hold on to his lead in the face of his progressive opposition.

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