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Silver Bulletpoints: Why Did All The White Guys Stampede Into The Race So Late?

Today is Thursday, May 16, 2019, which means we have 538 days1 worth of #content to bring you until the 2020 presidential election. In today’s edition of Silver Bulletpoints, we’ll ask the age-old question: Why are so many mediocre white guys running for president?

Bulletpoint No. 1: Why did all the white guys wait so long to run?

On Feb. 10, when Amy Klobuchar launched her presidential campaign, the Democratic field appeared remarkably diverse, at least by the low bar set by previous presidential campaigns. Of the 11 major candidates at that time,2 there were more women than men, two black candidates, one Hispanic, two Asian Americans,3 one Samoan American, and the first openly gay candidate with a serious shot to win a major-party nomination. Only one Democrat, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, was a straight white man.

Since then, 11 additional candidates have declared. All of them are straight white men:

The Democratic field is full of white dudes after all

Campaign launch dates for major Democratic candidates

Date Candidate Straight white guy?
7/28/17 John Delaney
2/10/18 Andrew Yang
12/31/18 Elizabeth Warren
1/11/19 Tulsi Gabbard
1/12/19 Julian Castro
1/15/19 Kirsten Gillibrand
1/21/19 Kamala Harris
1/23/19 Pete Buttigieg
1/28/19 Marianne Williamson
2/1/19 Cory Booker
2/10/19 Amy Klobuchar
2/19/19 Bernie Sanders
3/1/19 Jay Inslee
3/4/19 John Hickenlooper
3/14/19 Beto O’Rourke
4/4/19 Tim Ryan
4/8/19 Eric Swalwell
4/22/19 Seth Moulton
4/25/19 Joe Biden
5/2/19 Michael Bennet
5/14/19 Steve Bullock
5/16/19 Bill de Blasio

In this analysis, formulating an exploratory committee counts as launching one’s campaign.

Source: News Reports

As you can probably infer, this timing is unlikely to be merely coincidental; whether a candidate is a straight white man is a highly statistically significant predictor of the order4 in which they declared.

I’ll leave the longer explanation of this to others, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s a certain type of privilege in all these white guys thinking they can just drop into the race at the last minute after everyone else has been working their butts off for months.

Bulletpoint No. 2: Live on social media, die on social media

Nor is it as though many of the late-entering white guys — other than Joe Biden and to some extent Bernie Sanders — are really doing all that well. One candidate who’s had a particularly rough go lately is Beto O’Rourke, who’s fallen to 4 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average after having peaked at almost 10 percent after his announcement.

We discussed O’Rourke at length in our Austin podcast last week. (My view: He’s fallen out of the top tier, but his money and retail-politics skills give him some advantages as compared with the rest of the also-rans.) One theme I forgot to talk about in Austin, however, is the extent to which the left was ahead of the curve in voicing skepticism about both O’Rourke’s chances and his desirability as a nominee. This stands in sharp contrast to Biden, whom both the left and the mainstream media underestimated and who has surged in the polls despite a million anti-Biden hot takes.

What’s the difference? It may largely be that O’Rourke — unlike Biden — is swimming in the same media pond as the left and as the media elites. His campaign has been heavily reliant on Instagram, for instance, where he has almost 1 million followers. His supporters tend to be younger. Twitter certainly isn’t the Democratic electorate, but it does contain the sorts of voters that O’Rourke is competing for: According to a Morning Consult analysis this week, Twitter-using Democrats are almost twice as likely to support Beto as non-users.

Maybe that’s why O’Rourke is engaged in a reboot of his campaign which involves, among other things, doing lots of television. Although old habits die hard: O’Rourke livestreamed his haircut on Wednesday afternoon.

Bulletpoint No. 3: Is Steve Bullock costing Democrats a Senate seat? Probably not.

Last week, my colleague Geoffrey Skelley wrote about large number of red-state Democrats who are opting out of Senate bids to run for president instead.

As Geoff pointed out, a lot of those candidates — such as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — would be facing uphill battles. Let’s add more specificity to that. Suppose we think of candidates like Bullock as strong candidates who could significantly outperform a “generic” Democrat. Is that enough to win in red states like Montana?

As O’Rourke’s and Stacey Abrams’s losses last year demonstrated, probably not. This is quick-and-dirty, but I ran a regression analysis wherein I sought to explain the outcome of last year’s Senate races based on a state’s partisan lean and which party had an incumbent running. As a twist, I also included a subjective estimate of how strong the candidates were on a 1-to-5 scale; for instance, Joe Manchin was a 5, and Corey Stewart was a 1. I tried to base the estimate on how strong the candidate appeared going into the race, rather than after the fact. I also adjusted for the national environment, which leaned Democratic by 7 or 8 points last year.

If you apply that analysis to this year’s races, you find that a strong Democratic candidate — a 4.5 on the 5-point scale — still needs a lot of breaks to win in a red state. In Montana, for instance, I estimate that even if the national environment is about as good for Democrats as last year, then even a candidate as good as Bullock would still only have a 25 or 30 percent chance of winning. In a neutral environment, he’d have almost no shot.

Even in sunny weather, Democrats face gloomy Senate odds

Chance of winning in 2020 for hypothetical average and great Democratic Senate candidates, according to a rough regression analysis*

STRONGLY Dem. (D+7) Nat. ENVIRONMENT Neutral (D+0) Nat. ENVIRONMENT
State GOP candidate Avg. candidate Great Candidate Avg. candidate Great Candidate
Alaska Sullivan 18% 60% 1% 12%
Arizona McSally 37 80 4 28
Arkansas Cotton <1 3 <1 <1
Colorado Gardner 87 99 38 80
Georgia Perdue 11 47 <1 7
Idaho Risch <1 <1 <1 <1
Iowa Ernst 37 80 4 28
Kansas (open, TBD) 2 19 <1 1
Kentucky McConnell 4 29 <1 2
Louisiana Cassidy 2 20 <1 1
Maine Collins 71 96 19 61
Mississippi Hyde-Smith 45 85 6 35
Montana Daines 4 28 <1 2
Nebraska Sasse <1 7 <1 <1
N. Carolina Tillis 58 92 11 48
Oklahoma Inhofe <1 1 <1 <1
S. Carolina Graham 11 48 <1 7
S. Dakota Rounds <1 <1 <1 <1
Tennessee (open, TBD) <1 5 <1 <1
Texas Cornyn 5 33 <1 3
W. Virginia Capito <1 1 <1 <1
Wyoming (open, TBD) <1 <1 <1 <1

* Estimates are based on a regression analysis of 2018 U.S. Senate races and account for a subjective measure of candidate strength on a 1-5 scale based on approval ratings and other factors. Republican candidate strength is rated as follows: 4.5 points: Collins; 3.5 points: McSally, Cotton, Perdue, Ernst, Cassidy, Rounds; 2.5 points: Sullivan, Risch, Graham; 2 points: McConnell, Inhofe; 1.5 points: Hyde-Smith. All other candidates, including in open-seat races where the candidate has not yet been determined, are rated as average (3 points).

Note that Democrats are having little trouble recruiting candidates in states like Arizona and Colorado where their chances are stronger.

Footnotes

  1. Counting today and Election Day itself.

  2. Counting candidates who had formed an exploratory committee even if they hadn’t formally launched their campaign.

  3. Counting Kamala Harris as both black and Asian American

  4. Although, not the date on which they declared; Delaney declared so much sooner than everyone else that he messes the analysis up.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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