2020 Vision: Democratic field continues to shrink as Inslee and Moulton drop out

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Dylan Stableford and Christopher Wilson
·Senior Staff
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Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., speaks with reporters in Greenfield, N.H., on Sunday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Rep. Seth Moulton speaks with reporters last Sunday. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 164 days until the Iowa caucuses and 438 days until the 2020 presidential election.

[Who’s running for president? Click here for Yahoo News’ 2020 tracker]

The presidential primary field further thinned this week, with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton announcing they were withdrawing from the race.

Democrats have been urging a number of candidates to drop out, but Inslee wasn’t one of them; his campaign, focused on climate change, drove the conversation, particularly during the second round of debates last month. Partially at Inslee’s urging, the leading candidates will participate in a climate forum next month.

“I know you agree that our mission to defeat climate change must continue to be central to our national discussion — and must be the top priority for our next president,” said Inslee on Wednesday night. “But I’ve concluded that my role in that effort will not be as a candidate to be our next president. As disappointing as this is, it is only right to recognize what we have accomplished and how far we have come together.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Detroit last month. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee at a Democratic presidential primary debate. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

While Inslee was able to hit the 130,000 donors necessary to qualify for the next set of debates, he’s gained no traction in polling, often coming in at zero percent in surveys of Democratic voters. (The 68-year-old governor did, however, generate commentary on his level of handsomeness.) On Thursday, Inslee announced he was running for reelection and a third term. Inslee’s approval rating as governor is +12, and he won 54 percent of the vote in 2016, up from 51 percent in 2012. He has been mentioned as a possible Environmental Protection Agency administrator in a Democratic administration.

On Friday morning, the Associated Press reported that Moulton was set to drop out in prepared remarks to the Democratic National Committee. The three-term congressman who served as a Marine in Iraq was attempting to run on a moderate message focused on national security and mental health but didn’t gain much traction in the race, failing to qualify for either of the first two sets of debates.

President Trump, in an apparent joke-tweet, blamed Moulton's exit from the race for Friday's stock market plunge.

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In a Thursday interview with the Washington Post, Moulton implied he would be throwing his support behind former Vice President Joe Biden.

“I do think that Trump is going to be hard to beat,” said Moulton. “I think Vice President Biden would make a fantastic president. He’s a mentor and a friend, and I’ve been impressed by the campaign he has run so far.”

Inslee and Moulton follow former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who announced Thursday he was dropping his presidential bid to run for the Senate. Incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner is seen as one of the most vulnerable Republican targets in the 2020 cycle.

Democratic candidates appear at a presidential debate in Detroit last month. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic candidates at a debate in Detroit last month. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Debate field expands — for now

After earning 2 percent in a CNN national poll released earlier this week, former Housing Secretary Julián Castro became the 10th Democratic to qualify for next month’s debates, joining:

  • Joe Biden

  • Cory Booker

  • Pete Buttigieg

  • Kamala Harris

  • Amy Klobuchar

  • Beto O’Rourke

  • Bernie Sanders

  • Elizabeth Warren

  • Andrew Yang

If billionaire Tom Steyer reaches 2 percent in one more poll, or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard hits that mark in two more before the Aug. 28 deadline, then they would also qualify, splitting the Houston debate into two nights over Sept. 12 and 13. ABC News said it would randomly assign the candidates, meaning that all the top contenders would likely not be on the same stage together. Many Democrats have been clamoring for a direct confrontation among the four frontrunners — Biden, Harris, Sanders and Warren.

“I think the small ‘d’ democratic spirit of the first two rounds of debates was good and important, but candidates have had months to make their cases and at a certain point it's perfectly reasonable to distinguish between tiers,” said MSNBC host Chris Hayes, summing up the feeling of many Democrats ready to see the top contenders on one stage.

There would be some frustration among Democratic voters if Biden and Warren were assigned to different nights, which has been the case so far this year. They have a long history of disputes over bankruptcy law, and Warren has been closing the gap on the former vice president in a number of polls.

If the consolidation doesn’t happen for the September or October debates, it looks like it will for November. Yahoo News’ Jon Ward reported Thursday that the Democratic National Committee will likely raise the polling requirement for that month’s forum, the fifth set of the cycle. From Ward’s piece:

What’s not clear — and seems to be unsettled still — is how high that number will go. Even if it went up only 2 points to 4 percent, it would put major stress on candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker. Neither has received more than 3 percent in any qualifying voter survey yet. Other candidates, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, have hit 4 percent only once so far.

A Bernie Sanders supporter poses for a photo. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
A Bernie Sanders supporter. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders U

In their own version of summer school, Bernie Sanders’s team has run a two-week online training program to teach the basics of campus organizing with the aid of the campaign’s designated app, Bern. The program enrolled more than 1,500 volunteers including high school and college students. Yahoo News’ Brittany Shepherd looked into the program and talked to 25-year-old Hector Chaidez Ruacho, one of the enrollees:

Ruacho’s research assignment was just one example of graduation requirements. Homework, coupled with attending three hourlong webinar classes a week, put each student on the path to being inducted into the Students for Bernie 2020 Campus Corps, the official school-based organizing effort for Sanders’s presidential bid. (Graduates also receive a swag pack filled with stickers, buttons and instructional canvassing tip sheets.)

Inclusion in this cycle’s campus corps was a motivating goal for Ruacho, an immigrant from Mexico who became a U.S. citizen during the last presidential election in order to support Sanders’s 2016 bid in Nevada. But not every assignment came naturally for him.

One of the most intimidating tasks for Ruacho was one of the first: He had to share his personal narrative and the reason he’s supporting Sanders in a short-form video called “My Bernie Story.” The video was then posted to the campaign app and shared on various social media platforms.

“Don’t get me wrong, writing that story was intimidating because I had to tell something so personal to me,” Ruacho told Yahoo News as he and his siblings were preparing for the next leg of their summer road trip. In Ruacho’s story, he spoke about friends and loved ones who were undocumented, and the sacrifices his family made in their own immigration journey.

Sen. Kamala Harris pauses during a speech at the AARP and Des Moines Register Iowa Presidential Candidate Forum in Bettendorf, Iowa, last month.(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Sen. Kamala Harris (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Harris falters

Remember when Kamala Harris got a nice little bump in national polls following her sharp performance at the first Democratic presidential debate? Well, it’s gone.

According to a CNN poll released Tuesday, Harris received just 5 percent support among Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters — a 12-point slide from CNN’s survey in late June, when Harris was in second place behind Joe Biden. She’s now back to fourth, tied with Pete Buttigieg.

Her precipitous drop coincides with the wobbly rollout of a health care policy alternative to Medicare for All that her rivals, including Biden and Sanders, have attacked.

"She was kind of like this soufflé that rose after she took on Joe Biden during that first debate," CNN's Gloria Borger said. "She did really well, and people said, 'Wait a minute, I'm going to give her another look.' And what happens when you get a second look is, you go under a magnifying glass and you either continue to rise, or you plateau or deflate, not to carry the soufflé metaphor too far."

You have, Gloria, but it was helpful in this case.

“She’s been kind of the in-limbo candidate, caught between the leading pack but consistently above the rest of the pack,” John Norris, a Democratic strategist, told McClatchy earlier this week. “But there are three tickets out of Iowa, and Harris is still a strong competitor for that third slot.”

Biden rolls out new ad highlighting Obama’s endorsement — of his vice presidency

In his first public remarks after announcing his candidacy for president, former Vice President Joe Biden said he asked former President Barack Obama not to endorse him.

“I asked President Obama not to endorse, and he doesn’t want to,” Biden told reporters in April.

But on Thursday, the Biden campaign unveiled a new ad, titled "President Obama's First Decision," that argues Obama already did — when he chose him as his running mate.

"Joe Biden, you were the first decision I made and it was the best," Obama says in a clip from his final speech as president at the beginning of the one-minute spot.

"It was a relationship forged in fire," a narrator says. "Barack Obama and Joe Biden inherited a world in crisis. Together they passed the greatest economic recovery package in the history of the nation, rescued the automobile industry, made a record investment in clean energy and passed the historic Affordable Care Act."

A montage of Obama and Biden then gives way to the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va., and President Trump's supporters chanting "Send her back!" about Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Somali-born Democratic Muslim congresswoman from Minnesota.

"Now we're facing a different crisis," the voice-over continues. "No one is more ready to lead America than Joe Biden. Strong. Steady. Stable. A statesman the world knows, and trusts. A powerful voice for the middle class. A man of character and decency our kids can look up to. President Obama called him 'the best vice president America has ever had.' The president we need now. Biden, president."

The ad comes less than a week after the New York Times reported that before Biden announced his 2020 bid, Obama told him, “You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t.”

According to the Times, Obama also met with Biden's top advisers in March and requested that they make sure Biden does not “embarrass himself” or “damage his legacy” during the campaign.

Former Vice President Joe Biden listens to his wife Jill Biden as she addresses the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington, D.C., last year. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
Former Vice President Joe Biden listens to his wife, Jill, during a speech. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)


“Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, health care, than Joe is. But you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election. And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘OK, I personally like so and so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”

— Jill Biden, Joe Biden's wife, in an unusually blunt pitch to voters in New Hampshire on Monday

“We need a candidate that is not the safe bet. We need a candidate that can speak not just to the head, but to the heart and to the gut.”

— Cory Booker, to reporters in Iowa, responding to Jill Biden’s comments

“I know changing Washington is hard, but I want to give it a shot.”

— John Hickenlooper, who dropped out of the presidential race last week, announcing his bid for U.S. Senate

“I’m not going to be the president.”

— Jay Inslee, to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, announcing his withdrawal from the 2020 race

“We are basically f***ed, unless we un-f*** ourselves, systematically and collectively.”

— Andrew Yang to Politico on the state of the country

Read more original 2020 coverage from Yahoo News: