Look out below: Which Democratic candidate will drop out next?

Andrew Romano
West Coast Correspondent
Beto O'Rourke hugs volunteer Charlie Jordan last Friday in Des Moines, Iowa, after announcing he was dropping out of the presidential race. (Photo: Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race with one key takeaway every weekday and a wrap-up each weekend. Reminder: There are 90 days until the Iowa caucuses and 364 days until the 2020 election.

At first there were 26. Now there are “only” 17.

Who will be the next Democratic presidential candidate to drop out?

Last Friday, Beto O’Rourke stood on a box in a park by the Des Moines River and told a small group of supporters that he could “clearly see at this point that we do not have the means to pursue this campaign successfully.”

And just like that, the man who once told Vanity Fair he was “born to be in it” was in it no longer.

Speculation swirled Tuesday about who would be the next to fall off the campaign trail. Politico reported that fellow Texan Julián Castro had fired his entire New Hampshire and South Carolina operations, essentially conceding that he’s toast if he doesn’t vastly outperform expectations in Iowa, where he just launched a $50,000 ad buy, and place highly in Nevada, with its large Latino population. He is polling at a round 0.0 percent in Iowa. And the news about Castro followed reports that Kamala Harris is dramatically restructuring her campaign by redeploying campaign staff from New Hampshire, Nevada and California to Iowa, laying off dozens of workers at her Baltimore headquarters and cutting salaries and payments to consultants.

It’s unlikely that Harris, who was once viewed as a top-tier contender before flatlining around 3 percent in the polls, will bail before Iowa; she has staked her entire campaign on success in the Hawkeye State, and part of the rationale behind her recent restructuring is to hoard resources for a seven-figure media buy in the weeks before the caucuses.

But others might.

So far, nine candidates — Harris, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang — have qualified for the Nov. 20 Democratic debate in Georgia; a 10th, Tulsi Gabbard, is one 3-percent poll away from qualifying. The deadline is Nov. 13. That means seven or eight candidates, including Castro, are unlikely to appear onstage on Nov. 20 — and unlikely to get the kind of boost they need to resuscitate their flagging campaigns.

Sen. Cory Booker speaks at the Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Moines, Iowa, last Friday. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Of those seven or eight, one — former Maryland Rep. John Delaney — is a self-funding millionaire who has camped out in Iowa, so he’s likely to continue through the caucuses. (“Life is about how you do relative to expectations,” Delaney said Saturday. “The expectations for my campaign are not particularly high.”) Another (Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam) is a candidate in name only — he raised only $5 in the third quarter of 2019 — so who knows what he’s up to. And four others — Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak and author Marianne Williamson — are polling below 1 percent, so they’re not really affecting the race either way. If Bullock wants to continue suffering the indignity of being introduced to a near-empty hall as Cory Booker, which actually happened to him at Friday’s Liberty and Justice Celebration in Iowa, so be it. Still, no one will be surprised, or even take much notice, if some of these folks suddenly vanish from the race in the weeks ahead.

The candidates to watch are the ones who have qualified for the November debate but not for its December follow-up in Los Angeles: Klobuchar, Yang, Booker and Steyer. (Harris just qualified on Sunday, joining Warren, Biden, Buttigieg and Sanders.) Of this group, Klobuchar is most likely to make the cut; she needs one more state or national poll showing her polling at 4 percent or higher.

The rest need something significant to happen between now and the Dec. 12 deadline. Yang is the only one with the required 200,000 unique donors. Candidates also need either two early-state polls showing them at 6 percent or higher or four state or national surveys showing them at 4 percent or higher. None of them have a single 6-percent poll, and Booker doesn’t even have any 4-percent polls. Unless Yang, Booker, Steyer or Gabbard really shake things up in Georgia on Nov. 20, they’re unlikely to appear in L.A. the following month, which could prove fatal to their campaigns.

In the final days of his bid, O’Rourke faced a difficult decision: cut staff and force his remaining team to work for peanuts in the hope of some sort of impossible comeback — or let his people get on with their lives. He chose the latter.

Many of his rivals will soon face that same moment of truth.

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