July 04, 2019 488 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the presidential candidates everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to this week’s Fourth of July edition of the Surge, which ranks your presidential candidates—both Democrats and Republicans—according to a top-secret proprietary formula incorporating good news, bad news, polls, joke potential, a dash of quantum physics, and some gasoline siphoned from an M1A2 Abrams tank that’s parked in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Your normal Surge-ologist, Jim Newell, is off this week, so I’m in charge.

Last week’s debates are still the story this week: who’s jumping in the polls because of them, who’s plunging in the polls because of them, who’s raising money off of them, and whose advisers are quitting en masse because of them. Let’s do this.

Kamala Harris smiling, holding a mic.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Kamala Harris

The train isn’t slowing down.

Last week Harris topped these rankings for what she did to Joe Biden. This week she tops them because of what “what she did to Joe Biden” did to her poll numbers. Namely, it made them go from here *holds hand down by the ground* to here *lifts hand way up in the air*. Harris jumped 8 points in the Economist/YouGov poll, 9 points in the CNN poll, 13 points in the Quinnipiac poll, and so forth. She’s now essentially tied with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in second place in the race, and given how much her appeal seems to overlap with that of the 76-year-old front-runner (Biden) who’s currently tanking fast—basically, she and Biden are both candidates for people who really just want someone tough and president-y to take down Trump—you could argue that, at this point, it’s hers to lose. (You could also argue that it’s way too early to argue something like that.) It also turns out that she raised $2 million in 24 hours after the debate, which is *checks clipboard* a lot.

Rank 2

Last Week Up from last week #7

2. Donald Trump

Has all the money and controls the military.

Unless he gets stuck between two walruses at the National Zoo and Mike Pence has to run in his place, Trump is the opponent who awaits the Democratic nominee, and he reminded everyone this week that being an incumbent president has its perks when it comes to campaigning. Trump 2020 and the Republican National Committee reported that they’d raised $105 million last quarter, which is *checks same clipboard again* about $20 million more than Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised in the same period in 2011. Trump is also turning the traditionally nonpartisan July 4 celebration on the National Mall into a Republican fundraising event at which he’ll give a speech surrounded by tanks, an act so repulsive that I don’t even have a joke for it, but also one that underscores his ability, as a candidate, to get free national TV time any time he wants.

Rank 3

Last Week Up from last week #4

3. Joe Biden

Life on the other side of a Surge™.

Biden is near the top of the list of candidates everyone is talking about this week for bad reasons, not good. Remember those polls in which Harris is skyrocketing? Biden dropped 2 points in one, 8 points in another, and 10 points in the third. (He’s particularly losing ground among black voters, a group that was solidly behind him previously.) He didn’t do any major interviews or give a Big Speech this week, which is to say he failed to do anything to draw attention away from his debate performance. What he did do was make another tone-deaf remark about a historically marginalized community at a fundraiser, telling a group in Seattle that as recently as five years ago you wouldn’t get called out if you mocked “a gay waiter” at a business meeting but now you would. That may or may not be true, but what is true is that if you’re running for president as a Democrat and there are already concerns that you’re out of touch, invoking the trope of gay waiters may not be a great idea, even if you are doing so in an effort to say something positive about progress.

Rank 4

Last Week Down from last week #2

4. Elizabeth Warren

Does she have a plan for Kamala Harris?

Warren’s gotten her own post-debate bump; she now leads some polls that ask respondents which candidates they would consider voting for and lets them choose multiple options, which means she’s done well during her campaign at building name recognition without alienating people. She even came in first in an Iowa poll that was released Wednesday, though her lead over Biden and Harris in the survey is within the margin of error. And her “I’ve got a plan for that” catchphrase continues to build momentum as a meme. She’s lower than Harris here, though, because the competing candidate from whom Warren seems most likely to siphon voters—Bernie Sanders—isn’t struggling the way Harris’ main rival is.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Pete Buttigieg

More like Mayor Sweet* (*as in sweet, sweet cash)!

Buttigieg announced Monday that he’d raised $24.8 million in the quarter that just ended, a number that was higher than Biden’s and Sanders’ and seems likely to be higher than Warren’s, given that she doesn’t do big-donor fundraisers. (Harris does hold fundraisers, but until last week Mayor Pete’s campaign had more buzz around it than hers, so it’d be a surprise if she tops him.) Post-debate, Buttigieg is in a clear fifth place in the polls, but the money means he’ll have the ability to stick around to take advantage if and when Harris, who for the moment has passed him in the “up-and-comer who’s progressive but not too progressive” lane, has any further stumbles along the lines of her ongoing “for eliminating private health insurance before she was against it before she was for it before she was against it” cycle.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. John Hickenlooper

Is that bad?

On Tuesday, five “senior advisers” quit Hickenlooper’s campaign, and someone leaked to Politico that before that, his staff had held a meeting to tell him to drop out of the presidential race and run for Senate. Ol’ Hicks says he’s staying in, though, and has hired new advisers who will be ready to help him take advantage if and when the 16(!) candidates currently polling ahead of him all get trapped in the same cave.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

At some point, it’s going to happen.

None of the 25 Democratic candidates generated as much news this week in their public appearances as Ocasio-Cortez did when she joined a congressional delegation touring Border Patrol facilities in Texas. AOC is constitutionally prohibited from running for president until she turns 35 in 2024, but when she does? Hoo boy. If you thought the Democratic establishment got a little touchy when Bernie Sanders ran an insurgent presidential campaign against it, you—as they say in Queens, I assume—ain’t seen nothing yet.