Feb 14, 2020 263 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 edition of the Surge, in which we rank 2020 presidential candidates according to their performance relative to expectations, their level of “momentum,” their likelihood of “seizing the narrative,” their potential appeal to supporters of other candidates who are actually still in the race, and their “mojo-daddy buzz quotient,” but never—never—according to the number of votes they received from Democratic voters in a Democratic primary.


No, just kidding. The first three here go in order of finish from the Tuesday voting in New Hampshire, a state to which your backup Surge author and his dumb college friends once drove on a whim in order to rent and fire an enormous bolt-action shotgun similar to the one used in Terminator 2, because in New Hampshire basically anyone who isn’t visibly intoxicated or obviously planning a murder can just go do that, whenever. At least until President Michael Bloomberg makes guns illegal. 

Bernie Sanders.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #2

1. Bernie Sanders

Can he “Bern” down his ceiling?

Sanders won New Hampshire with 25.7 percent of the vote, following up on a second-place finish in Iowa in which he was actually more caucus participants’ first choice than delegate-allocation winner Pete Buttigieg. The next test will be Nevada, where the powerful Culinary Union—the nation’s most locally sourced, farm-to-table collective bargaining group—has been attacking Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan on the grounds that it would require members to give up their negotiated health care benefits. (Nevada holds its caucuses on Feb. 22; based on recent precedent, we can expect results in the 30th century.) So what does Sanders need to do? As much as the Surge loves “sticking it” to Bernie-skeptical MSM pundits, it’s true that he didn’t dominate New Hampshire, a maverick-loving state that borders his own, and as Elizabeth Warren already knows, his single-payer plan is going to be targeted going forward with bazookas and blowtorches by roughly 75 percent of remaining Democratic candidates and 100 percent of status quo–loving United States business interests. If he’s going to win a plurality of delegates and avoid a shitshow of a contested convention, he needs to start bringing in more college-educated and older voters, and to show his strength with Latino voters in the first state giving him the chance to. Which he might! So, first place in the Surge.

Rank 2

Last Week Up from last week #3

2. Pete Buttigieg

He keeps hanging around and hanging around.

Yep, yep, yep, Buttigieg still hasn’t won more nonwhite voters than Sanders in any election or poll. And yep, YEP, the Morning Consult poll that just came out Thursday found that black voters who are defecting from Joe Biden are moving to Sanders and Michael Bloomberg, not the kid from Indiana. On the other hand, white voters didn’t support or know anything at all about the former mayor of South Bend before this election either, and he’s won many of them over. And if you ignore the disingenuity involved, he’s been better during the campaign than any of the much more experienced candidates at responding to problems and subtly modifying the case for his candidacy to make it more appealing. Let’s see how he does over the next few weeks, particularly at the Feb. 25 debate in Charleston, South Carolina, before putting him in the “close but no cigar” category.

Rank 3

Last Week Up from last week #7

3. Amy Klobuchar

The “Amy Klobuchar? Why not!” candidate.

All along, polling-oriented pundits impressed by Klobuchar’s record of strong performances in purple and red Minnesota counties have been predicting a Klobu-surge of Klob-support among moderate Democrats (and ideology-agnostic Democrats who think a moderate will have the best chance against Trump). And all along, smartass bloggers who were unimpressed by her single-digit primary poll numbers and unmoved by the no-we-can’t, spending-scold themes of her campaign have ridiculed those predictions of imminent Klob-relevance. Well, now the esteemed Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D–Ice Fishing Hut, has gone and finished a strong third with 19.8 percent of the vote in Klob-Hampshire in what seems to have been a late-breaking voter response to the slumping and/or crashing of the Biden and Warren campaigns. Klomentum is real, and it’s moderately spectacular! Who’s laughing now, smart guys?

Rank 4

Last Week
#4

4. Michael Bloomberg

Can you win the Democratic nomination after having done a bunch of Republican stuff?

Old audio clips circulated this week of the former New York mayor (who served two of his three terms as a Republican and zero of them as a Democrat) making an aggressive case for racial profiling, arguing that major banks were not responsible for the 2008 economic crash, and complaining about the existence of the minimum wage. The time has finally come to see what happens when his exponentially unprecedented spending on campaign staff and advertising collides with multiple news cycles’ worth of attention on his record of non-Democratic positions. 

Rank 5

Last Week Up from last week #6

5. Elizabeth Warren

Welp.

On Tuesday, Warren released a memo by adviser Roger Lau explaining why her campaign thinks she still has a path to victory. Sanders won’t be able to seduce enough normie Dems into pledging full communist allegiance to the Soviet Union, it argues (more or less), while strong liberals will never get on board with the Bloomberg-Pete-Klobuchar philosophy of, let’s say, not overdoing things as far as ameliorating economic injustice is concerned. Right there in the middle of the left and the center left (the left center left?) is Warren, the thinking goes, ready for a big comeback. It’s a coherent argument, but also one the candidate might end up wishing she’d started making before finishing third in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire.

Rank 6

Last Week
Unranked

6. Andrew Yang

Out with a bang.

Andrew Yang announced that he was suspending his campaign the way everyone wants to: After performing much better than expected, and to the accompaniment of commentary celebrating what he brought to the race. Like Brad Pitt’s character getting eaten by a bear after living a long and full life in 1994’s Legends of the Fall, it was “a good death” for Yang 2020—and arguably even a great death, in that it did not involve getting eaten by a bear.

Rank 7

Last Week Down from last week #6

7. Joe Biden

Wow.

Biden finished fifth in New Hampshire. Fifth! The guy who was vice president, for eight years, for the most popular Democrat in the universe, and who once held a 25-point lead over the field nationally. Fifth. Biden’s campaign collapsed like so many marriages: slowly, then all at once, with a lot of embarrassing and incoherent arguments in public. And sure, they’re going to try to revive things by taking some trips, spending some time in warmer weather, but everyone knows it’s probably not going to work.