For months, the Democratic presidential primary has been dictated by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. That primary is now over.
After an eventful month and the conclusion of the first round of Democratic debates, there is a new top tier — and a sense among many campaigns and Democratic operatives that Biden and Sanders are suddenly within reach in a race that has broken wide open.
“Bernie and Biden were largely living off of inertia,” said Colin Strother, a veteran Democratic strategist.
Now, he said, voters are becoming aware that “other [candidates], they have a lot of other things to offer.”
The campaign’s evolution came gradually at first — then violently amid the debates. Biden, already damaged by his shifting views on abortion and his one-time work with segregationists, withered under Sen. Kamala Harris’ filleting of his record on busing for school desegregation.
Sanders committed no such error. Yet he was weakened by contrast — his forgettable debate performance versus the proficiency of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fellow leftist previously untested in a presidential campaign. She is slowly rising in the polls, just as Sanders — a rival for the progressive vote — is seeing his numbers tick downward.
By the weekend, Warren was rallying thousands of supporters in Chicago, while Harris was raising record sums of money for her campaign.
Together, the two women’s success began to challenge a fixture of the early campaign — a calculation about electability in which some voters still suffering from Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 had been hesitant to nominate another woman.
“There’d been this whole not-so-subtle electability argument,” said Rebecca Katz, a progressive consultant who advised Cynthia Nixon in her primary campaign against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year. “That one-two punch [from Warren and Harris] showed not only that women can hold their own, but they can smoke ‘em.”
Following the debates, Warren drew one of her largest crowds yet, with about 3,600 people in Chicago. Harris announced Saturday that she had raised $2 million from more than 63,000 people in the 24 hours following her debate, her best single fundraising day of the campaign.
She shot up 6 percentage points in the latest Morning Consult poll of Democratic voters, released Saturday, tying Warren at 12 percent.
Biden, despite shedding 5 percentage points in Morning Consult’s first post-debate survey, still leads the field at 33 percent. And Sanders remains 7 percentage points ahead of Harris and Warren.
Biden’s debate blundering appears to have pierced any remaining notions that the former vice president was on a glide path to the nomination. Advisers to at least six other presidential campaigns told POLITICO that Harris’ successful ambush of Biden, in particular, suggested an opening for other candidates, as well.
“I just feel like the inevitability of Joe Biden is over,” an adviser to one mid-tier candidate said.