Two months ago, the Globe put out its initial rankings of where the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates would finish if the New Hampshire primary were held today. A lot has changed since then, so it’s time to revisit our list.
Let’s start with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He’s become a liberal sensation, stealing a lot of the buzz from former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, even before O’Rourke joined the race. Now O’Rourke is officially running, along with former vice president Joe Biden and others including Representative Seth Moulton of Salem. Indeed, in March, there were 15 major Democratic candidates. Today there are — count ‘em! — 22 candidates, the largest field ever.
What’s unique about New Hampshire right now is that there appears to be an early forming top tier. In the Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of 800 likely New Hampshire voters released this week, the top four candidates alone received 53 percent of support. And while 24 Democratic candidates were polled, 14 of them failed to register above 1 percent of support.
This has made it tough to assess the 2020 Democratic New Hampshire field, were the primary held today. Factors used in the ranking below include the sparse New Hampshire-centric polling that exists, but also on-the-ground reporting that evaluates the buzz among local activists and what kind of campaign operations exist for each candidate.
Our first list included a roster of 10. This time, we cut the roster to the top eight. Why? The truth is that after the eighth spot, the drop off is precipitous enough that’s it’s hard to reasonably evaluate who would come in ninth and 10th. Remember, these are candidates with 1 percent (or less) of support. And, frankly, it doesn’t much matter. In 2016, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore finished ninth in the Republican primary. He got 133 votes.
Culling the list meant Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson no longer appear. Williamson looked like she might have something going there in March. But now she might be among the first to drop out of the race, given that she may not even qualify for the first debate in June.
1. Joe Biden, former vice president
Biden hasn’t held an event in the state in two years and yet in the previous two months he’s showed himself leading the field.
Keep in mind that the New Hampshire primary has one of the highest voter turnouts of all elections in the United States. But most voters make up their minds close to Election Day and only decide among those whose names they know. In that way, Biden and Sanders have a natural advantage over the rest of the field.
Two months ago, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders topped Biden on this list, but now that has flipped. Biden is winning over Sanders on every metric, except for grass-roots activity. Biden has a larger staff and stronger poll support. He is also more favored on the all-important question of who is more electable.
2. Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont
For sure Sanders is a major player in New Hampshire, but in the last few months he has been conceding a lot of ground instead of building on his lead. Let’s just say it: If Sanders doesn’t win the New Hampshire primary, he is done. During 2017 and 2018, he was in New Hampshire more than any candidate, but this year he appears more concerned with his national operation. If Biden were to collapse, Sanders could feasibly take the lead, but he has a hard ceiling. Those with him now aren’t leaving him, yet at the same time, not many will join them.
3. Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts
Warren may not top any list — except for having more policy proposals than other candidates — but she is working and showing up and she has the largest campaign team in New Hampshire. Go to a random local Democrats meeting on a Tuesday night in New Hampshire and there will always be a Warren staffer. In the last few weeks, this was true even in small towns like Center Harbor and Brookline.
She isn’t the shiny penny like Buttigieg, but her campaign would easily out-hustle him if the primary were held today.
4. Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind.
Ever since his CNN town hall meeting around the time of the last rankings, his name recognition spiked enough that few now ask how to pronounce Buttigieg. He and his husband grace the cover of the upcoming issue of Time Magazine. When he shows up people want to see him. Polls show him running in third place.
What he has gained in the state in a short amount of time is not to be dismissed. But he remains well behind other candidates in projecting his message beyond his highly educated, liberal base. He could still get there, but it will take work.
5. Kamala Harris, senator from California
Harris says New Hampshire is a priority state for her campaign, but her actions suggest otherwise. She might be right in concluding that her path doesn’t go through the Granite State, but there will be many voters who could be upset to hear that. She has only been to the state twice (compared to nearly a dozen trips for Warren.) During Harris’s first trip, thousands showed up to see her in Portsmouth. Her second trip was last week, basically an add-on day after she appeared at a CNN town hall, and it was more subdued.
She doesn’t have the buzz or the campaign infrastructure as those above her on this list, but she is a serious candidate, better positioned than others in the broader field.
6. Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey
If Booker is anything, he’s earnest. Not only was his campaign the first to open a New Hampshire headquarters, this past week it added an additional office in Nashua. He also has the endorsement from two state senators, the only candidate to nab a backing in the upper chamber. Yes, Booker is running a very traditional campaign. And, like Warren’s, his operation has “good bones” that could take advantage of a boomlet moment. But for now Booker is not the “it” candidate and few people are walking around saying they cannot wait to vote for him, even if they have plenty of good things to say.
7. Beto O’Rourke, former representative from Texas
In the last two months, O’Rourke has dropped a spot in our rankings. To the surprise of many, the one time top-tier candidate would absolutely finish behind Booker if the New Hampshire primary were held today.
The positive for O’Rourke: When he was a bigger deal he got top political talent to agree to work on his campaign and they remain on board. The negative for O’Rourke: He feels like yesterday’s news. Significantly fewer people were waiting to hear Beto during his last trip than when he first began visiting the state.
8. Andrew Yang, New York entrepreneur
Indeed a person who most of America has never heard of has the potential, at least in New Hampshire, to finish ahead of three sitting US Senators, four members of Congress, and two governors.
Yang is the Ron Paul of the 2020 cycle. He has his own people who are rabid about him, helping make him one of the first to qualify for the debates. He is ahead of more established candidates not just on this subjective list, but in nearly every poll. Whether Beto or Buttigieg has the buzz has very little impact on what Yang is doing.
Yang’s big idea is to give every American $1,000 a month and pay for it through a tax on automation, which will soon replace more traditional jobs. But the man has opinions on everything and it is hard to put him into a box, politically, because he is something of a libertarian-liberal.
In New Hampshire, he grabbed the support of former Portsmouth mayor and gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand, who is also working as a national campaign adviser for Yang. That hire has had the intended effect on the ground: The grass-roots wing of the party that loves Marchand is willing to at least hear Yang out. This puts him miles ahead of 13 other candidates in the race, but we’ll see how things stand in the next rankings.