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2020 rankings: The struggle is real for Joe Biden

If Joe Biden were a stock, he’d be a “sell.” Or a “hold” at best.

Why? Because the man who spent eight years as vice president, another 30+ in the Senate and has been the front-runner in the 2020 race since the day he got into it continues to struggle to convince voters and donors that he is their guy.

In Iowa, Biden trails Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and has South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg hot on his heels, according to Real Clear Politics’ polling average. In a new CNN New Hampshire poll, Biden trails Warren as well as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and, again, has Buttigieg gaining.

Yes, national polling — including CNN’s — continues to give Biden an edge. But often national polls are a lagging indicator of candidate movement. Typically, as an election gets closer, polling in early voting states matters more since the campaign and the candidates (and the voters) are actively engaged in those places.

Then there is the money primary. Biden has never liked raising money and, as a result, never been terribly good at it. But even by those lowered standards, the fact that he ended last month with less than $9 million in the bank is truly incredible. Especially when you consider that Buttigieg, the mayor of his hometown(!), ended the quarter with almost three times what Biden had in the bank. (Buttigieg closed September with $23 million on hand.) And that both Sanders ($34 million) and Warren ($26 million) have campaign war chests that dwarf that of Biden.

While money isn’t entirely determinative, it does reflect organic energy and support. And without it, Biden will struggle to compete in not just the early states but as the calendar widens to places like California in early March. Which is why, of course, Biden allies have started a super PAC designed to make up the cash deficit between him and the other main contenders. While they know Biden will take a hit from campaign finance reformers, they also know he needs the financial infusion. And badly.

Could Biden still be the nominee? Sure! He remains the preferred candidate of minority voters, who have been — and will be — a decisive presence in past nomination fights. But Biden today is in a much weaker position than he was even a few months ago. And this is the time to be peaking, not losing your stride.

Below, the 10 candidates with the best chance of winning the 2020 nod.

10. Beto O’Rourke: The O’Rourke campaign is in deep, deep trouble. Just a year ago, the Texas Democrat was a wunderkind who nearly took down Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. He entered the presidential race with wind at his back. Today, O’Rourke is on the verge of not even making November’s debate. He only has two of the necessary four qualifying polls and has two weeks to find the other ones. (Previous ranking: 9)

9. Tom Steyer: If the billionaire businessman’s candidacy is doing one thing well, it’s keeping local and national TV stations raking in the bucks. Steyer has spent more than $35 million on TV advertising in the race to date — 86% of all the money spent by not just all the Democratic presidential candidates, but the Republican ones too. Why, given that, is Steyer not only on our list but moving up one slot? Because he’s already qualified for the November debate, which is more than any of the people ranked lower than him have done. (Previous ranking: 10)

8. Andrew Yang: The good news for Yang is that he’s in the November debate. The bad news is that even Yang’s devoted following won’t be enough to get him into December’s debate. To get there, Yang will need to start posting poll numbers that he simply hasn’t so far this year. Yang’s chances have always been slim, but by being on the debate stage he brings a voice to his ideas on issues such as automation. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator had a good week for one reason only: She qualified for the November debate, the ninth candidate to make the cut. That in and of itself doesn’t guarantee Klobuchar anything, but it gives her another crack at impressing voters who have yet to pay much attention to her just yet. And judging from her increasingly strong debate performances, Klobuchar should be up to the task. (Previous ranking: 7)

6. Cory Booker: Booker is saying “look over here!” in response to Democrats unhappy with their top tier. Booker’s liberal, though not too liberal, message seems to strike at the heart of the party, and he remains well-liked among primary voters. Unfortunately for Booker, being well-liked and earning support are two different things. Booker isn’t close to qualifying for December’s debate. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Kamala Harris: The news that Harris’ campaign was reorganizing to focus exclusively on Iowa is a sour sign of the times for the California senator. Harris has been on a steady decline since her star turn in the first debate and her money appears to be running out now — or at least very low. It’s not clear how much longer she can last in the race, but she already qualified for the November Democratic debate. (Previous ranking: 5)

4. Bernie Sanders: The jump from five to four on our list is yuge. We could make the argument that Sanders is in his best position to win the nomination during the second half of 2019. He’s at or near the top of the field in New Hampshire. Though Warren seems to be stalling, Biden has his own problems. Sanders, though, doesn’t lead in Iowa and is well in back nationally. Plus, there’s that whole thing of him being an independent and not a Democrat. (Previous ranking: 3)

3. Pete Buttigieg: Mayor Pete is right where he wants to be. He’s surprisingly well-funded and is showing traction in Iowa and some, although less, in New Hampshire. He’s also effectively positioned himself to be the beneficiary if (or when) Biden falters in a more major way. And Buttigieg has spent the last few months positioning himself as a sensible problem-solver — attempting to draw a contrast with the likes of Warren and Sanders. (Previous ranking: 4)

2. Joe Biden: It’s pretty clear the former vice president does lead nationally. Biden also continues to hold an edge in endorsements. Biden though looks very vulnerable in New Hampshire where he placed third in our recent poll. He’s not leading in Iowa either. Few presidential nominees in the modern era didn’t win either Iowa or New Hampshire in the primary. Biden can rightfully make the claim that none of the other candidates have black support, but will that support hold without a win in Iowa or New Hampshire? (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Elizabeth Warren: Warren has the clearest early state path to the nomination. One thing to keep an eye on, however: Is she able to win over minority voters? Among all non-white voters in the CNN national poll, she trailed Biden and Sanders among that crucial group. (Previous ranking: 1)

CNN