The conventional wisdom coming out of Thursday night’s third Democratic presidential debate is that it probably didn’t change much. And that may be true. With the exception of Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s (D-Calif.) bump following the first debate, we haven’t really seen big shifts after the candidates clash in these forums.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t mean anything. And on Thursday, we learned plenty about many of the top candidates. Given that, we decided this would be a good time to dust off our regular look at the top 15 Democratic presidential hopefuls.
As usual, this is in order of likelihood to win the nomination.
Others running: Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Joe Sestak, Marianne Williamson
15. Sen. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.): He has none of the four qualifying polls to make the next debate, nor has he passed the donor threshold. The Coloradan may not be long for this race. (Previous ranking: 11)
14. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock: See above and substitute “Montanan” for “Coloradan.” (Previous ranking: 13)
13. Former congressman John Delaney (Md.): Ditto for the Marylander, but he does have his own money to keep throwing at the race (specifically, Iowa), as long as he doesn’t start viewing it as good money after bad. (Previous ranking: 15)
12. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii): Gabbard is the big question mark ahead of the next debate. Unlike the above candidates, she has two qualifying polls and has met the donor threshold. That means she needs two more qualifying polls at 2 percent or more before Oct. 1. She claimed she had a third this week (the Washington Post-ABC News poll), but the Democratic National Committee said she didn’t hit 2 percent among the right group of respondents. (Previous ranking: N/A)
11. Tom Steyer: He’ll be a new face at the next debate, after meeting the poll requirement. And he’s done it by basically inundating the early states with ads paid for by his personal fortune. Impeachment didn’t come up at Thursday’s debate; it will in October, thanks to Steyer. (Previous ranking: N/A)
10. Andrew Yang: The businessman makes his debut on this list not because his debate was especially good (his $120,000 giveaway was a gimmick and legally problematic), but because he has a real, unique message on artificial intelligence and automation that could be compelling if he can deliver it — and because he’ll apparently have that opportunity at future debates. That’s not something the previous candidates can necessarily say, as you can see above. (Previous ranking: N/A)
9. Former congressman Beto O’Rourke (Tex.): O’Rourke has now staked his candidacy on being the gun-control candidate, going further than anyone in the race (and almost any Democrat in recent history) by supporting mandatory assault weapon buybacks. Republicans have said for decades that Democrats are coming for people’s guns, and now O’Rourke is confirming it — at least in his case. We’ll see if it can arrest his almost continuous backward momentum. (Previous ranking: 9)
8. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.): As a Minnesotan, I feel that Klobuchar’s jokes have set back my home state. Mostly, though, I don’t think she has a constituency yet. Even the pragmatic progressive lane is kind of full between Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg and Julián Castro. Maybe she can pick up support if Joe Biden implodes, but that’s a big if combined with a big maybe. (Previous ranking: 7)
7. Former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro: Castro’s botched attack on Biden obscures his thus-far-solid debate performances. But even those performances haven’t gotten him much. Perhaps that’s why he tried too hard on Thursday. He’s clearly still playing to win, but at some point you have to wonder if he starts to worry about alienating front-runners for whom he might be an attractive running mate. (Previous ranking: 8)
6. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg: A third solid, studied debate performance. The hurdle with him remains whether people are intrigued by the young upstart or actually see him as a president. And you could certainly argue that he hasn’t produced as much momentum as his fundraising suggests he should. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.): This was the best debate to date for him. Engaging, personal, funny (“First of all, I want to say no. Actually, I want to translate that into Spanish: No.”). He’s still at 1 or 2 percent in virtually every poll, though, and given that, you wonder whether he’s raising the kinds of funds he needs to truly compete. We’ll find out in a few weeks. (Previous ranking: 4)
4. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.): She’s lost any semblance of her initial first-debate bump, and her performance Thursday was occasionally somewhat strange — particularly when she was laughing hard at her own lines. She’s an upside candidate, but she’s not realizing that upside yet. (Previous ranking: 2)
3. Former vice president Joe Biden: Thursday was his first decent debate, meriting a bump up on this list. But he still was clearing his own rather low bar. And some of his answers — particularly on race and when he said, “Nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime” (uh, what about Bernie Madoff?) — suggest he hasn’t fully righted the ship. (Previous ranking: 5)
2. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): He got pushback on Medicare-for-all on Thursday unlike what we’ve seen before, with plenty of opponents arguing against getting rid of private insurance. Buttigieg in particular crystallized the opposing case: “We take a version of Medicare, we make it available for the American people, and if we’re right, as progressives, that that public alternative is better, then the American people will figure that out for themselves. I trust the American people to make the right choice for them. Why don’t you?” There are reasons it’s impractical to keep private insurance alongside a public option, but at least we’re having that debate now. Its resolution is hugely important for Sanders. (Previous ranking: 3)
1. Sen Elizabeth Warren (Mass.): She was something of a bystander in Thursday’s debate, but her opening statement about her Oklahoma upbringing and early professional life was on point, and we have yet to see anybody really be able to knock her down (even on Medicare-for-all, which she supports). Given her sustained upward momentum, the status quo is good for her. She’s not tops in the polls, but she’s the odds-on favorite. (Previous ranking: 1)