The first debates are done, second-quarter fundraising totals are rolling in and the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination is intensifying.
Here are The Hill’s latest rankings of the top contenders.
1. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Warren is not leading in any national polls — yet. But she is on the rise and her message on the stump is resonating louder than anyone else’s.
The Massachusetts senator also appears to be on the brink of supplanting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as the standard-bearer of the left— a development that would fundamentally reshape the race.
Warren was the clear winner of the first night of debates in Miami late last month, even though her performance was overshadowed by a more controversial clash the following evening.
She continues to blast out policy proposals at a rate that outpaces her rivals. On Friday, she outlined a plan to boost pay for non-white women.
Warren is making serious efforts to court black support, an effort that suggests she hopes to create a coalition broadly similar to the one that propelled then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to victory in 2008.
Warren, whom critics paint as a stiff, professorial figure, has proven a far warmer and spontaneous figure on the campaign trial than that caricature would suggest. She has posed for about 35,000 selfies in the last six months, according to her campaign.
The race is close, and a solid case could be made for having former Vice President Joe Biden or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at the top of this list.
Warren is third in national polling averages, behind Biden and Sanders. And Harris had an even better night at the Miami debates.
But like a runner who sits comfortably at the shoulder of the leaders, Warren is perfectly positioned at this stage of the race.
2. Former Vice President Joe Biden
Biden can’t credibly be placed lower than second, given that he is the leader in national polls and that his fundraising prowess is prodigious. He raised $21.5 million in the second quarter.
But Biden has problems.
His subpar performance at the first debate hurt him in lots of ways.
It eroded his support among black voters at a stroke. It raised grave questions about whether he would, after all, be the strongest candidate against President Trump — the central rationale of his candidacy. And it also stoked concerns on the sensitive issue of his age. Biden is 76.
The former vice president took a long time to clean up the mess, as well. In a CNN interview broadcast Friday, he said he “wasn’t prepared” for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) to attack him as aggressively as she did. Only on Saturday did he finally apologize for, in previous remarks, having given “the impression to people that I was praising” two deceased southern segregationist senators.
There is an enormous amount of general goodwill toward Biden among Democrats. But will that translate to votes when the crunch comes?
Hillary Clinton, an ideologically similar figure, had much bigger polling leads than Biden does now in the early stages of both the 2008 and 2016 cycles — only to lose one battle to Obama and be pushed to the brink by Sanders in the other.
That’s one of many factors that augurs badly for Biden.
3. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
Harris had the biggest moment of any candidate in the debate when she took on Biden over school busing in starkly personal terms.
The exchange, replayed frequently on cable news and on social media, was rocket fuel for Harris’s poll standings.
She vaulted to second place in two national polls in the immediate aftermath, rising 13 points in one, from Quinnipiac University, and 9 points in another, from CNN/SSRS.
The debate has also boosted her profile and popularity with black voters, whose support will be vital if she is to prevail.
Harris’s performance in the debate was just the kind of breakout moment that she needed, after an initially vibrant campaign has begun to stagnate in the polls.
Still, the Californian does face questions.
Her new prominence invites investigation of her own record as California Attorney General and as district attorney in San Francisco.
This history includes elements that unsettle progressives, notably a harsh approach to truancy and a resistance to appointing independent investigators to look into shootings by the police.
Harris has also been unsteady on some elements of policy. Her own view of school busing is not entirely clear and she has given confusing answers on whether or not she favors the elimination of private health insurance.
Harris has a real shot. She also has some real weaknesses.
Previous ranking: 3
4. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sanders’s first run for the presidency, in 2016, far surpassed expectations. This time around, the expectations were much higher — and he has failed to meet them, so far.
Sanders has made the case that he was the first to espouse the kinds of views that have grown more popular among Democrats, particularly regarding income inequality and the imperative to make college more affordable.
This is true. But it does not appear to be expanding his support.
In the RealClearPolitics (RCP) national polling average, he is stuck around 14 percent and has recently been pushed into third place by a surging Harris.
His partisans believe his message resonates and that he has real strength on the ground in early states, particularly Iowa.
Sanders has already won a moral victory — the Democratic Party has moved in his direction.
Whether he can win an actual victory in the battle for the nomination seems a lot more questionable.
Previous ranking: 2
5. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg, just 37 years old, was the media flavor of the month when he launched his campaign.
He has parlayed that attention into startling fundraising strength — he raised $24.8 million during the second quarter, a bigger total than higher-polling candidates including Biden, Harris and Sanders. (Warren has not yet declared her second-quarter fundraising total.)
Buttigieg’s appeal is his youth, his articulacy and a sense that he can appeal to voters beyond the Democratic base.
But he has an obvious shortcoming, too: his support among black voters is strikingly low. That weakness has likely been exacerbated by the controversy that followed the recent police shooting of a black man, Eric Logan, in his home city.
Buttigieg has his niche but, unless his support among black voters ramps up, it is hard to see how he breaks out of it.
Previous ranking: 5
6. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro
Castro had the best debate of any of the second-tier candidates, with his impassioned and knowledgeable responses on immigration propelling him to the fore.
Castro also very clearly got the better of his fellow Texan, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) in exchanges on that topic.
It is very hard to see Castro making a serious charge for the nomination — he polls at under two percent in the RCP national average.
But he is burnishing his reputation, and would make an attractive vice-presidential choice.
Previous ranking: 9
7. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Booker has always struggled to break out in such a large field, and that problem has not been resolved.
He had a solid performance in the debate, but was overshadowed by Harris.
He has been able to get media attention for some of his endeavors — last week he went to Mexico to meet people who were attempting to seek asylum in the United States — but that has not translated into significant support.
The bottom line is there is some “X factor” that Booker seems to lack. He has done nothing embarrassing during his campaign but he just hasn’t caught fire either.
Previous ranking: 7
8. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)
O’Rourke has been the single most disappointing candidate of this cycle so far.
A much-hyped launch fizzled, dogged from the start by O’Rourke’s ill-advised comment to Vanity Fair that he was “born” to run for the presidency.
He has signally failed to create the kind of excitement that he sparked during a close race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last year.
An attempted reboot of the O’Rourke campaign has not worked. Debating has never been his strongest suit and he suffered when Castro accused him of not having done his “homework” on immigration in Miami.
O’Rourke’s campaign to date has been a slow fade. He needs something truly exceptional if he is to climb back into contention.
Previous ranking: 6
9. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Klobuchar has a niche in the race — but the problem is that Biden already occupies it.
The Minnesota senator is overtly skeptical of the leftward tilt of the party, hesitant about the electoral appeal of proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare For All.
She acquitted herself capably at the debate, and had a particularly effective moment when she emphasized her commitment, and that of other female candidates, to the cause of reproductive rights.
It’s just not clear, however, that today’s Democratic electorate is buying what Klobuchar is selling.
Previous ranking: 8
10. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
Gabbard stoked curiosity during the debates, becoming the most googled candidate of the first night.
The Hawaii congresswoman, an Army veteran, is more vigorously critical of “regime change wars” and military adventuring in general than some of her rivals.
She is likely too idiosyncratic a figure to make it very far — not least because of her record of equivocating about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — but she at least has made some kind of an impression.