And then there were 22.
The crowded Democratic primary field shrank by two this week, as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee joined former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in ending a long-shot bid for the White House.
To the casual follower of the primary race, Inslee and Hickenlooper might have seemed indistinguishable from among the clump of candidates hovering in the low single digits in polls. But in the Philadelphia region, they drew support from hundreds of voters for a range of reasons.
Hickenlooper, who dropped out Aug. 15, announced he’d instead run for Senate against Republican incumbent Cory Gardner — a move that many in the party, desperate to take back the Senate, were pushing him to make. Inslee, who focused his campaign on climate change but failed to qualify for an upcoming CNN town hall event on the topic, said Thursday that he’d run for a third term as governor. Neither was on track to qualify for the next round of presidential debates, Sept. 12 and 13 in Houston.
More Democrats may follow. Eleven still have not qualified and they have just six more days to do so. A place on the debate stage means unrivaled exposure to voters, the media attention that follows, and a way to raise money. (Analyses of local and national campaign finance show that donations spike following debates no matter how a candidate performs.)
As the field winnows, supporters will have to reevaluate their choices. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, at least 423 people gave donations to Hickenlooper and 3,024 gave to Inslee, according to data from fundraising platform Act Blue, which tracks donations under $200. Of those, 228 gave only to Hickenlooper and 1,167 gave only to Inslee.
We talked to a few fans to get their thoughts:
Leinsdorf, of Atlantic Highlands, N.J., said their experience running a state drew him to both candidates. “Originally, I said, let’s be real here: Ggovernors make stronger candidates than senators, historically,” Leinsdorf said. “Look at Clinton, Reagan, the Roosevelts. All these singular senators, I don’t know how strong they are. I think you’re looking at George McGovern,” the liberal nominee lost to Richard Nixon in 1972.
Leinsdorf said he also liked Inslee because climate change is an issue he thinks Democrats need to tackle. He saw firsthand the destruction at the Shore during Hurricane Sandy, which he blames in large part on climate change.
In the meantime, he likes the only chief executive left in the race, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. Leinsdorf, who himself is running as an independent for mayor of his Monmouth County borough, said he doesn’t pay much mind to the polls. He said he was disappointed that Inslee called it quits.
“You’re throwing in the towel in August of 2019?” Leinsdorf asked. “Before there’s been a caucus? Based on polls and rules by the DNC? To me, it just shows a lack of integrity and character.”
Vernon, 80, gave to Inslee because he wanted climate change to have a prominent place on the debate stage.
“That was my almost sole reason,” he said.
As for Hickenlooper, there was a more personal reason. Vernon formerly led the Colorado health department and as governor, Hickenlooper was his boss. “He was a terrific mayor of Denver and then a very good governor of Colorado,” Vernon said. “I gave him money because I like him. I believed from the outset he would not last.”
Now Vernon is hoping Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar starts to catch on, although he’s not holding his breath. “As much as I like her,” said Vernon, who considers himself part of the party’s center-left, “she hasn’t gotten much attention except for that terrific announcement in the snowstorm.”
Bishop, who gave only to Inslee and Hickenlooper this year, said her contributions were acts of encouragement rather than endorsement. “Also because they were constantly on my email,” she said.
Bishop’s first choice now is Joe Biden. “I think he’s a nice old granddaddy, and I think we need a nice old granddaddy who’s been there, done it, and seen it,” she said, adding that she has some interest in South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “I also like that nice man from Indiana. But I don’t think he has a prayer.”