Ranking the top 5 2020 storylines to watch this week

5. Sunday reading: Here’s what I am reading today — and what you should read too! I read everything Peter Baker writes in The New York Times, including this one on President Donald Trump’s self-created crisis with Mexico. I also really liked this WaPo story on how the impeachment fight is very personal for lots of House Democrats. Jeff Greenfield says no one knows anything about how the 2020 race is going to end. And you have to read this terrifying piece on YouTube and the alt-right.

4. Debate do-or-die: The deadline for 2020 Democrats to meet one of the two criteria to qualify for the first 2020 debates later this month in Miami comes up on Wednesday.

At the moment, 20 candidates have qualified by either securing at least 1% support in three polls from an approved list of pollsters or positing 65,000 individual donors to their campaign from 20 states. Thirteen of those 20 are ensured a spot because they have met both criteria.

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado became the 20th candidate to qualify last week. While the candidates currently on the outside looking in — including Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — are downplaying the importance of the first debate, it’s hard to see that as anything other than spin. These debates — 10 candidates on stage for two nights (June 26 and 27) — are widely regarded as the formal-ish kickoff of the race. If you’re not there, well, that’s not good.
3.  Iowa, Iowa, Iowa!: In addition to Democrats flooding the Hawkeye State tonight — much more on that below — President Trump will head to the state on Thursday to raise money.

Trump has been a frequent visitor to Iowa since he won it in 2016 by 9 points. He’s been at least four times over the first two-plus years of his presidency, speaking to how critical he believes the state will be to his 2020 electoral map. 

It looks like an uphill climb at the moment. Polling in the state has consistently shown more people in the state disapproving of the job Trump is doing than approving. In Gallup’s 2018 year-end state-by-state approval numbers, 45% approved of the job Trump was doing while 51% disapproved. And in the 2018 midterms, Democrats picked up two Republican-held House seats and nearly ousted Republican Rep. Steve King as well. (Nota bene: Trump’s tariff war with China is deeply unpopular with the agricultural world in Iowa.)
The state’s importance in 2020 extends beyond the presidential, too. Democrats are working hard to make Republican Sen. Joni Ernst’s reelection race as difficult as possible.
2. No-Show Joe: Tonight, 19 of the 23 Democratic candidates for president will speak to the Iowa Democratic party’s Hall of Fame dinner — the first major Hawkeye State cattle call of the 2020 campaign.
Know who won’t be there? Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is attending his granddaughter’s graduation. Which, in a vacuum, is no big deal. But Biden’s no-show comes just a week after he was the only major 2020 candidate not to attend the California Democratic Party’s annual convention.

In California, Biden was present in his absence, with several candidates taking veiled shots at his decision not to attend. There’ll be more of that tonight in Iowa — and those veiled shots might turn a little less veiled.

Biden knows that. His calculation, at least at this point, is that passing on these giant candidate gatherings accrues to his benefit (making clear he is above and separate from the field) more than the where-is-he talk hurts.

For now.

1. Iowa comes into focus: Speaking of Iowa … we have fresh new CNN/Des Moines Register poll numbers that show where the race sands — and where it’s headed.

At the moment, it’s a four-way race; Biden leads the field with 24% followed by a cluster of three others — Bernie Sanders (16%), Elizabeth Warren (15%) and Pete Buttigieg (14%). No other candidates received double-digit support in the poll, although Kamala Harris (7%) had 14% of in-person and virtual caucusgoers — Iowa will let residents participate virtually in the caucus for the first time in 2020 — saying she was their second chance.

The numbers look best for Buttigieg, who, at the start of 2019 was a virtual unknown in Iowa — and everywhere else outside of his hometown of South Bend, Indiana. That he has catapulted into the top tier in the critical first vote of the 2020 race suggests he is more than simply a flash in the pan.

Although Biden continues to hold the top spot, there are warning signs for the former vice president. As CNN pollster Jenn Agiesta notes: “His supporters are less apt than others to say they are ‘extremely enthusiastic’ about him (29% vs. 39% for backers of all other candidates, and 43% among those backing his nearest competition in Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg). He also remains the best-known candidate in the field, suggesting he has less room to grow than other candidates who Iowa’s Democratic caucusgoers are still getting to know.”

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