2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries (Beau Lives)

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Presidential primaries and caucuses were organized by the Democratic Party to select the 4,051 delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention held July 25–28 and determine the nominee for president in the 2016 United States presidential election. The elections took place within all fifty U.S. states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and Democrats Abroad and occurred between February 1 and June 14, 2016.

A total of eight major candidates entered the race starting April 12, 2015, when former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton formally announced her second bid for the presidency. She was followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley, former Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Elizabeth Warren. Webb, Chafee, and Lessig withdrew prior to the February 1, 2016, Iowa caucuses.




Media Speculation regarding potential candidates for the Democratic Presidential Nomination began in the weeks following the 2012 re-election of President Obama. The speculation centered on the prospects of Hillary Clinton, the then-Secretary of State, launching a second presidential bid. Clinton, a former Senator from New York and First Lady, was a popular figure in public opinion polling, prompting many pundits to declare her the early-frontrunner for the Democratic Nomination.

In November 2014, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who had once served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration, announced the formation of an exploratory Committee in preparation for a possible presidential campaign. This made him the first Democratic Candidate to take steps towards a presidential bid. Webb was known as a political moderate, particularly on gun control, foreign policy, and illegal immigration, and was previously considered a frontrunner for the vice presidential nomination in 2008.

Given the historic tendency for sitting vice presidents to seek their party's nominations, there was also considerable speculation about the possibility of a Biden Presidential campaign. Biden himself had previously run for the democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008, and made numerous public comments about his interest in a possible campaign. However, Biden's interest seemed to wane in 2013, as his son Beau, was diagnosed with brain cancer. However, as the cancer entered remission, and Beau Biden re-entered politics himself, speculation picked up yet again, although Biden himself continued to waft on the question.

Both Biden and Clinton where considered to come from the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party's establishment, increasing speculation about the possibility of challenge from the party's liberal-left wing. Senator Elizabeth Warren became an early favorite of the liberal-left wing of the party, and a draft movement to recruit her became active in 2013 and continued throughout 2014 and into early 2015, despite her repeated denials in interest. MoveOn.Org and Democracy for American launched the "Run Warren Run" website, encouraging the Senator to run. This group would disband in June of 2015, before being reformed in September of 2015 as the Senator began to publicly reconsider her candidacy. However, by fall 2015, Warren began to reconsider her decision not to run, and prepared a small team to consider the possibility, before reversing her position.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont had been the subject of some speculation. A self-described "democratic socialist," Sanders was popular among liberal-left Democrats, despite being a registered independent. Sanders had privately considered running against President Obama in the 2012 primaries, before deciding not to, although this information would not come out until later in the primaries. Sanders began to gain traction in 2013, and gave an interview to Salon laying out several reasons he was considering a campaign. In March of 2014, he stated that he was "prepared to run for President of the United States," but felt that a formal announcement was premature.

In 2012, former Governor of Maryland Martin O'Malley had formed the "O'Say Can You See" PAC to support Democratic candidates and ballot measures across the country. O'Malley admitted in August 2013 that he was "laying the framework" for a presidential run, and repeatedly expressed interest in a possible campaign on numerous occasions afterwards. Following the 2014 elections, O'Say Can You See hired a number of Iowa-based political operatives, in preparation for a presidential campaign.

Lincoln Chafee, the former Senator and Governor of Rhode Island, had previously been a registered Republican during his tenure in the U.S. Senate. After losing re-election in 2006, he changed his registration to Independent, and endorsed then-Senator Barrack Obama in the 2008 election. In a seven-way race, he was elected Governor of Rhode Island in 2010 as an independent. He was also co-chair of Obama's re-election campaign, and later changed his registration to Democrat in May 2013.

Lawrence Lessig, a semi-prominent academic based out of Harvard University, also entered the race. Lessig was a known activist, and had previously considered a run for Congress in 2008, before deciding not to run. The brief flirt with a campaign did generate his interest in politics, becoming an anti-corruption activist and advocating for a national constitutional convention to propose amendments to fix congressional corruption.

The 2014 Midterm Elections

The 2014 United States elections were held on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, in the middle of President Obama's second term. Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives and won control of the Senate for the first time since 2006. In waht commentators called a "red wave," republicans gained 9 seats in the US Senate, defeating incumbents in five states. Republicans held their largest majority in both chambers of Congress since 1929.

The race begins: November 2014 - April 2015

Shortly after the midterm elections, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb formed an exploratory committee to run for president. Webb released a 14 minute long video, reaffirming his moderate stances and framing them a strength to his potential candidacy, including criticizing the Affordable Care Act (which he voted for as a U.S. Senator), and arguing that the democratic party had neglected "white, working-class" voters in favor of "pandering" to minority voters. Although many Democratic leaders rebuked or outright ignored his comments, he did begin to gain some small traction, earning 1-3% in opinion polling.

While several Republican candidates began to announce their own plans to run, the Democratic campaign was comparatively quiet. Martin O'Malley would be the next candidate to move towards a Presidential campaign, converting his PAC into a full blown campaign operation and launching an exploratory Committee. O'Malley was considered a strong candidate, being considered more liberal than current frontrunners Clinton and Biden, but not as liberal as possible candidates like Sanders or Warren. This "middle" space, and outsider status, were seen as his biggest strengths as he began his campaign, although he struggled to get his name out there.

The remainder of early 2015 would remain quiet publicly until April. Efforts to draft Senator Warren began to fizzle out as the Senator repeatedly rejected such calls. Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton both increased staffing in the build up to a possible campaign. At this time, Vice President Biden remained mostly silent on the possibility of running himself, although allies of his, including Steve Steve Ricchetti, Valerie Biden Owens, and Ted Kaufman, began to informally explore a possible campaign.

On April 9, 2015, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee entered the race for President, announcing the formation of an exploratory committee.

The next real shakeup in the race came as Clinton formally announced her campaign via a YouTube Video. The widely anticipated announcement came after weeks of speculation, despite rumors that she would delay her announcement until the Summer. Her Campaign was headed up by Robby Mook, who had worked for her in the 2008 primaries, overseeing the Nevada, Indiana, and Ohio campaigns. After leaving the Clinton campaign, he went on to successfully manage the campaign of Jeanne Shaheen for United States Senate in 2008, and Terry McCAulife in 2013. He had also worked as political director, and later executive director, of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and oversaw their narrow victory in the 2012 U.S. House of Representatives Elections. Clinton was the third candidate with support in national polls to announce her candidacy, following Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio announced his candidacy on April 13, the day after Clinton. Some Democrats saw the proximity of Clinton's campaign announcement to Rubio's as advantageous, as Clinton's announcement might overshadow Rubio's.

With her announcement, Clinton secured her status as the frontrunner in both public opinion polling and fundraising, though pundits noted that her lead as "not insurmountable," and felt that she was particularly vulnerable to a challenge from her left.

On April 28, Sanders announced on Vermont Public Radio that he would formally enter the race on April 30th, with a launch event in late May. Sanders rebuked the idea that he was running solely to raise awareness or call attention to progressive causes, noting that he was "running in this election to win." He said he was motivated to enter the race due to the "obscene levels" of income disparity, the campaign finance system, and a "broken" healthcare system.

The field takes shape: May 2015 - September 2015

With Sanders' entry into the race, the Vermont Senator quickly gained traction. Fueled by an expansive network of grassroots supporters and small donors, Sanders jumped into the second or third place position, behind Clinton and the yet-to-declare Biden, depending on the poll. O'Malley also formally entered the race, but continued to poll in a distant fourth or fifth place, behind Senator Warren.

Two questions loomed over the Democratic field in the Summer of 2015 - would Biden run, and would Donald Trump clinch the Republican nomination. On the second question, business magnate Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the Republican in June of 2015, and quickly jumped in the polls to claim frontrunner status. Trump's policy positions were considered staunchly right-wing or even alt-right, particularly on immigration and trade. This made him a staunch contrast to the rest of the Republican field, and raised alarms for many Democratic activists who felt his candidacy could be dangerous.

And then there was the question of Biden's potential candidacy. By July of 2015, he had made no moves publicly indicating that he was going to run, but his sister and campaign manager, Valerie Biden-Owens, and aid Steve Ricchetti had already begun to identify possible staff. But without movement from the Vice President himself, there was little that could be done further. Clinton's presence in the race, Sanders' rapid rise in the polls, and the looming question about Biden, and to a lesser extent Warren's candidacy, had something of a "freezing" effect on the field. Several prominent candidates, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, and other prospective candidates, were believed to have sat the race out due to the strength of the leading candidates.

Democrats would receive their answers in August. On August 12, Biden, in his first public statement on the matter, told NBC News that he would have his decision "by mid-September," and acknowledged that he was entering the race relatively late. Around this same time, Biden formally formed his "The Scrappy Son of Scranton" PAC, and brought on his sister, Richetti, Kaufman, and Jen O'Malley Dillon as the PACs leadership. This PAC was the first move towards a formal campaign by the sitting VP, and had impacts on the race - Biden, polling in second or third in major polls, jumped into a narrow second place against Clinton. Biden's anticipated entry was confirmed on September 9, 2015.

Biden's candidacy raised questions about President Obama's support. Rumor's swirled in DC about whether Obama backed Clinton or Biden's candidacy, and reporters frequently questioned the sitting President on the matter. Eventually, on September 15, President Obama formally declared neutrality on the matter, and stated that he would support whoever the Democrats nominated going into the 2016 election.

In early September, Senator Warren also began to move towards a bid. Having previously declined to run or embrace the draft movement around her, on September 1st, Warren stated that she was "reconsidering" the prospect of entering the race, citing the rise of Donald Trump as one major reason. Like Biden, this move coincided with her taking formal steps towards entering the race, forming an exploratory committee later that same day. Warren would formally enter the race in October, just before the first debate.

With the entrance of Senator Warren, the top tier of candidates was set - Clinton led in first with a polling average of 21%, Biden in second with 19%, Sanders in third with 17%, and Warren in fourth with 15%. O'Malley trailed in a distant fifth, averaging just over 4%. No other candidate averaged above 2% in this time. With the four major candidates now in the race, the stage was set for a highly competitive primary ,

The race takes off: October 2015 - January 2016

The first Democratic primary debate was held in October of 2015, featuring all of the major declared candidates except for Lessig. The decision to exclude Lessig was met with some controversy, as Lessig bemoaned the polling requirement for entering the debate, which required that a candidate reach 1% in 3 national polls in the six weeks before the debate. Lessig's criticism of the requirement was that he was excluded from national polls, as the Democratic National Committee had not formally welcomed him to the race as they had for the other candidates. Senator Warren, in an interview just before the debate, criticized the decision, and urged the DNC to adopt standards that allowed all candidates to debate. Lessig would withdraw before the second debate, rendering the issue moot.

The first debate was held in Las Vegas Nevada, on October 13th, 2015, at 8:30PM EST. It was aired on CNN , with Anderson Cooper moderating, and Dana Bash, Juan Carlos Lopez, and Don Lemon presenting a additional questions. For each candidate, the debate came something of a proving ground. For Clinton, she sought to cement her first place status in the race, which had become rockier in recent weeks. For Biden, the debate was his chance to distinct his campaign from Secretary Clinton's, and throw her off her top place spot. For Sanders and Warren, the two of them attempted to brand themselves as the main progressive challenger to the two more moderate candidates. In the build up to the debate, Senator Warren released her campaign's "main pillars," a series of policy plans on topics such as healthcare reform, gun control, drug addiction, climate change, employment growth, and ending the war in Syria, with the promise of more to come. This proved to be an effective strategy, as many of the candidates where asked direct questions about the content of these policy plans, and during the debate, Warren branded herself as the "issues candidate," trying to put herself above the personal squabbles on stage.

Warren was widely considered by analysts to be the winner of the first debate, with Biden considered the loser among the top four candidates. Many analysts also branded Webb, O'Malley, and Chaffee as among the defeated as well, for their failure to combat the narrative that the race was effectively a four-person fight. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, argued that Warren had "completely controlled the flow of the debate... even when she wasn't talking, Senator Warren was the one steering the ship." Analysts were largely divided on who should take the second place spot between Sanders and Clinton. Sanders had perhaps the most viral moment of the night, quipping at Secretary Clinton that "the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails," much to applause from both the audience and the debate stage alike. Clinton meanwhile was praised for her articulate and succinct answers, which many analysts argued reinforced her message that she was the "most-ready" candidate among the group. Biden, meanwhile, branded himself as a results oriented candidate, pointing to his record overseeing the ARRA and withdrawing troops from Iraq. He received heavy criticism for his role as Senate Judiciary Chair during the Clarence Thomas Confirmation hearings, particularly from Warren and Clinton, over his treatment of Anita Hill. Biden defended his record, arguing that he took steps to reopen the hearing when the information went public, and that he opposed Thomas' nomination to the Court, as well as stating, for the first time publicly, that he made a mistake with respect to Hill's treatment during the process. Still, the issue seemed to haunt him with POLITICO branding it "the biggest skeleton in the closet" for Biden's campaign.

The first debate was the only appearance of Webb and Chafee, who ended their campaigns on October 20 and 23 respectively. Webb released a video, where he criticized the Democratic Party and its leadership, and floated an independent run. He did offer a tepid endorsement to Biden, calling him "the best of a bad bunch." Chaffee withdrew with less fanfare, issuing a speech at the DNC's Women's Leadership Forum in Washington D.C.

For Clinton, this this time also saw her offer considerable testimony on Capitol Hill in the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which had a "marathon" hearing with Clinton offering eight hours of testimony and answers. Particularly notable was a heated exchange between Congresswoman Roby and Clinton, when the Congresswoman asked for a minute by minute retelling of the events, to which Clinton laughed. Democrats on the Committee criticized Republicans, saying that they where wasting tax payer dollars to try and destroy Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign. To many analysts, however, the hearings provided some positive momentum to Clinton's campaign, with the Washington Post writing "GOP lands no solid punches while sparring with Clinton over Benghazi."

In this time, Senator Warren found herself the new contender for the second place spot, jumping both Biden and Sanders respectively. Many commentators compared her uptick in momentum to President Obama's 2008 campaign, citing her strong debate performances and sudden uptick in fundraising. Warren herself rejected the comparison, telling a reporter "I think its funny - when a woman starts to do well, we jump to find the nearest man to compare her too. I am my own person, and I have my own campaign." In the build up to the second debate, Warren's momentum was described as "insurmountable."

The second debate was held on November 14, 2015, in Des Moines Iowa, aired on CBS news, and moderated by John Dickerson. The day before the debate saw horrific attacks across the city of Paris, where nearly 130 civilians were killed by radical Jihadist Terrorists, specifically members of ISIS. As a result of the attacks, many speculated that the debate would be cancelled, but CBS announced the intention to continue the debate, with a new focus on foreign policy and international terrorism. IN addition, a moment of silence was held at the beginning of the debate in memory of the victims.

As noted above, the official topics of the debate where various foreign policy and international terrorism related questions. In general, analysts agree that Biden won the second debate, while O'Malley and Clinton where considered the losers of the night. One of the most memorable moments of the debate was when Clinton defended the claims that she had ties to Wall Street Bankers, particularly when Sanders and Warren pointed out that some of Clinton's largest donors were from Wall Street. Clinton retaliated by claiming that, as the Senator from New York during the September 11 attacks, she had to work closely with Wall Street as the attacks were so close to Wall Street.

The backlash was nearly instantaneous, with all of the other candidates jumping at the chance to rebuke Clinton for her remarks. Moderator John Dickerson read a tweet from a viewer, stating "[n]ever before have I heard someone use 9/11 to justify millions of Wall Street Donations," which elicited much applause from the audience. Even after the debate, Clinton continued to receive criticism for her remarks, from RNC Chair Reince Priebus and even her former campaign Manager, Patti Solis Doyle.

Clinton's poor performance, plus Biden's strong performance, helped bring the Vice President back into contention, rising from fourth place in the polls to second or third place. Regardless, at this point, it was clear the Clinton's status as a frontrunner was lost, and the top four candidates polled within striking distance of each other.

With the polls tight, each candidate would re-evaluate their strategy ahead of the December debate. Clinton doubled down on her "national campaign," refusing to triage any states, even as polls in New Hampshire showed her falling behind Senator Sanders and Senator Warren. Her campaign did up spending in the four early primary states, but Secretary Clinton continued to campaign across the country. Senator Sanders, on the other hand, focused exclusively on the four early primary states, aiming to "build a grassroots launchpad to the nomination," the idea being that winning 2/4 states would cement Sanders as the frontrunner for the nomination. Senator Warren had a similar approach going into November, but began to pull back from Nevada and South Carolina, choosing to re-direct resources to the Super Tuesday states in an attempt to gain a leg up over her challengers. Vice President Biden, by contrast, made the decision to triage his campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, and instead focus on South Carolina. The idea being that a strong win in South Carolina, the largest of the four early primaries, and the most diverse early primary state, would give Biden momentum going into Super Tuesday and enable the vice president to cement himself as the leading contender for the nomination. Polls in South Carolina showed a competitive race between Biden and Clinton, with Biden holding a slight edge within the margin of error.

The third debate ultimately never happened. The DNC revoked their sponsorship of the debate in the wake of a labor dispute between WMUR-TV and its unionized employees. In a controversial move, Vice President Biden announced that in the wake of the DNC's decision and solidarity with the unionized workers, he would withdraw his participation from the debate. Senators Sanders and Warren would follow shortly, with WMUR eventually cancelling the debate with only Secretary Clinton and Governor O'Malley remaining.

Instead, each candidate held an individual, half hour forum on CNN, where each fielded a variety of questions. Vice President Biden faced questions on Anita Hill, civil rights, and relations with President Assad of Syria. Senator Sanders faced questions about gun control, campaign finance reform, and US involvement in the Middle East. Secretary Clinton faced questions about her ties to Wall Street, strategy to combat terrorism, and role of the first spouse. Senator Warren faced questions regarding climate change, executive powers, and economic inequality. Governor O'Malley was asked about his campaign's viability, his strategy for the general election, and his plan to handle Iran. Few analysts declared a winner of these forums, given that the candidates did not have time to respond directly to each other.

Going into the New Year, Biden's strategy had begun to pay off, taking a solid lead in South Carolina, but maintaining some competitive viability in the other three early primary states. The fourth debate would be held a few weeks later on January 17, 2016, in Charleston South Carolina. The debate was cosponsored by NBC News and the Congressional Black Caucus, and was notable for being the final debate before the primary commenced. Major issues of the debate included gun control, each of the candidates relationships with President Obama, Homeland Security and preparedness, campaign finance, foreign policy, and gun control.

Each of the candidates, including O'Malley, were praised for strong performances, with many identifying Senator Sanders and Governor O'Malley as the winners of the debate. Clinton and Biden were also praised as "solid" but commentators noted that neither of them did anything to change the status quo of the race.

This was the third and final debate appearance of O'Malley, who would suspend his campaign after the Iowa Caucuses.

February 2016: Early Primaries

Despite having lead comfortably in the weeks leading up to the caucus, Secretary Clinton eked out a relatively narrow victory against Senator Sanders in the Iowa Caucus, the first-in-the-nation contest, by a margin of 0.75%, the closest in the history of the contest. Sanders strong performance was attributed to a late stage surge in youth participation, and an uptick in campaign spending in the last weak. Senator Warren also performed better-than expected, attributed to a strong victory in Des Moines. Despite having pulled out of the State, Vice President Biden managed to remain competitive within the state, and earned a handful of delegates as a result.

Despite having won the contest, Clinton's narrow victory proved to slow her momentum - Sanders and Warren both reported large increases in fundraising and new web traffic, but Clinton's donations remained steady, and her relative web traffic also dropped following her victory. The root cause of this was expectation bias - many expected a more dramatic victory for the once-heir apparent to the mantle of the party. Sanders and Warren, and even Biden, on the other hand, were expected to do far worse, and had overperformed expectations.

The only candidate to be culled by the Iowa contest was Governor O'Malley. Having received less than 1% of the vote in Iowa, and no delegates, it wasn't hard to see why, but still the campaign was subject to a number of "retrospectives" trying to determine what went wrong. The ultimate conclusion was that O'Malley lacked the national presence of his competitors, and failed to build one in a race filled with heavy weights. Part of it, however, must also be the general blandness of the candidate himself.