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As Election Season Unofficially Starts, Here's Where The 2020 Democratic Field Stands

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's Labor Day, the unofficial last day of summer and the unofficial start of election season. Yep, we are one year and two months away from Election Day, but who's counting? We're two debates into the Democratic primary. Two fundraising deadlines have come and gone. The field of 20 candidates has been cut in half, down to 10. So who's going to be on stage for the next debate on September 12? Let's ask senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right, you have been digging into the polling data, fundraising numbers. And while it's still early, Joe Biden is still the Democratic front-runner. But he is a man who is not without vulnerabilities, correct? What are you seeing?

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, look - Democratic strategists have been waiting for the Biden implosion since before he even got into the race, it seems. But, you know, he's made several missteps on the campaign trail. He had a pretty rocky first debate. And guess what? That implosion hasn't happened. His brand has shown sort of a degree of resiliency with at least a certain segment of the Democratic Party. He's got big leads with older black voters, older voters, generally, and even more support with women than any other candidate in the race right now, which might seem counterintuitive.

MARTIN: Yes, because there are women in the race. Yeah.

MONTANARO: (Laughter) Right. But the fact is, we've seen a lot of women sort of doubt if other women can win. And, you know, the support, though, for Biden, I have to say, is far from a majority at this point. He's got something of an enthusiasm gap, and he struggles with voters under 35 years old. And he's just not been that crisp, and there are a lot of questions about the long-term strength of his candidacy.

MARTIN: So who's best positioned to leverage those vulnerabilities? Like, if Biden stumbles in a big way, if the Biden implosion happens, who is best poised to gain ground?

MONTANARO: Well, I'd say no one's had a better summer than Elizabeth Warren. I mean, she's seen a steady rise in the polls. She had two really solid debates. Her fundraising is on track. She's seeing some big crowds. She's been the most heavy on policy and plans, in some ways. She's caught on because of her warmth and enthusiasm, though, frankly. I mean, if you're someone who doesn't like the moderation of Joe Biden or the democratic socialism of Bernie Sanders, then you might like the, quote, "big structural change" - as she calls it - but still capitalism of Elizabeth Warren.

You know, the one vulnerability she has, though, is a pretty big one. Lots of Democratic voters we talked to question if she can win. And it feels more like a psychological barrier, frankly, that this is a lot of a holdover from Hillary Clinton having lost. They see another woman running, and they're not sure. And a lot of the people who say this are women, frankly. But, you know, a lot of the people who have now started to cross this psychological barrier and given her support, you started to see her rise, and they say, you know what? Look - women have been the backbone of the resistance to Trump since he took office. And they just think that she's the, quote, "best athlete on the stage."

MARTIN: But where's everyone else at right now, I mean, especially as we look ahead to the next debate?

MONTANARO: You know, one person I think - still have to look at is Kamala Harris. I mean, a lot of Democrats seem to want to have a reason to vote for her. They think she's got a lot of potential - former prosecutor. They like to see her on the debate stage. They think she could take on Trump. She saw a rise after that first debate with - where she took on Biden, but then she kind of receded. What we hear is that on the issues - health care, climate change, for example - there's just other candidates who are bolder and clearer. And we'll see if she finds her footing. And especially if Biden falters, she seems well-positioned to do well with black voters, especially in South Carolina.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Domenico Montanaro for us. Do you believe it? It's just the beginning of campaign season. I can't believe it...

MONTANARO: Yeah, happy Labor Day. A few months to go before the first primaries.

MARTIN: (Laughter) All right. We'll keep following your reporting. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: All right. You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "A HUNDRED MOONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.