Can Steyer Be Stopped?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The Californian in the race is gaining.

Tom Steyer has surged in polls in early state polls. In South Carolina, he’s second, and he’s gaining fast in Nevada.

Why? He’s spent more than $100 million on TV ads, raising his name recognition. And yet he’s not seen as a real contender, so there is relatively little critical coverage of him.

That’s actually the perfect set-up for him to continue to gain. The leading candidates—Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—are now all attacking each other, and thus hurting each other. So Steyer is positioned to take from Sanders and Warren with his populist rhetoric, and from Biden, given Steyer’s business profile.

Steyer may well rise until he actually wins something, like South Carolina. Then scrutiny of his business record, and his lack of experience in government, could start to hurt him. The Democrats’ anti-billionaire messaging might matter as well.

But at the very least, Steyer has secured considerable political gains, making himself a credible presidential contender, and a favorite for future statewide office.

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