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Ranking the Top 5 Democrats in the 2020 race

CNN's Chris Cillizza breaks down the latest movement in CNN's rankings of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

Posted: Jan 16, 2020 6:50 PM
Updated: Jan 16, 2020 6:50 PM

You can pore over every national and early state poll. You can interview dozens of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. You can talk to all the campaigns about their detailed voter ID and turnout efforts.

What none of that digging will produce is this: Any clear sense of who is going to win the Iowa caucuses in 18 days' time. Or really, anything else that happens after that.

Now, there's always some level of uncertainty built into this presidential nomination fight. Until voters vote -- or, uh, caucus -- all polls do is give us a rough sense of where things stand. (Remember: Polls are built on past voter turnout; if lots more -- or lots less -- people turn out than expected, the polling will miss the mark.)

But the level of not-knowing-what-the-hell-is-going-to-happen is much higher in this race than any we've seen in modern memory. Just four in 10 Iowa Democrats said they were locked in on their candidate choice in a CNN/Des Moines Register poll earlier this month. That's significantly lower than the 59% who said they had made up their minds about a candidate at the same time in 2016.

The simple fact is that voters still aren't sold on any of the candidates just yet. Former Vice President Joe Biden is regarded as the safe choice -- the known commodity that appeals to voters' heads but not their hearts. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have excited liberals but there are still doubts about whether either of them are the right profile to beat President Donald Trump. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the hot new thing. But he's young (late 30s) and people question whether he needs more seasoning before being given the biggest job in the country.

How to resolve these doubts? Simple: Voters vote. The act of choosing forces a clarity that will then give us some sense of where this race is headed. Until that happens? We wait, acknowledging we are flying more blindly than we have in a long time.

Below, our educated guess of the five hopefuls most likely to wind up as the Democratic nominee. Don't see your preferred candidate? Think someone should be ranked higher or lower? Never fear! We do these rankings every two weeks. So we will be out with one more set just before Iowa!

5. Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator wanted (needed?) a star turn at the debate earlier this week in Iowa to close the gap between herself and the four top candidates in Iowa. She didn't get it. Klobuchar was good but not great; her inability to remember the name of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly bordered on Rick Perry territory and likely was her most replayed moment of the night. But it's also impossible to entirely write Klobuchar off. She's got a real organization in Iowa and her Midwestern pragmatism could be a nice fit for people who don't want to be for Biden or the two liberal candidates. (Previous ranking: 5)

3 (tie). Elizabeth Warren: We're moving the senior senator up on our list for two reasons. First, although Warren is arguably in a worse position than Buttigieg in Iowa and New Hampshire, she is in a better position than he is nationally. Secondly, it's not really clear Warren is in a worse position in Iowa. She was within the margin of Buttigieg in two Iowa polls out this past week. We're also uncertain how recent skirmishes involving Sanders and her will play out. (Previous ranking: 4)

3 (tie). Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg is, weirdly, the most divisive candidate in the field. Just take his debate performance on Tuesday night as an example. Chris wrote that he came across as well-versed on the issues, authoritative and possessing the necessary gravitas to serve as commander-in-chief. Others thought he sounded like nothing more than a very good high school debater, with a set of memorized talking points that he proved effective at reciting. What's undeniable is that Buttigieg is very much in the mix in both Iowa and New Hampshire. And if he wins either one, he has a plausible path to be the party's nominee -- and even if he doesn't. (Previous ranking: 3)

2. Bernie Sanders: We've both written about how it's not far-fetched at all that the junior senator from Vermont could win the nomination. Polls taken in 2020 show Sanders is clearly near the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. And while most non-Biden candidates do significantly worse in states with sizable nonwhite populations, Sanders is holding his own in Nevada polling. If Sanders can win the first three contests of the primary season, then it's going to be very difficult to stop him. (Previous ranking: 2)

1. Joe Biden: The former vice president has the easiest path to the nomination. If Biden wins in Iowa, he is the heavy favorite to be the nominee. An average of polls has him right at the top of the field in the Hawkeye State. That would give black voters little reason to abandon Biden. He currently leads among black voters by about 30 points nationally. Even if Biden were to lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, he's still up by over 20 points in South Carolina. The question is what would happen to that lead if he is unsuccessful in the first few contests. Biden is, as he has been for a while, a vulnerable but still frontrunner. (Previous ranking: 1)

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 331863

Reported Deaths: 7494
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22855279
Hinds22625437
Harrison19462326
Rankin14765286
Jackson14233251
Madison10658227
Lee10398178
Jones8713169
Forrest8164157
Lauderdale7528243
Lowndes6761150
Lamar665988
Lafayette6446124
Washington5497139
Bolivar4907134
Pearl River4889149
Oktibbeha476898
Panola4719112
Marshall4648106
Warren4612125
Pontotoc438873
Monroe4243137
Union424379
Neshoba4179180
Lincoln4088115
Hancock402788
Leflore3562125
Pike3511111
Tate348988
Alcorn343174
Sunflower342293
Adams331987
Yazoo330573
Scott330175
Simpson313690
Copiah311467
Itawamba309580
Coahoma308285
Tippah298368
Prentiss292563
Covington280183
Marion278980
Leake277975
Wayne269942
Grenada265688
George259851
Newton256064
Tishomingo235769
Winston235084
Jasper225748
Attala220373
Chickasaw215960
Stone209137
Holmes194974
Clay191554
Tallahatchie181542
Clarke181480
Calhoun177332
Smith175334
Yalobusha169240
Walthall140448
Lawrence137026
Greene134934
Amite131843
Noxubee131135
Perry130838
Montgomery130644
Carroll124531
Webster116732
Jefferson Davis112934
Tunica110827
Benton104425
Claiborne104231
Kemper100329
Humphreys99033
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw80919
Wilkinson73232
Jefferson69028
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 565510

Reported Deaths: 11468
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson828061584
Mobile44938853
Madison36534532
Tuscaloosa26589465
Shelby26409255
Montgomery25598623
Baldwin23319324
Lee16691179
Calhoun15030332
Morgan14877288
Etowah14563368
Marshall12723235
Houston11302292
Elmore10576217
St. Clair10449251
Limestone10420158
Cullman10198204
Lauderdale9883253
DeKalb9226191
Talladega8705187
Walker7545286
Autauga7388113
Jackson7216117
Blount7147139
Colbert6522142
Coffee5962131
Dale5224117
Russell463942
Chilton4603117
Covington4502125
Franklin439781
Tallapoosa4343156
Escambia414782
Chambers3813124
Dallas3674163
Clarke361562
Marion3354106
Pike323179
Lawrence3176101
Winston289672
Bibb276165
Geneva267383
Marengo257367
Barbour241860
Pickens238862
Butler233571
Hale230578
Fayette223863
Henry203345
Cherokee192347
Randolph192244
Monroe190241
Washington174539
Macon167252
Crenshaw163457
Clay161859
Cleburne158445
Lamar149138
Lowndes143854
Wilcox128431
Bullock125342
Conecuh117730
Coosa115229
Perry109628
Sumter107532
Greene95935
Choctaw63125
Out of AL00
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Hi: 90° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 95°
Columbus
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Hi: 91° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 84°
Oxford
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Feels Like: 88°
Isolated to scattered showers and thunderstorms will continue to be the rule for our Saturday and Sunday. Otherwise, we will see high temperatures reaching well into the 90s for highs and heat index values between 100 to 115 during the afternoon hours.
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