Balloon Juice and the invisible primary

The invisible primary component of the 2020 cycle is upon us:

The invisible primary is when candidates or proto-candidates assess their strengths, test potential coalitions and reach out to rare and valuable resources such as critical staffers and validators. There will be far more people running for president on the Democratic side who will never file an FEC report because the time between waking up in the morning and deciding that the person in the mirror should be in the White House and the end of the day will be quite informational. Quite a few people will have that thought but an inventory of their ability to access resources will show that there is no chance in hell of them even getting to a three way tie for third place in a delegate poor state.

We’re part of this invisible cycle. Balloon Juice is part of the liberal/Democratic extended party infrastructure. This community is part of the wide web of diverse stakeholders that slowly, somewhat haphazardly filters the field. It won’t be perfect; there will be some cranks and there will be one noters. We are part of the filtering process.

Balloon-Juice raised significant money in the 2012-2014-2016 and most recently the 2018 cycle. We generate analysis that is trusted and disseminated to other allied thought leaders and activists. We’ve shown an ability to push pithy responses (“tire rims and anthrax” and “hookers and blow”) to key analytical problems. The commenters and the front-pagers reactions to policies, positions, events and affects are important feedback for a slice of the activist base.

So as the primary season evolves, just remember that the collective zeitgeist of Balloon Juice is part of the invisible primary — not too bad for an almost top-10,000 pet, cooking, health policy, science writing, national security, screaming into the void blog.

59 replies
  1. 1
    Ohio Mom says:

    I am too nervous about how high the stakes are to see straight. So far, all of the potential candidates seem both shoo-ins and fatally flawed to me.

  2. 2
    jeffreyw says:

    I think the void may be answering. I keep hearing a voice saying “told ya so”.

  3. 3
    germy says:

    I’m at the “anyone but” phase: Anyone but tulsi or bernie.

  4. 4
    Yarrow says:


  5. 5
    germy says:

    @Yarrow: What did he do with the recount money we sent him?

  6. 6
    debbie says:

    I’d wish they’d stop with non-stop election cycles. Aren’t campaigns restricted to a several-month process in England? That sounds much better to me.

  7. 7
    James E Powell says:

    @Ohio Mom:

    I am too nervous about how high the stakes are to see straight. So far, all of the potential candidates seem both shoo-ins and fatally flawed to me.

    I feel much the same way, but I wonder in post-Trump era what exactly would be considered a flaw. And then I remember, when the NYT and the Village are talking about Democrats it could be anything or nothing.

  8. 8
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    I think the theme song for this clip, when it goes viral as I’m sure it will, should be the Queen/Bowie “Under Pressure”

    Jason Johnson @ DrJasonJohnson
    -LindseyGrahamSC just got fact checked by Chris Wallace on FoxNews about WHY senate rules for judicial appointees were changed. The result? Graham pulled off his mic and ended the interview in a huff
    -The fact check: LindseyGrahamSC continues the lie that Reid changed the rules for appointments to stop conservative judges. The GOP refused to even VOTE on many Obama appointees if Reid hadn’t lowered the threshold 44 would’ve had essentially not judges on the bench

  9. 9
    patrick II says:

    Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, and Wilmer (unnannounced so far I think) are running.
    Sherrod Brown is probably running
    Biden maybe.
    Who else?

  10. 10
    Chyron HR says:

    As a true progressive, I’ll accept any candidate other than the Democratic nominee.

  11. 11


    What did he do with the recount money we sent him?

    He counted it again and again, just as promised.

  12. 12
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ohio Mom: No candidate is ever going hit every one of the items on anyone’s wish list. Right now, I welcome Democrat who supports inclusion and represents a constituency with in the Party. I am going to keep my mind open and see who catches my interest. There is no need to pick now unless you really that Candidate X is your hill to die in this early in the process.

  13. 13
    germy says:

    @patrick II: Mr. Castro.

    Also, Kirsten Gillibrand is getting ready to run.

  14. 14
    Amir Khalid says:

    Here in Malaysia it’s officially a month: Parliament is dissolved 30 days before the election, and that’s the window you have as a candidate to file your papers, have your volunteers festoon lampposts with the party symbol, and go around maligning the other candidate.

  15. 15


    Aren’t campaigns restricted to a several-month process in England?

    The formal campaigns are limited, but the intra-party jockeying isn’t.

  16. 16
    Another Scott says:

    @debbie: The BBC News talking head made some comment on the introduction to a story about Castro’s announcement – something like “… kicking off the long campaign season that we’re all looking forward to [as he nearly rolls his eyes]…”

    Castro had a big crowd, with only a couple of AA women that I noticed. But that’s fine – at this point.

    My J, my resident Wilmer-or-Bust’er, started ranting about “identity politics” when she saw Castro, so we’ve got that “argument” to look forward to as well.


    Have a good Sunday, everyone.


  17. 17
    divF says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    festoon lampposts with the party symbol

    In the U.S., the lampposts are reserved for notices of garage bands playing at local clubs.

  18. 18
    H.E.Wolf says:

    Background reading recommendation:

    I recently read a memoir titled “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics”. The title is an homage to the famous poem/play by Ntozake Shange.

    The self-described Colored Girls are powerful figures in liberal politics, mentored by Coretta Scott King, Dr. Maya Angelou, Dr. Dorothy Height, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and other notable men and women.

    Their book includes a chapter about the individual dinners they hosted for dozens of would-be Presidential candidates, one at a time.

    They mentioned that it was the first time many of the candidates had ever dined with a tableful of African American women.

    They also noted that a number of the candidates mistakenly assumed that their interviewers’ expertise and interests would be limited to “black issues”.

    The memoir, as a whole, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from “white conservatives in diners”.

    The book is co-written by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore, with Veronica Chambers. Published in 2018.

  19. 19
    FlipYrWhig says:

    I don’t think Sanders will run. I think he’s more powerful — and, importantly, more ego-boosted — as the head of a faction whose collective ass everyone else needs to kiss than as a candidate himself.

  20. 20
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Another Scott: And your J thinks that “white male who dismisses the concerns of women and POC as ‘identity politics'” is…somehow *not* a form of identity politics?

  21. 21
    Jinchi says:

    Parliament is dissolved 30 days

    Crazy. Even a fool knows you can’t shut down a government for a month. It would be chaos.

  22. 22
    CliosFanBoy says:

    @divF: and lost pets.

  23. 23
    Another Scott says:

    @Miss Bianca: Don’t ask me to explain it. It’s baffling.

    She has regurgitated anti-Democratic candidate talking points for years – often sounding just like a Republican – but she doesn’t see it as anything other than arguing for more liberal policies.

    If I gently call her out on what she’s doing, she gets all offended and says that she’s been a Democrat far longer than I have, etc., etc.

    It’s mind-boggling. :-/

    But I love her anyway. ;-)


  24. 24
    H.E.Wolf says:


    @Amir Khalid:

    festoon lampposts with the party symbol

    In the U.S., the lampposts are reserved for notices of garage bands playing at local clubs.

    Last fall I noticed lamppost signs, similar in format to concert posters, promoting a statewide gun-safety initiative. It passed by a healthy margin in the Nov. 2018 election.

  25. 25
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    @FlipYrWhig: Roseann DeMoro said the other day that if Wilmer doesn’t run, a lot of his support will go to trump. That one is… interesting.

    And a couple of the D-Kos front pagers (at least that’s where I know them from) Armando real name I forget have suggested that there are whispers in the Wilmer camp that Nina Turner is planning to split and make a run herself. Which should be good for some laughs.

  26. 26
    joel hanes says:


    he’s more powerful — and, importantly, more ego-boosted — as the head of a faction

    His fifteen minutes are over. He, and the Wilmer die-hards, just have not yet realized that.
    They will not realize it until this election cycle demonstrated the degree to which they have marginalized themselves.

  27. 27
    jeffreyw says:

    @Miss Bianca:
    Yes, everyone plays identity politics, and if everyone is guilty then no one is. It’s a meaningless tribal identifier.

  28. 28
    WaterGirl says:

    @Jim, Foolish Literalist: Are Wilmer’s 15 minutes of fame up yet? Because I am so ready for him to fade to his rightful place, which is not pretending to be a Democrat for 45 minutes in order to get elected. Surely he can’t think that will work again?

    edit: ha! I typed this and published before seeing #26.

  29. 29
    JPL says:

    How many candidates are actually hoping to be the V.P. pick?

  30. 30
    jeffreyw says:

    All you people with your fancy lamp posts. We were so poor we had to look for dropped keys in the dark. Take your shoes off and kind of schruffle around with our toes, we did. For other people’s keys, I’ll add, we were too poor to have locks.

  31. 31


    I think he’s more powerful — and, importantly, more ego-boosted — as the head of a faction whose collective ass everyone else needs to kiss than as a candidate himself.

    Yes, but the grifting possibilities are much greater as a candidate. He’s running.

  32. 32


    How many candidates are actually hoping to be the V.P. pick?

    Or cabinet secretaries. Or to get their pet issue more attention. I think the number of really serious candidates will be limited.

  33. 33
    Jinchi says:

    I think it’s amazing that Democrats could easily have 4-6 women candidates running for the nomination in 2020 and the idea has become so normalized that it isn’t even considered news.

  34. 34
    laura says:

    Optimist that I am, hoping that the large field of Dems gets lots of policy positions out in the public domain. Shape the policies and then see who’s best to carry the policy platform in 2020.
    If the media ignores policy and limits the conversation to personality and the candidates simply tear each other apart we’re fucked again.

  35. 35
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Miss Bianca: do you think Castro is white?

  36. 36
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Another Scott: “None so blind as they who will not see,” as some ancient religious text or other has put it…sigh.

    Good luck with that one…

  37. 37
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Steve in the ATL: No, but I wasn’t referring to him.

  38. 38
    Jinchi says:

    @Roger Moore:

    I think the number of really serious candidates will be limited.

    In 2008, there were 8 serious candidates for the Democratic nomination, including 5 Senators, a former Senator, a Governor and a Representative. The primaries quickly narrowed it down to two, but all of them legitimately contended for the win.

    I expect at least that many to make it as far as Iowa and New Hampshire. This is a wide open election with no clear favorite and the best chance any of these candidates will ever have.

    My guess is that media favorites like Bloomberg, Biden and Sanders will not be in that final group contending for the nomination.

  39. 39
    Fair Economist says:

    People are talking about details but I agree with David’s point – the liberal blogosphere serves a lot of the purpose of generating ideas, slogans, and consensus that on the right is done by think tanks, because we have a lot less funding but a lot more genuine support.

    The rise of algorithmic media (“social” media is a misnomer because it’s not really social) has been a big blow to us because we have lost so much of the blogosphere. A lot of what remains is not so good for deeper analysis because there aren’t many frontpage position posts, so commentary disappears into the unsearchable ether.

  40. 40
    PopeRatzy says:

    I figure that if Tulsi Gabbard can run for president, so can I.
    My platform will be BACON.
    My answer to international problems will be BACON.
    My answer to domestic problems will be BACON
    My answer for the economy is BACON.
    Because BACON solves problems, how can you be upset while eating BACON?

  41. 41
    WaterGirl says:

    @PopeRatzy: With that platform, you should run as a republican. You are already head and shoulders above the rest.

  42. 42
    Butch says:

    @debbie: I think Lizza’s comment is more about the interminable speculation rather than the mechanics of running a campaign, which seems to be Silver’s focus. Maybe it’s a minority opinion but I’m finding the perpetual, endless election cycle tiresome and pointless – especially as it pertains to the discussions among the talking heads on TV.

  43. 43
    Yutsano says:

    @PopeRatzy: Losing the Jewish/,Muslim vote right from the gate eh? That will give you some cushion of fail.

  44. 44
    MomSense says:

    @Chyron HR:


    Of those that have announced so far, I’m solidly in the Kamala camp.

  45. 45
    MomSense says:

    @Miss Bianca:

    Some people are so stuck in the white male default identity they can’t see it. My mom was an early feminist and yet my millennial sons were calling her out on her misogyny about Hillary during the primaries. It was pretty obvious stuff, too.

  46. 46
    Another Scott says:

    @Butch: I think the talking heads love, love, love talking about who’s running for President because it’s so easy and cheap to cover. Just get out the roll-a-dex, call up their favorite white haired old white man or woman, get them to come in for 3 minutes, and move on. No need to do any actual research – except looking at trending Twitter threads – no need to find people who know history (except for maybe Beschloss or Goodwin) or economics (except for some CNBC or Bloomberg reporter) or foreign affairs or science or any other policy issues. That’s too boring.


    As long as politics can be reduced to “Are you running for President, are ya, huh, huh, please say yes so I can get an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!!!1??!!!” then that’s what we’ll continue to get from them.



  47. 47
    Miss Bianca says:

    @MomSense: Myself, the minute I hear some candidate use the term “identity politics”, I say, “right, you’re useless”, and write them off. And when I hear a Dem voter use that term, it makes me bugfuck nuts, as Adam likes to say.

  48. 48
    Martin says:

    Not only having to game out the viable campaigns, there aren’t enough workers out there with national experience to staff them all. So you normally have to staff up on those who know those early states where so many campaigns die, but this year, assuming the field goes as the GOP field did in 2016 where most of the field lasted well into the middle of the primary season, you need workers that know the big states, CA, TX, PA, FL, etc. How many CA staffers has Kamala grabbed? How many TX staffers are waiting for Beto to announce, and how many are already committing to announced candidates? With a big field, it’s important to get out early.

  49. 49
    H.E.Wolf says:


    All you people with your fancy lamp posts. […]

    Hee hee! Love it. :)

    My paternal grandparents, both born in 1900, met at university. On their first date, they went for a long evening walk, and at one point Grandpa shinnied up a lamp post to read his watch (and to show off).

  50. 50
    PhoenixRising says:

    Liz Warren: Not a viable candidate. It’s amazing & a reflection on just how hard the GOP has gone for white supremacy as its single organizing principle that she has been elected in MA. But west of about the Connecticut River, her support has barriers from the libertarian right (she wants government to solve regulatory problems) and the anti-racist left (what was she thinking, using a DNA test to validate the racist frame rejected by 100% of all tribes to determine Indian identity? she was thinking ‘I need to cover this base’ but no adviser stopped her from doing something stupid).

    Sherrod Brown: You can have that ‘promotion’ (dubious given that the Oval Office will need moral fumigation) as soon as you train your replacement for the Senate. Needs to be able to win Ohio, talk progressive regulation of the capitalist utopia our GOP overlords wish to promulgate, and take rumpled photos. Kidding about that last one, but this country cannot afford to lose a potential Senate majority. This was lost when Cordray lost the governor’s race. let it go….let it go….

  51. 51

    @jeffreyw: When I dropped my keys in front of my house, I would always go and look for them down on Main Street
    because the light was so much better there.

  52. 52
    nativeprof says:

    I agree with @germy (#3). I’m honestly starting to come around to Warren, who was my favorite before the DNA announcement. Thinking entirely affirmatively about what a president might actually accomplish: there’s nobody else with a policy agenda as smart and realistic as Warren’s. She’s not knee-jerk anti-capitalism; her Accountable Capitalism Act gives our system a stronger immune system, like what the New Deal did for the needs of the 1930s. She also has the concrete record of creating the CFPB, which shows me she can tackle meaningful consumer-facing reforms as well. I don’t worry that she’ll make a bunch of critical systemic changes that go unnoticed by voters, since she’s so much better than Obama at explaining things in simple accesible terms.

    The DNA announcement still makes me angry. But I was wrong in some earlier threads to call it toxic, and this thread is a wakeup call that we’re not just an isolated place to vent. To be clear, the DNA issue is not fake like the Hillary email slander. I see reporters calling it fake due to lack of public outrage from tribal leaders, while ignoring researching the thing itself. The thing itself is utterly shitty. But it’s also something millions of white people engage in by playing Indian with everything from family stories about Cherokee princesses to dabbling in New Age bullshit. I think it’s more like Biden and Anita Hill: an asshole move that doesn’t have to define someone.

    In the end, we can’t expect purity. And I’d rather forgive somebody who is fumbling to climb out of a mess bequeathed on her by her own parents’ misinformation than a serial groper or someone who refuses to join the Democratic party. Especially when the return on that forgiveness is a pretty damn good potential president.

  53. 53
    Origuy says:


    Take your shoes off

    You had shoes? We were so poor that we wrapped our feet in bread wrappers. Not that we ever had bread.

  54. 54
    VeniceRiley says:

    Any outside chance Bernie doesn’t get in and absolutely does his usual “ruin it for everyone” by endorsing Tulsi? It’s an asshole move I would not put past him.

  55. 55
    WaterGirl says:

    @Miss Bianca: For me the word I can’t take is “neoliberal”. If it’s in a headline or the text of an article I’ve clicked, I close it immediately. If it’s in the title of a BJ thread, it’s gone.

    I don’t know why it makes me so crazy, but it does.

  56. 56
    Miss Bianca says:


    In the end, we can’t expect purity. And I’d rather forgive somebody who is fumbling to climb out of a mess bequeathed on her by her own parents’ misinformation than a serial groper or someone who refuses to join the Democratic party. Especially when the return on that forgiveness is a pretty damn good potential president.

    Thanks, I appreciate that perspective.

    @WaterGirl: Oh, yeah, that’s a good bad one, too.

  57. 57
    PopeRatzy says:

    @Yutsano: While I have a personal opinion do you think Bacon only comes in Pork? I would never discriminate against those people foolish enough not to eat the ONE TRUE BACON. Hell, I’d even let them eat Eggplant BACON if that is what they wish.

  58. 58
    David 🎅🎄Merry Christmas🎄🎅 Koch says:

    Wilmer will run – he’s addicted to wagging his finger at others on tee vee.

    But the writing is on the wall: his support has collapsed in all polling.

  59. 59
    janesays says:

    Sherrod Brown absolutely cannot be the nominee. And I really like Sherrod Brown a ton, but here’s the problem…

    If he becomes the nominee and then gets elected, that is a lost senate seat, full stop, no doubt about it. Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine would get to pick the replacement, and that replacement would absolutely be a Republican.

    Losing that seat makes it extremely difficult for the Democrats to claim a majority in the senate, even while winning the presidency. Right now, they have to take 3 to get to 50, which would be the thinnest-possible majority requiring zillions of tiebreaking votes to be cast by the next VP. But we’re going to actually need 4, because Doug Jones is not going to be keeping that seat against any Alabama Republican not named Roy Moore. Take away Brown’s seat, and suddenly we need to flip 5 GOP-held seats just to get to 50. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that 50 seats is not a Manchin-proof majority.

    We can’t afford to lose a single Senate seat in 2020. Obviously if Brown is the nominee I would crawl over glass to vote for him, but I really hope it isn’t him, because it will almost certainly mean Mitch McConnell will still be the majority leader in 2021.

    Had the Ohio governor’s race gone differently two months ago, I would have no problem with Sherrod Brown being the party nominee, but that’s not the hand we’ve been dealt. It cannot be Brown. I’d honestly rather have Biden with a Democratic-controlled senate than Brown with a Republican-controlled senate, because we’re not going to get shit passed unless we have majorities in both houses of Congress in 2021. And I really don’t want Joe Biden to be the next president.

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