But all that money and time just for one night when CNN turned him into a foil for Sanders and Warren? Is that enough to justify his long campaign? Is that why he ran?

“No, it’s not why I ran. But I’m happy that at least we’re not talking about Medicare for All,” he said. “I do not think we’re going to put up a candidate who runs on Medicare for All. I think I had something to do with that.” With Sanders currently surging in polls, it’s uncertain whether Delany’s prediction is true—but his debate performance may have helped create a template for criticism of Medicare for All on political/fiscal-realism grounds that damaged Warren in particular.

He pointed to other ways he says he’s inflected the Democratic race, noting that the Washington Post op-ed he published when he launched his campaign invoked automation and job retraining long before anyone had heard of Andrew Yang. He says he’s helped keep Democratic trade policy from going off the rails. (He’s the only Democrat running, Joe Biden included, who still supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which not that long ago Barack Obama was calling his most important foreign-policy priority.) And more than a year before either Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg entered the race, Delaney was the rich businessman talking about the economy and self-funding his own high-circulation TV ads. (Steyer and Bloomberg are both a lot richer.)

As other candidates beat him at his own game or voice his ideas to greater response, Delaney’s been reduced to playing pundit, welcoming these candidates and their ideas into the race. He always knew that his campaign would be a long shot. His hope was that by getting in almost absurdly early, he could generate more attention, make himself less of a long shot. That didn’t work.

“Politics is not like other things,” he told me. “In a lot of things in life, when you’re there first, people realize you’re there first. You break a story, they know who broke the story. If you come up with an innovation, that’s protected, normally, so no one can just copy it.”

“I always believed in the Wayne Gretzky line ’You skate to where the puck is going.’ I think I was skating to where the puck is going. I think the puck’s gone there now. Do I wish I got more benefit for being the first to skate there? Yeah. Have I? No.”

I asked why, given that he seems to have reached the acceptance stage, he hasn’t ended his campaign, as many more prominent candidates have. He said that he’s by nature a person who finishes what he starts—and that means continuing on at least until the Iowa caucuses, on February 3, even though that will cost him more money, and bring his tally of trips to Iowa closer to 50.

In Montezuma, he told a local reporter that his aim now is to surprise.

What does “surprise” mean? I asked him a little later, as we were riding on his bus.

“I don’t actually have a firmer answer than that. Obviously, the expectations really are very low,” he said. “It’s kind of like, you’ll know when you see it.”

*This story originally misstated that Delaney had spent $40 million of his own money on his campaign. He has spent $10 million and loaned his campaign $25 million.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to [email protected]

Edward-Isaac Dovere is a staff writer at The Atlantic.



USA News


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here