What a weekend, and what a week ahead! Biden comes back from the dead, doing the math on the Super Tuesday delegates, and why Mike Bloomberg might be setting himself up to be remembered as one of the most colossal underachievers in presidential-campaign history.
Forget a New York Minute. In a South Carolina Weekend, Everything Can Change.
The most interesting dynamic in the race right now is the battle between the factors supporting Joe Biden — African-American support, the Democratic establishment’s increasing desperation to nominate someone besides Sanders, the steadily narrowing field, and fewer non-Sanders options to split the vote — and the factors working against him: that he’s the same 78-year-old rambling symbol of the Washington establishment, best known as the wacky, amiable veep to a president who is oddly reticent as this campaign continues.
Remember, Biden led Iowa until last fall, and the late polling had him still in the mix for a strong second. Biden enjoyed polling leads in New Hampshire as late as January. Democratic voters in those states abandoned him because they thought he would falter in a general election against Trump. The idea of a Biden candidacy — driven by memories of the younger, sharper Biden from the Obama years — is stronger than the actual Biden candidacy. But Democrats may conclude they would prefer to roll the dice with wacky, forgetful Uncle Joe over Bernie Sanders, who’s inspiring his Saturday Night Live parody doppelganger to declare regarding the coronavirus, “you know who was great at washing his hands? Joseph Stalin! Just saying!”
At this point, there’s almost no scenario where Bernie Sanders does not finish with the most delegates by the time all the votes are counted from Super Tuesday. But Sanders’s lead matters less than the margin of Sanders’s lead.
(And it may take quite a while to count those votes: “In California, for example, vote-by-mail ballots don’t have to reach county elections officials until three days after the election, as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day. In 2018, it took weeks for some races to be decided in California.” We’re going to have some results from California tomorrow night, and almost everyone expects Sanders to win. The bigger question is the margin.)
The threshold to clinch the nomination is 1,991. Right now, Sanders has 56, Biden has 48, the now-departed-the-race Buttigieg has 26, Elizabeth Warren has eight, Amy Klobuchar has seven, and Mike Bloomberg has none. (More on him below.) Tomorrow fourteen states, one territory, and “Democrats Abroad” will vote, with 1,357 delegates up for grabs. Every Democratic primary in every state has a 15 percent threshold to win any delegates. Almost all the states award a portion of their delegates based upon the statewide vote and then a portion based upon who wins each state’s congressional district. On paper, a candidate can win a delegate without hitting 15 percent statewide if their support is concentrated in one district — but if you’re not hitting 15 percent statewide, you’re probably not winning many congressional districts.
If Biden is within 100 or so delegates of Sanders at the end of Super Tuesday, it looks like a competitive race all the way to the convention. If Sanders is up by a number closer to 200, his lead will be tough to overcome.
California has 415 delegates at stake. Right now, Sanders is leading, Biden is probably above the 15 percent threshold, Warren is probably just above it, and Bloomberg is close to the threshold. The disaster scenario for Sanders opponents is that they all finish with 14 percent or so, he gets the overwhelming majority of the state’s delegates, and the rest of the field has almost no chance of catching him. If Biden, Warren, and Bloomberg hit 15 percent — a plausible scenario, if Buttigieg’s voters split the right way among the three — then Sanders’s lead from the state will be much smaller. One other wrinkle: As of Thursday, more than 2.7 million voters in California had returned ballots in early voting. Buttigieg was getting 10 percent in recent polls in California, and Tom Steyer was getting 2.7 percent. If the early vote mirrors the polling average, about 324,000 Californians have already cast ballots for a candidate who quit the race.
The Trump campaign must be giggling like there’s a nitrous oxide leak, as the pieces are falling into place for a long, costly, and nasty primary all the way to the convention in Milwaukee in July. Either the Democrats nominate Sanders and carry the down-ticket burden of the socialist label (along with fracking costing them Pennsylvania and pro-Castro comments costing them Florida) or the superdelegates deny Sanders the nomination, sending the already-volatile Bernie Bros into a destructive rage.
Sanders is still the front-runner, and now Biden has reestablished himself as his top foe. But there’s one other guy who appears determined to stay in it for the long haul . . .
Psst! Gargantuan Ad Spending Is Obscuring the Fact That Mike Bloomberg Is Flopping.
Mike Bloomberg spent more than half a billion dollars on campaign advertising a week ago, more than twice the previous record. Tomorrow will reveal whether that fortune was wasted on a futile effort to sell a candidate that the Democratic electorate was simply not interested in buying. So far, the signs are ominous for the former New York City mayor.
Every Democratic primary in every state has the 15 percent threshold to win any delegates. This morning in the RealClearPolitics average, Bloomberg is at 13 percent in California, 16.7 percent in Texas, 16 percent in North Carolina, and 11.5 percent in Virginia.
The two most recent polls in Colorado put him at 14 percent and 11 percent. The one recent poll in Maine puts Bloomberg at 14 percent. A poll in Utah puts him at 19 percent. (They must have thought his large soda ban was aimed at caffeine. I kid, my dear Mormon readers, I kid, because I love.)
One poll last month did give Bloomberg the lead in . . . Arkansas, by a point over Biden. Yeah, that surprised me as well. So perhaps the mayor from New York City — “New York City?!” — could finish with the majority of the state’s 31 delegates.
Nor is Bloomberg likely to win delegates in his opponents’ home states. The only recent poll in Vermont puts him at 7 percent. The three most recent polls in Massachusetts put Bloomberg at 13, 13, and 9 percent. There have been only two polls in Minnesota in the past month, one putting him at 9 percent and the most recent putting him at 3 percent (!).
Nobody’s polled Democrats in Alabama or Tennessee.
Add it all up, and you’ve got extremely slim pickings for Bloomberg tomorrow. He could pick off some delegates by winning a congressional district here and there. His advisors are already telling reporters that there is no result on Super Tuesday that would be bad enough to get him to quit the race. (I am reminded of the slogan, “too big to fail.”)
But after spending a half-billion dollars, and having the airwaves entirely to himself in some states . . . shouldn’t he be winning someplace besides Arkansas? There aren’t even many states where he’s a strong second place.
If Bloomberg does flop, it will be a valuable lesson for every other billionaire who looks in the mirror and sees a president staring back at him. If you are not a naturally good campaigner, and if you do not emotionally connect with people, and if you are not prepared to go into a debate to defend your record and reputation, you will not succeed. Period, full stop, it doesn’t matter if you spend a half a billion.
If Bloomberg falls flat on his face, and discourages other billionaires from launching their own vanity campaigns, he will have done the whole country a giant favor.
ADDENDA: I went back and checked — back on January 2, I wrote: “There’s a good chance that two months from now, every delegate in the first four contests will have gone to one of four white candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Pete Buttigieg.” Every delegate in the first four contests went to one of five white candidates, that quartet and seven delegates to Amy Klobuchar.