Shortly after the New Hampshire primary, I spoke on the phone with my friend and former colleague Arnon Mishkin, who runs the Decision Desk operation for Fox News Channel. He’s a very smart guy, knows politics this way and that.
“There are three possibilities,” he said. “Sanders wins. Bloomberg follows your scenario. But I still think Biden has a good shot at it.’ At the time, Biden had finished fourth in Iowa (with 14.9% of the “first vote”) and fifth in New Hampshire (with 8.4% of the vote).
“That isn’t going to happen,” I replied. “No one recovers from that (finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire). No one.”
As Jim Cramer used to say:
A lot of things happened. Bloomberg’s campaign management happened. Bloomberg’s debate performance(s) happened. Congressman Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden happened. No less than James Carville said Mr. Clyburn “saved the Democratic Party.” South Carolina happened, big time. Black voters across the country happened, big time. Pete Buttigieg’s endorsement happened, which (in my view) helped Biden win Massachusetts, Maine, Virginia and Texas and do much “better than expected” in California. (Buttigieg has a bright future in national Democratic politics. He has a constituency). Sen. Klobuchar ending her campaign happened. Her endorsement was probably what put Biden over the top in Minnesota. Liz Warren flaming out happened. Whether that mattered I’m not sure.
But what was always happening was this Gallup insight (which I have referenced again and again because I think it’s one of the the keys to understanding the Democratic presidential primary campaign):
Six in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would prefer to see the party nominate the candidate with the best chance of beating President Donald Trump, even if that person does not share their views on key issues. By contrast, 36% say they would rather have the reverse: a candidate aligned with them on almost all the issues they care about, even if that person is not the most electable.
Democrats had been searching for that candidate for months. Last night, they settled on Joe Biden. Decisively.
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After he won The Masters in 1996, Nick Faldo said he wasn’t nervous during the final round until he took the lead on the back nine. We’ll see how Joe Biden runs as a front-runner. It will field weird to him, that’s for sure. And staying sharp and focused is not what you would call Biden’s forte. But he has been given a great gift: his opponent.
Senator Sanders ran a remarkable insurgent campaign in 2016 and nearly won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. This time, he’s had trouble getting a third of the primary and caucus votes anywhere, except in his home state.
Yesterday, for instance, he got 17% in Alabama, 22% in Arkansas, 33% in California, 36% in Colorado, 33% in Maine, 26% in Massachusetts, 30% in Minnesota, 24% in North Carolina, 25% in Oklahoma, 25% in Tennessee, 30% in Texas, 35% in Utah. 51% in Vermont and 23% in Virginia. (Percentages are subject to small changes, up or down, as not all the votes have been counted in every state).
Throw Vermont (his home state) out of the mix and you’ll see he did not manage to get 37% or more of the vote in any of the Super Tuesday states.
Sanders was not up against a strong field yesterday. Joe Biden was dead broke, disorganized and an “uneven” performer as a candidate (to put it politely). Michael Bloomberg was siphoning votes off from Biden with the largest television advertising and social media buy in the history of American politics. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign had collapsed to the point that last night she finished third in her home state of Massachusetts, with 21% of the vote. So the stage was set for a big Bernie night.
And he flopped. He lost 11 of 14 Super Tuesday states, including Texas, which I think will turn out to be the turning point of the primary campaign. If there was a new Sanders-styled Democratic Party coalition being born, it would have asserted itself in Texas, as it very nearly did, in a different context and on a larger scale, in the 2018 general election US Senate campaign. Bernie, it turns out, was not the next iteration of 2018 Beto. He was 2020 Beto.
So what happens now?
First, Sanders will read the hand-writing on the wall to say: You da man! Carry on! Bloomberg and Warren will “suspend” or end their campaigns. Biden will collect an avalanche of money and, at some point, the endorsement of former President Obama.
What we need to know, from a few more primaries, is whether the Democratic primary electorate is comfortable with Biden as their “beat Trump” champion, or whether they’d be interested in seeing what a brokered convention might produce. Clearly, they do not want to nominate Sanders.
I suspect we’ll know soon enough. If Biden wins the next three Tuesdays the way he won last night, he’s the nominee.
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For those looking to drill down into last night’s results, I highly recommend the Fox News Voter Analysis, which is Rupert Murdoch’s gift to the world of political analytics. It’s great.
Here’s a description of how the work is done:
The Fox News Voter Analysis, conducted in partnership with the Associated Press, provides a comprehensive look at voting behavior, opinions and preferences as America votes. It is based on surveys of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. For the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses, the FNVA results are based on interviews with a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files. In select states, these probability sample results are supplemented by interviews with self-identified registered voters recruited from nonprobability online panels. The FNVA methodology captures last-minute voter trends, which are of particular importance in the early caucuses and primaries, as well as the sentiments and behavior of early and absentee voters, who are significant on Super Tuesday and other later primaries.