My Analysis of the Early Democratic Primaries
Writer’s Note: New Hampshire results are still unknown at the time of this writing. My random comments here are non-partisan and do not reflect support for, or opposition to, any candidate. As I like to say, political science doesn’t care about your feelings.
— If Bernie Sanders wins the NH primary, and he should win today, DNC and old guard Democrats will become even more panicky. They’ll attempt to create a moderate-wing firewall in the SC primary (coming in late Feb.), where Sanders floundered in 2016. In the meantime, look for establishment Dems to become more outspoken in their concern and criticism of Sanders in national media. They’ll openly question his electability in the general election. Hillary Clinton has already latched onto this “stop-Bernie” resistance. If Obama speaks out as well, that weight might be enough to stop Sanders’ momentum and kill his chances of winning the nomination. This division between liberals and moderates will likely turn ugly, especially given there’s still resentment from the way Sanders was treated by the Dem establishment in the ’16 race. This divide should be very alarming to those who oppose Trump in Nov. Should he be the nominee, Sanders will need the Dem party establishment and moderates. And any presumptive moderate Dem will need Sanders’ 25-30 percent voting bloc to turn out heavily in Nov. to win.
— Pete Buttigieg continues to gain momentum and has become the wild card in the Dem race. This is totally uncharted territory. Experience used to matter in elections, but Buttigieg’s thin resume might not be a factor as he improves his stage presence on the campaign trail, sharpens his message, separates himself from the much older candidates, and continues to attract followers. With little or no voting record, there’s not much to criticize (one reason presidential winners often come out of nowhere — Trump, Obama, Clinton, Carter). Buttigieg’s being gay won’t be talked about by his opponents but lingers as a serious concern as to his electability. Given minority-support is absolutely essential to winning the nomination, and Buttigieg lacks significant Black or Latino support at the moment, combined with those constituencies being more traditional towards gay acceptance, it’s difficult to foresee any path to the nomination for Buttigieg. The March 3rd primaries will determine if he indeed becomes the “moderate” firewall to stop Sanders. My projection is, his percentages will top out at around 25 percent and then fade after Super Tuesday. Just way too many obstacles here.
— Ideally, Buttigieg wants a two-person primary race — himself vs. Sanders or Warren. He believes he’ll win over moderates and establishment Dems while also pecking away at some percentage of progressives. This is Buttigieg’s best chance to win the nomination (Biden and Klobuchar dropping out). However, don’t discount Bloomberg in the race.
— Joe Biden’s support continues to fade at an alarming pace. He stands the chance of finishing fourth yet again (Biden was fourth in Iowa). This would have been utterly unthinkable a few months ago. Ex-vice presidents aren’t supposed to be struggling on this level. Typically, they’re way in front or among the co-leaders in early primaries. Biden has run a horrid campaign, so far. While Trump’s attacks and phony allegations of corruption would be a factor in the general election particularly when fueled by the conservative slime machine, the disinformation campaign has no impact on the primaries. What’s ruined Biden has been his own repeated gaffes and probably more consequential, his failure to excite voters and/or attract new supporters His debate performances were uninspiring. And now, Biden has gone on the attack, even running ads targeting Buttigieg. Who would have thought an ex-VP would have to resort to blasting a mayor that was polling at just 5 percent back in December? This is a sure sign of desperation.
— Biden looks doomed. He’s looked upon as stale. But he could stage a comeback should he somehow finish in the top 2 in Nevada, which demographically is a good state for Biden. The old so-called “Harry Ried political machine,” which put gave H. Clinton a primary victory in ’16 seems to be Biden’s biggest lifeline. This is a shame, really. Nevada is one of the final caucus states and party insiders hold all the cards. Nevada skews slightly older (good for Biden), is wielded to unions (good for Biden), has a comparatively small student demographic (good for Biden), and doesn’t vote as an outlier (good for Biden). If Biden doesn’t do well in Nevada, that will foretell of serious problems to come.
— Elizabeth Warren appears frozen at 15 percent. Her percentages look immovable at the moment, unlikely to lose much support but even less likely to gain new supporters since Sanders is (arguably) the current frontrunner and has raised a huge campaign war chest. Short of some coup ‘de tat within the party ranks designed to stop Sanders, using Warren as the last firewall, I don’t see a path for her to the nomination. Warren has also committed some self-inflicted errors in the campaign which will be difficult from which to recover. If/when Warren drops out, that sets up a fascinating scenario: Her support is likely to split, with ideological progressives going to Sanders while the more feminist #NeverBernie contingent latches on to the opposing frontrunner (anyone but Sanders).
— Amy Klobuchar desperately needs Biden to crash. And fast. If Biden bombs in the Nevada caucus and somehow Klobuchar pulls off better Super Tuesday numbers than her moderate rival, she could become the presumptive Dem establishment favorite. This would be key to gaining endorsements and campaign donations, which will be essential. She also needs a win somewhere come Mar. 3rd, if possible (Minnesota, her home state, would be a nice start). Klobuchar should be playing a long game here, a sort of horserace scenario where she runs 3rd or 4th the first half of the race and then closes strongly down the stretch. There’s some concern Klobuchar will be able to get into the top three, but comparatively speaking, she looks like the far better runner over Biden (and perhaps Buttigieg, also). The major question is, can she whittle away support from Biden (and perhaps Warren)?
— Andrew Yang is the Liberal-to-Moderate-Pro-Business-Social-Libertarian candidate in the race, holding at 5 percent. He’s unlikely to extend his percentages beyond that, but given his message has resonated with a contingent of loyal followers, he’ll be taken seriously for another month or so. Yang is counting on getting at least 10 percent in Nevada, and perhaps finishing 4th or higher, which would keep him in the race into the spring. Yang’s problems are Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg — all of whom will gain supporters as rivals decline. It’s hard to foresee how Yang factors in this race, other than tossing his support to one of the other candidates and having a small role as a novelty speaker at the national convention.
— Michael Bloomberg is running a most unconventional campaign, carpet bombing the national airwaves with ads and using his vast personal fortune to set up a formidable political organization. While Bloomberg is polling poorly, his message (“I’m the only candidate in the race who can beat Trump”) is likely to gain some traction. Bloomberg faces obstacles, namely his lack of personal engagement with Dem primary voters and his vast wealth which is looked upon in some progressive circles with suspicion. Bloomberg needs Biden to exit also, as quickly as possible, in an effort to become the presumptive moderate frontrunner. Bloomberg may also be counting on a brokered Democratic National Convention coming in the summer. He’s got the money to ride out a series of primary defeats and even fade the perception of irrelevance until he possibly comes out of nowhere as the compromise choice among delegates.
— Tulsi Gabbard should have done much better in this primary race as a candidate. Early on, Gabbard looked to be a JFK-for-the-21st-Century Democrat — youthful, vibrant, military background, ethnic, female, effective as a speaker and debater — but she never caught on and has been little more than a distraction in the race. Gabbard has no constituency in the party at this point and is presumably staying in the race to posture for name recognition and future speaking engagements. Big mistake by Gabbard in deciding not to run for re-election in 2020 as a congresswoman.
— Tom Steyer might be relevant here if it were not for Bloomberg, who has both a name and a resume. It’s difficult to understand why Steyer stays in the race, other than the chance to get some free press. He’s certainly sincere in his beliefs, but one would think it’s time to throw his “support” behind another candidate. He should be out of the race after Mar. 3rd.
— Final Thoughts: This should be a three-person race so far as serious contenders go, after Mar. 3rd. Sanders will be one of the frontrunners. The other two are expected to be moderates. Sanders has unusually high negatives within the party at this point, as insiders remain mistrustful of him as a bona fide independent and self-described democratic socialist, a socialist sheep in democratic wool. However, none of the moderates, aside from Buttigieg, generates much enthusiasm. Michael Bloomberg seems poised to be the unknown factor in this race, particularly if he can climb into contention with some delegate support.