Did Bernie Just Become the Man to Beat Biden? Not So Fast...
All the talk in the Democratic presidential race these last few days has been "Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!" But all the action says "Biden! Biden! Biden!" Before we get to the why of the discrepancy, let's look at what's been going on over the airwaves and on the ground.
Polls themselves aren't very interesting, but we do need to take a quick look at the numbers before we get to the meat of the matter.
The chatter got going in earnest on Friday, with the release of the latest CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers. The numbers were a shock to some, showing Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders for the first time leading in the Hawkeye State. According to the latest numbers, the Old Man Who Shouts at Clouds took the lead from the recently unemployed former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. When when I say it isn't much of a lead, it really isn't, 20% to 16%. Sanders' four-point lead is [Bob Uecker voice ON] just a bit outside [Bob Uecker voice OFF] the poll's 3.7-point margin of error.
The poll was released at 6:00 pm Eastern on Friday. The internet exploded with "ERMAHGERD BERNIE!" at approximately 6:00.03 pm Eastern on Friday -- including Sanders himself.
Bernie Bros jumped on board, too.
The press went a little nuts, too, with headlines like these:
And of course, the Sanders campaign smartly took full advantage of what might prove to be a most temporary boost:
All of this based on a single poll, with a tiny lead barely outside the margin of error.
"And 'temporary,' you say?"
Yes, temporary. Because as I noted at the top, while the chattering classes are wetting themselves over a single poll, party bigwigs are coalescing around Biden.
I reported to you last week that Barack Obama and his former lieutenants "worry that Sanders is crazy enough to win the Dem nomination, but too crazy to win the general election." The only thing Team Obama doesn't have is a plan to actually stop him.
But maybe Nancy Pelosi does.
Shampeachment hasn't derailed Tuesday night's debate (yes, I'll drunkblog it!), but by delaying this thing from December and into the kickoff of the primary season, Pelosi has sucked much of the oxygen out of the room for challengers to Biden's frontrunner status. The rest of the establishment appears to be lining up behind Biden as well. John Kerry -- about as Establishment as it gets, and an early Biden backer -- just blasted Sanders for "distorting" Biden's record on Iraq. Democratic Congressman Colin Allred just became the tenth member of the Congressional Black Caucus to endorse Biden. Biden also just scored endorsements from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, and Iowa Rep. Finkenauer, whose district encompasses the kind of blue-collar voters the eventual Dem nominee will need to win back from Trump in November.
News items like those might be why Froma Harrop -- whose name sounds like the kind of Dickens character you love to hate -- wrote earlier today that "‘Energizer Bunny’ Biden is spooking the left." Progressive Dems want Most Anyone But Biden.
Going further, I maintain that it doesn't matter much who wins Iowa and New Hampshire, so long as Biden's firewall holds with black voters.
Pro Tip: It's holding up just fine.
And who is going to break that wall? The cranky old socialist? The preachy ex-mayor? The haughty onetime Ivy League professor?
Complicating things even further are billionaires Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. They're buying so many ads, especially in delegate-rich California, that they might be making it impossible for anyone without Biden's name recognition and party infrastructure to compete.
I'm not saying Biden has this nomination in the bag, but each passing day that no other candidate starts scoring big with the party's most reliable voting bloc is a day closer to Biden taking the nom.
That said, Sanders has a rabid core of supporters who -- win or lose -- will take him all the way to the convention, just like they did in 2016. And progressive distrust of Biden puts an upper limit on just how much the establishment can do to boost Biden at Sanders' expense before they become too disaffected to show up and vote in November. Pelosi's shampeachment schedule already has more than a few grumbling.
But the bottom line is: Forget the screaming "ERMAHGERD BERNIE!" headlines and social media explosions. Biden's still the favorite with about a 40% chance to win the nomination (per Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight), going up to 50% or so if he wins big in Nevada and South Carolina in the weeks before Super Tuesday.
Or maybe Biden will have a mental breakdown at tomorrow night's debate. Maybe Steyer's and Bloomberg's deep pockets will buy them enough love that the Dems end up with a brokered convention. At that point, all bets are off.
The suspense is terrible... I hope it'll last.