Spoiler Alert: Joe Biden isn’t going to win Super Tuesday.
There, I said it.
Then again, maybe nobody does.
It’s true that Biden looks like a winner right now, less than 48 hours after snagging 48% of the vote in South Carolina. But what does that add up to going into tomorrow’s Super Tuesday delegate extravaganza? Probably not much, or at least not enough to regain his lost frontrunner status.
To show you why, let’s indulge in my favorite election pastime: Wargaming.
Super Tuesday Super Wargame
Just like the candidates, we’ll take this state by state, starting with the giant mutant donkey in the living room. (What? “Elephant” didn’t seem very appropriate here.)
If there’s one thing we learned from South Carolina, it’s that Joe Biden hasn’t lost his touch with black voters, and Bernie Sanders never found his. Sanders also does very well with well-to-do white progressives and Latinos — who make up a substantial part of the California electorate. Take those three things together, and California looks pretty good for Sanders.
Polling averages give Sanders an almost two-to-one advantage over Biden, almost identical to the results from Nevada ten days ago. California will send a whopping 416 pledged delegates to the convention in Milwaukee, and they’re awarded proportionately.
Complicating things: Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both dropped out in the last 24 hours, but their names remain on the ballot. “Hundreds of thousands” of California Dems have already cast theirs, courtesy of early voting. Those who might have switched their votes from Pete or Amy to Biden can’t do so.
Further complicating things: TV stations were still running pre-bought Tom Steyer ads days after he dropped out. That might have been long enough to drown out the news that Steyer was gone. Between the three recent dropouts, that’s about 15% of Dem support that could go any which way, but probably too late to help Biden in a state where he was never that strong.
I’m always loath to make predictions, so let’s say instead that if Sanders got 200 or more of California’s delegates, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Recent polls have Biden surging to just six points (on average) behind Sanders in Texas with its 228 delegates. That said, those polls might not be a very good gauge of actual results, since more than a million Texas Dems have already cast their ballots.
PJ’s own Matt Margolis wrote earlier on Monday:
I’ve never been a fan of early voting, but the nature of primary elections makes early voting particularly problematic. The whole purpose of primaries is to pick one candidate to represent your party, and when you have a particularly large field of candidates — any of which can drop out at any time — early voters take a huge risk by being too impatient to wait until Election Day.
Indeed. If the candidate you loved so much that you voted early for them, got caught the day before the primary with the proverbial “dead girl or live boy,” you’re the one who’s pretty much screwed.
My gut says: Sanders comes out on top, but not by as much as in California.
Also keep in mind that my vote is granted exactly zero Texas primary votes.
Biden by most accounts enjoys a small lead over Sanders in North Carolina, where 110 delegates are at stake. Fox News reports that Mike Bloomberg is fading in recent polls. It at least feels like Biden ought to win this one bigger than the polls suggest, given how he outperformed with a similar-but-not-identical electorate in South Carolina on Saturday. N.C. has a smaller black and larger Latino population than S.C., so if trends hold it’s probably Biden’s to win, but not as bigly.
— WTOP (@WTOP) March 2, 2020
Virginia sports 99 delegates and a crapload of fanatical state-worshippers in NoVa. Polling is thin, with Biden up a bit a month ago, and Sanders leading by nine more recently. Virginia’s electorate has changed so much in the last 30 years, with an influx of government workers and well-heeled lobbyists and the like.
Do the state-worshippers break for the guy who promises to radically increase the size of the State, or for the guy with a proven record of delivering the goods?
If just one big state is going to surprise tomorrow, it’s most likely Virginia.
The smallest of tomorrow’s Big Five, Massachusetts is Warren’s home state. If she loses here to Sanders, how does she not drop out? The two of them are neck-and-neck for first place, apparently Bernie with the edge. Biden and Bloomberg are fighting it out for a distant second, but no one will care because the real action is Sanders vs. Warren. She’s been such a non-entity so far, but with 91 delegates to be chosen in Massachusetts, even a close second might increase the odds of a brokered convention.
Also for Our VIPs: Bernie Isn’t Going To Be President
And Another Thing
The thing to remember in the Big Five Super Tuesday states is how the DNC awards delegates. A majority of each state’s delegates go to the winner in each congressional district. But about a third are doled out according to the statewide results. That has the tendency to give an outsized share of each state’s delegates to the statewide winner, which is a bit of a kink in the Dems’ proportional-allotment system. That’s why Biden was able to score enough delegates just in South Carolina to nearly catch up with Sanders (54 to 60, total). An outsized win in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, or especially California would go quite some way toward giving that winning candidate an insurmountable delegate count.
But enough to give them the momentum to grab the 1,990 delegates required to win the nomination outright? We’ll see.
Also voting on Super Tuesday: Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, Maine, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, American Samoa.
Little or no polling of those states, but if trends hold you can expect Sanders to do well in New England with Warren — and maybe Bloomberg? — scoring delegates, too. Sanders ought to clean up in the West, Biden in the South.
With 401 pledged delegates to be awarded in these remaining states, maybe the results will be muddled enough that the road to 1,990 delegates will be more like the road to Chicago 1968 Redux we’ve all been dreaming of.
Chief Monkey Wrench
Liz Warren seems determined to limp along, grabbing whatever delegates she can for purposes unknown. She has no path to the nomination, and given how far left she’s turned, and how little the Democrats need more votes in Massachusetts, she hardly seems a fit pick for veep. She has but eight delegates, all won a month ago in Iowa and none since. What she’s still doing in the race, aside from avoiding the ego hit of dropping out before her own state votes on Tuesday, is a mystery.
The Big Unknown about Mini Mike
I haven’t talked about Mike Bloomberg much, because here we are a month into this contest and he still hasn’t faced any voters. How do you handicap a guy with one unimpressive debate performance, zero contested primaries, and 60 billion dollars? Maybe his massive, two-week-long attack ad blitz on Sanders will boost Biden. Maybe Bloomberg will boost himself just enough to further divide the Not-Sanders vote. Maybe he’s playing for a brokered convention, and that’s exactly what he’ll get. Until we see some results, we have a lot of questions and no answers.
What I can say for certain is that I’ll drunkblog the results on Tuesday night, and I hope you’ll join me for all the fun.
And if that fun were to lead to another Chicago ’68 scene in Milwaukee this summer, we’ll all need a drink.
UPDATE: Just after this column went live, Pete Buttigieg announced his endorsement of Joe Biden. I never thought loser endorsements meant very much, but I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow.
If it means anything, it’s probably to muddy the waters even further. So onward to Chicago! I mean Milwaukee! I mean Chicago!