Op/Ed

Eric Davis: Chances dimming for some Dems

Next week’s Super Tuesday primaries will help answer several questions about the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
First, can Bernie Sanders win enough delegates to have a realistic chance of being nominated on the first ballot at the convention? Sanders appears to be leading in most Super Tuesday states — including California and Texas, the two largest states to vote that day — and may be the only candidate who will win delegates in all 14 states on March 3.
The Democratic Party’s proportional representation and 15 percent minimum rules mean that Sanders could win more than half of the delegates next Tuesday with about 40 percent of the vote. That outcome would result from Sanders’s opposition being divided among several candidates, some of whom do not reach the 15 percent threshold, especially in the states with larger delegations.
Second, can Joe Biden finish first in South Carolina, and use that as a springboard to Super Tuesday success? Polls in South Carolina indicate the state’s Democrats prefer the former vice-president to any other candidate. For a win in South Carolina to be anything other than a flash in a pan, Biden needs to follow up with strong finishes, at least second place, in several Super Tuesday states. To become the leading contender in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party, Biden would need to finish ahead of Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar in most states, and ideally deny Sanders a majority of the delegates elected on March 3.
To do so, Biden would need to expand his support beyond African-American and older voters, his key constituencies in states that have voted so far. Sanders’s strong showing among Latino voters in Nevada will pose a challenge to Biden in California and Texas, states where Latino voters make up a substantial share of the Democratic primary electorate.
Third, can Michael Bloomberg recover from his disastrous performance in last week’s debate, and remain a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming primaries? Bloomberg plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising and organization over the next few months, but that spending will not matter if voters do not believe he can stand up to President Trump in debates and then defeat the president in November.
If Bloomberg finishes behind Biden in most Super Tuesday states, his continued presence as a candidate could help Sanders, by preventing the moderate wing from consolidating either around Biden or Bloomberg himself. In those circumstances, Bloomberg might be better off spending his money on behalf of the eventual Democratic nominee, and on behalf of Democratic candidates for the House and Senate, rather than on his own campaign.
Finally, will any candidates withdraw after Super Tuesday? At this time, Amy Klobuchar’s options are narrowing. After a strong debate in New Hampshire, and a third-place finish in that state’s primary, she received less than 10 percent of the votes in Nevada. Her home state of Minnesota may be the only state in which Klobuchar obtains delegates next week. If so, she may have little choice but to suspend or end her campaign.
Pete Buttigieg’s voters tend to be white, older and highly educated, but this is not a large enough coalition to win the nomination. Unless Buttigieg can show support from younger, diverse and blue-collar voters, he, like Klobuchar, may face limited options going forward.
Can Elizabeth Warren finish ahead of Bernie Sanders in her home state of Massachusetts next Tuesday? Can she persuade enough progressive Democrats in the large Super Tuesday states — California, North Carolina and Texas — to vote for her over Sanders?
Warren continues to receive small contributions, but seems unlikely to become the nominee. Her best prospect might be to win enough delegates to remain active through the convention, and then hope to be nominated as “everybody’s second choice” if Sanders is unable to assemble a first-ballot majority.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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