Monthly Archives: February 2016

It’s Super-possible both nominees will be chosen Tuesday


Yes, that image is from 2008. But it so Super-well combines two of my loves, Presidential Politics and Comics, that I had to do it. You may have heard that this Tuesday is Super. Some election cycles it’s more super, some less so, but this year on both sides the calendar is so front-loaded that half of all the delegates will be chosen by the end of March. So this kickoff with more than a fifth of the states in the Union voting on the same day is pretty significant. In fact, I think a good case can be made that both nominations will effectively be decided tomorrow…


Sanders had been hewing pretty close to what I pegged in my first election blog of the year as his “best case”: “he wins Iowa, then New Hampshire, and does better than-expected in Nevada and South Carolina, and goes on to get a striking distance 40% or more of the states and delegates on Super Tuesday”. Until Sunday, when he lost South Carolina by almost 50%.

The campaign made a deliberate decision over the past week to basically concede the state, and concentrate resources on making as big a splash later in March as possible. It’s an understandable strategy in a case where you know you’re going to lose a state anyway and so does everyone else. But there’s “lose” and then there’s “get obliterated”. has an analysis suggesting that, if he performs as poorly with Black voters on Super Tuesday as he did he in South Carolina, even if he wins several other states, Clinton may do so well in the Southern states with larger delegate totals that she’ll open a delegate lead he just can’t catch even if he has upside surprises later in the month.

Another way to look at is to work backwards from the national numbers. Currently the averages show the following:


These numbers are kind of so all over the place that you can wonder what’s up, but it does look like the momentum is tipping back to Hillary. If you take the old data analysis trick of removing the highest and lowest (Clinton ahead by 17 and Sanders ahead by 3) and averaging the rest, you’d still come to the conclusion that Clinton is ahead by about 6% nationally. Over at, Nate Silver has a pretty sophisticated analysis indicating where Clinton and Sanders would be state by state if tied nationally. Let’s zoom in on the “Super Tuesday” portion of that:


If, instead of being tied, you assume Clinton is ahead by 6 points nationally, you’d expect Sanders to win Vermont, Minnesota, Colorado, and Massachusetts, and Clinton to take everything else. Since everything else in this case includes some very populous states, her delegate haul from that would put him far enough behind that he would not only have to perform, but outperform the rest of the contests to catch up. This is pretty much what Obama did to Clinton in 2008, and she was unable to rally back even though she stayed competitive the whole time, with several big wins along the way. And if Sanders doesn’t even manage to capture all four of those states…

Clearly he has the money and the core supporter enthusiasm to stick it out throughout March and well into April. And even if he does slip as I’m outlining here, I’d expect some surprises in March and April that will lead to “Sanders is back!” headlines. But the mathematical path forward is hard to see unless he really outperforms tomorrow.


If I think it’s starting to smell like Clinton pulls into an uncatchable lead tomorrow, this is doubly so for Trump. The Republicans have even more states on the docket than the Democrats do:


Some of these states haven’t had any recent good polling. But if you look at the RCP run-down of the ones that have, you’ll immediately see that Cruz has a lead in Arkansas and his home state of Texas, but everything else is coming up Trump. If Cruz isn’t performing better than that in the Southern states that should be his strongest, it’s hard to find a plausible scenario where he overtakes Trump later. Rubio has a somewhat more conceivable path, namely that if he can get himself into a one-on-one with Trump, he can start winning some of the large and more moderate “winner take all” states that are coming up later in the calendar.

Except, Cruz has every incentive to see how many delegates he can build up through the end of March, and Kasich is showing every sign of refusing to clear the stage for Rubio at least until his home state of Ohio votes  on March 15th. By then, Trump will have cleared enough of the board that he will be very hard to catch. We may know as soon as tomorrow if Rubio and Cruz are effectively unable to catch up. They could still stay in and keep anyone from getting enough delegates to take it before the convention , leading to a floor fight there. But the major donors are already showing reluctance to spend against Trump, and he’s getting his first establishment endorsements. The party may decline to join their fight, and instead get on board with Trump.

Tune in tomorrow, and we shall see!




A Slot Machine and a Palmetto walk in to a voting booth…


…and a President walks out? Well, probably not quite this early, but the next stage of our little every four-years elimination death match is happening this Saturday, courtesy of the Republican primary in South Carolina and the Democratic caucus in Nevada. (Nifty graphic above from, by the way.) So, how’s it looking?


All the leading indicators are giving Clinton an edge over Sanders, but also indicating that he’s surprisingly competitive. Let’s start with the straight polling. Nevada has only been lightly polled so far, but the recent polls all have Sanders and Clinton within a few points of each other:


Keep in mind that this is a state which, as recently as late December, Clinton led by more than 20 percent. Over at, their polls-only and polls-plus models are both tilting to Clinton:



In terms of margin, their polls-only model (which takes an average of polling, weighted by reliability of the pollster) has Clinton ahead by 4 points, and their polls-plus model (which takes the polling but also adds in effects of national polls, trend-line changes, outside factors like endorsements, etc.) has her ahead by 7 points. This is basically the same outcome as 2008, where Clinton beat Obama in the state 50.1% to 45.8%. It is, in other words, a very strong showing for Sanders, even if he doesn’t win.

If you recall my first election column of the year, Sanders seems to be not too far off what I outlined there as his “best case” scenario: “he wins Iowa, then New Hampshire, and does better than-expected in Nevada and South Carolina, and goes on to get a striking distance 40% or more of the states and delegates on Super Tuesday.” So far, he’s tied Iowa, blown-out New Hampshire, and is definitely better than expected in Nevada. Of course my next sentence in that column was that “best case” gives him, at best, a tough, but at least still conceivable path to the nomination. has just done an excellent state-by-state overview of what that might look like for him. If nothing else though, a strong Nevada showing for Sanders will keep South Carolina interesting when Democrats vote there next weekend.


All indications are that Donald Trump retains a solid lead in South Carolina. Which, let’s pause to think about it for a second, is really remarkable. A win there this weekend would make him legitimately the front runner of a party that continues to not want him, to the extent that a packed room of party operatives kept booing him at this past weekend’s debate, and he hasn’t picked up a single endorsement from a current or former Republican Governor, Representative, or Senator, despite being almost-continuously in the lead since he announced in July. The numbers, though, are hardly ambiguous. Based on eight polls all from the last few days, RCP has this:

rcpsc is showing the following:


And the betting markets agree:


As with New Hampshire, the real interest here may be in the second spot. Rubio seems to have recovered from his pre-New Hampshire debate stumble and fifth (!) place finish there, and is clearly narrowing in on Cruz. 538’s “polls plus” model actually has him narrowly beating Cruz. If Rubio can get a second-place, it will go a long way to bolstering his claim to being the anti-Trump that the party is looking for. Cruz, meanwhile, has a strategy that depends on gaining momentum from strong showings in the Southern states voting in March. A distant second, or much worse, a third, in a state that should be a good fit for him would cloud that path.

Of course the whole party’s path is somewhat cloudy at the moment. Trump is clearly viable, Cruz has every incentive to hang in there until the March voting is done, and Rubio continues to split the “consensus” party vote with Bush and, though probably not for much longer given his South Carolina numbers, Kasich. Mutterings about a brokered convention are beginning to seem more plausible…

New Hampshire, and the importance of being second

new hamsphire.jpg

Hi friends! Isn’t it exciting that people are finally voting? Actual election results cut through so much blather. Not to mention mow down superfluous candidates. Iowa alone winnowed out Huckabee, O’Malley, Paul & Santorum. You read my pre-Iowa prognostication. So what do I think of New Hampshire? Actually (barring an extremely interesting upset), who’s in first is pretty apparent on each side, and the real action is all about the nature of second.


Whether you look at poll averages:

RCP’s “polls only” and “polls plus” models:

NH pollsonly

NH polls+

Or the betting markets:


The story is the same. Bernie Sanders is overwhelmingly favored to win New Hampshire. And therein lies the trap for him. As the analysts at have noted, Sanders strongest demographic is white, liberal voters, and so it would be expected that Iowa and New Hampshire would be very strong states for him. States to come have many more non-white voters, and self-describerd moderates, segments he has made much less polling headway with so far. So he would be really benefited by the maximum possible bounce out of these first two states.

You’ll notice the narrowing in his New Hampshire margin following Iowa in the first chart above. This narrowing seems to have backed off a bit, but primary polling  can be remarkably unpredictable (add to which Superbowl Sunday was a very ineffective day to be polling most Americans). It is certainly possible that Sanders could end up under 50%, and Clinton within single-digits of him. And if so, she benefits from the “better than expected” narrative. On the other hand, if he gets a wide margin, the press will probably run with the “she only tied Iowa, and just lost New Hampshire big” storyline. In which case Bernie is close to the best case scenario I laid out last time-he wins Iowa, then New Hampshire, and does better than-expected in Nevada and South Carolina, and goes on to get a striking distance 40% or more of the states and delegates on Super Tuesday.

Of course “best case” is still an uphill slog for him, but at least it’s a possible slog.


As with the Democrats, poll averages:

RCP’s “polls only” and “polls plus” models:

538 New Hampshire

Or the betting markets:


All produce the same likelihood- Trump easily carries New Hampshire. Which really makes the race for second the story everyone will focus on. In this regard, Rubio had a New Hampshire surge after nearly passing Trump for second in Iowa, but it seems to be fading. Add to this what was widely seen as a poor debate performance this weekend, there is a serious chance he gets eclipsed by Cruz or Kasich in New Hampshire.

Kasich deserves further thought. New Hampshire is much more moderate, as Republican politics goes, than Iowa. So this is the kind of state he’d have his best shot in. A third place finish wouldn’t really get him a lot of attention past New Hampshire, but a second could have the party establishment re-evaluating whether he’s the alternative to Trump and Cruz that they might want to back instead of Rubio. The nightmare scenario for Rubio, of course, would be to actually end up fourth, if both Kasich and Cruz pass him by. That could make for a very messy, and interesting, South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

We’ll have to tune in Tuesday night and see!