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There can be only one… (“First South Carolina, then the World!” edition)

2020_south_carolina_primary

Since last we checked in, there have been two more contests, the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucuses.

New Hampshire continued Iowa’s theme of “near photo finish” but advantage Sanders, and also featured a dismal fifth place by Joe Biden that opened up the question of whether he’s in complete free-fall:

NH2

Nevada featured a strong win by Sanders across multiple demographics, and his third popular vote victory of the first three. Which, following on the heels of his coming in to the lead in national polling, caused some to wonder whether he might deliver a de facto knockout punch on Super Tuesday:

Nevada

Oh, and we’ve also had some further attrition due to New Hampshire! Goodbye Bennet, Patrick, and Yang! Delaney, I didn’t even notice you’d dropped out back in January! Of the 28(!) candidates we’ve had at one time or another, with a simultaneous field as large as 25, there are now only eight remaining. Eight is fewer than 28, but…

there-can-be-only-one

What does how things are looking going in to South Carolina tell us about who that one is likely to be?

After placing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, once front-runner Biden began to look like he might totally collapse. But, three (from his campaign’s perspective) useful things in a row happened. First, his Nevada showing, while not great, was a step up from the “on life support” numbers of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Second, the “moderate/establishment” vote had clearly started to flee from Biden to Michael Bloomberg, who isn’t on the ballot in South Carolina, but does serve as a kind of anti-barometer of how Biden is doing overall:

National1

However, as his star rose, rumblings also rose about whether Bloomberg’s past association with racially troubling policies and statements, sexual harassment allegations, and, well, actually having been a Republican, might make him unacceptable to too wide a portion of the Democratic base. I can testify that on my personal social media feed, many people who are not at all the “usual suspects” for this kind of thing were saying that he could be their exception to “I will vote for whoever the nominee is”.

This came to a head on 2/19, with Warren brutally and effectively taking Bloomberg to task during his first debate appearance. It was so effective that, as some online pranksters put it:

COD

Third, Biden has attracted the support of one of the most influential endorsements there is in South Carolina, third-ranking House member Jim Clyburn:

clyburn

Was it that Nevada stopped the bleeding? Bloomberg being rapidly discredited as an alternative caused some of the nervous voters in search of a moderate to flock back to Biden? The networking and attention Biden has sunk into South Carolina paying off? Whatever the cause, he seem to be having a resurgence there just when he needs it most:

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While just a few days ago it seemed like Biden might be headed for an embarrassing single-digit win or even a devastating surprise loss, I think he’s probably back on track for a strong double-digit win in South Carolina. And, of course, the real significance of South Carolina has always been momentum going in to Super Tuesday, and especially what it tells us about how well Biden is doing with the African-American voters he’s counting on to win Southern Primaries that day.

In which regard, if a big win in South Carolina does presage Southern strength for him, he could pick up as many as six states that day:

ST

This doesn’t change the fact that Sanders remains in a very strong position to also pick up a lot of delegates that day, quite probably even more than Biden. But South Carolina’s results this weekend may tell us a lot about whether we’re likely to see a “knockout punch” by Sanders on Tuesday of next week, or more like an almost-draw that keeps us all slogging through for a while to come.

Let’s check in again on Monday!

 

There can be only one… (leaving Iowa, on to New Hampshire edition)

2020_new_hampshire_primary

Well, Iowa is past us. Not as far past us as we might like since, quite possibly, it will never be officially called. But, in any case, past. Twelve candidates went in to Iowa. And, due to the prolonged results roll-out and the resulting lack of traditional winnowing from the media buzz on winners and losers, all twelve are still kicking. But, sooner or later…

there-can-be-only-one

Previous editions of this blog series, including last week’s, have focused on our leading indicators-national polling, fundraising, and endorsements. Which is what you have to do before anyone anywhere has actually voted. From this point forward, they become lagging indicators in a sense. That is, they start to follow individual election results, rather than predict them. And (I am about to reveal a great, little-known secret here)…

The DNC does not actually choose the nominee! The nominee is chosen based on the results of 57 separate primary and caucus elections!

So how do things look based on the first one of these? Well, to start with Pete Buttigieg won Iowa. And so did Bernie Sanders! That’s what you get when you have three different ways of determining the winner.

“First Alignment” is who Iowa caucus-goers voted for in their first round of voting of the evening. Here, Sanders is a narrow winner:

first alignement

But wait, there’s more! According to the rules of the caucus, everyone voting for candidates who didn’t clear 15% in the first round gets a chance to re-vote for candidates who did. This gives us “Final Alignment”, in which Sanders had a more narrow lead:

final alignement

But neither of those state-wide totals, per se, is what determines who gets delegates. That’s determined by the accumulation of who was above 15%, and by how much, in individual precincts. So, for example, Sanders might get 90% of a college town’s vote, but Buttigieg meanwhile got 51% of several rural precincts, thus giving him an edge in what are called State Delegate Equivalents. And, in fact:

SDEs

Technically, in what matters for actually handing out delegates, you could say Buttigieg won. You would also have to then observe that the margin was razor-thin. So thin, in fact, that he and Sanders will both walk out of Iowa with the same number of delegates. I’d call that a “draw” myself.

And no, these confusing layers of results and convoluted methods of tallying weren’t the result of the big bad DNC “fixing” things. This is how the Iowa caucus has always worked. And even more ironically, it was the Sanders campaign that pushed for this triple-reporting after 2016, and it was the new requirements of the triple-reporting, along with a horridly botched tracking app roll-out, that resulted in The Caucus That Will Never Be Called. (TM)

amok

While it may never be called, we can observe a few things:

  • Biden had a very rough night, finishing a distant fourth and is likely to end up with single-digit delegates as a result.
  • Sanders did well, but was expected to do well, and so in a sense it was a bit of a wash, especially because…
  • Buttigieg exceeded expectations and tied? Won? Both. Any which way you slice it, a boost for his campaign

And, indeed, Mayor Pete seems to be on the climb in New Hampshire since last week, with Uncle Joe taking a plunge toward fourth:

NH

Two fourths in a row is not good for a “front runner”, which Biden will no longer be if that happens. Two wins in a row is good for Sanders. Buttigieg is surprisingly strong, and Warren and even Klobuchar definitely still in the mix. There’s a school of though that says Biden is so strong with African-American voters that he’s going to roar back in South Carolina, and clean up in the Southern Primaries on Super Tuesday.

Maybe. On the other hand, these poor early finishes aren’t a good sign- there’s no precedent for a fourth in Iowa and NH coming back to be the nominee. And, with Pete having gotten a shot in the arm, Joe may have significant competition for the “moderate” wing vote on Super Tuesday. And not just from Pete:

Mike

I think it remains likely that Biden gets a plurality of votes and delegates on Super Tuesday, but by a much lower margin than he would have if he had done better earlier, if Buttigieg wasn’t coming on strong, and if Bloomberg and to a lesser extent Steyer, weren’t sinking huge amounts of money into those contests. Because of this, there may be no clear result that day. And for a good while after, quite possibly all the way to the convention.

Tune in next week to see if New Hampshire changes this outlook!