Swing State Pres

Friday, February 21, 2020

BTRTN 2020 Vision: Can Bernie Be Stopped? State of the Race, a Nevada Preview and Beyond

Tom’s BTRTN 2020 Vision takes stock of the race as of this moment, previews (and predicts) Nevada and looks ahead to South Carolina, Super Tuesday and even the Democratic Convention.

THE LEAD

·        Bernie Sanders, despite managing only a squeaker of a win in New Hampshire (next door to his native Vermont) over Pete Buttigieg, is in a commanding position in the race.  He’s the odds-on leader in Nevada, in the top tier in South Carolina, and well-positioned in Super Tuesday polling.

·        Mike Bloomberg loomed large over the field as   the geyser-spending mystery guest for months,   but when he finally made a live appearance in    the Nevada debates, he proved to be tentative, uninspiring, and shockingly under-prepared to defend his very obvious soft spots.

·        The centrists are now scrambling to coalesce around a candidate from among Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar and stop the suddenly zooming Sanders’ express train to the Democratic Convention.

·        Elizabeth Warren may have revived her candidacy with her skewering of Bloomberg, which could help slow down Sanders.

·        But the field is already game-planning for a brokered convention, with only Sanders believing that the candidate with the most delegates should definitively get the nomination


THE FIELD

A total of 28 Democrats (that is, legitimate national figures) have made a run for the presidency in the 2020 cycle, a staggering number.  The field has now narrowed to eight, still large by post-New Hampshire standards.  Recent departures include Andrew Yang and a sweep-up of candidates who never made a mark and stayed a bit too long at the party:  Michael Bennet, John Delaney and Deval Patrick. 

The Republican field, such as it is, dwindled to two with Joe Walsh’s departure, leaving Trump with only William Weld offering nominal intra-party competition.


STATE OF THE RACE

In a “normal” year, given the results thus far, the storyline coming out of the Iowa/New Hampshire contests would have been Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg locked in a neck-and-neck struggle over party supremacy, with the rest of the field licking their wounds, folding their tents, and lining up with one of the candidates in the hopes of a prominent place in the new president’s administration, perhaps even the vice-presidency.

But nothing is normal this year, and for a variety of reasons, the storyline is, on the one hand, simpler and, on the other, more complex.  Simpler, because Buttigieg’s success – and he actually has more delegates than Sanders – has been almost completely discounted, perhaps because of Sanders’ presumed imminent win in Nevada.  The simple fact is the race is Sanders’ to lose at this point.

But it is not quite that simple, because the other candidates have legitimate reasons to believe they can prevail, as well as the resources and opportunities to do so:

·        Joe Biden’ has a credible claim that voters of color, the backbone of his support, were wildly underrepresented in the first two contests and he will do better when the race goes south and west.

·        Amy Klobuchar pulled off a surprisingly close third place finish in New Hampshire after a strong debate, breathing life into a campaign that many thought would end in the Granite State

·        Michael Bloomberg, despite a disastrous debate performance, cannot be written off given his saturation spending in Super Tuesday states, and his chance for an improved performance in the South Carolina debate

·        Tom Steyer is doing reasonably well in Nevada and South Carolina polling, which, combined with his own unlimited resources, makes him a late-breaking factor as well

·        The debates, which occur frequently, have proven to be capable of catapulting a laggard into contention, as Amy Klobuchar did in New Hampshire and Elizabeth Warren did in Nevada

·        And the non-billionaires, except for Biden, all have relatively flush war chests, which means they can all hang around for at least the next few weeks

Having said all that, Sanders is in a formidable position because of these four facts:

·        He finished in a virtual tie for first in Iowa and won New Hampshire.

·        He will almost certainly win in Nevada (see below).

·        He will do respectably in South Carolina, and may even win there.

·        He appears to be doing extremely well in California, which is a Super Tuesday state and will provide a motherlode of delegates for him (and he is well-positioned in other races that day as well).

The gusher of delegates that could very well come his way in California alone, where he is comfortably ahead, could give him a lead will be brutally difficult to overcome even if a single centrist emerges in the aftermath of Super Tuesday to go head-to-head with him.  Sanders himself, in 2016, and Clinton herself, in 2008, both found themselves behind Obama and could not catch him, despite winning a surprising number of primaries and caucuses over the entire course of the race.  Remember, Democratic primaries are NOT winner-take-all, and proportional allocation makes it hard to secure the bushels of delegates it takes to overcome a decent-sized lead.

This is not a prediction, just a set of factual statements that, when you add them up, lead to the conclusion that the centrists better start figuring out how to deny Bernie a majority within the primary process, and get ready for a second-ballot brawl at the convention.


NEVADA PREVIEW AND PREDICTION

Nevada has 48 delegates, similar in size to Iowa, and 36 of them will be allocated based on the results of the caucuses.  Yes, Nevada is a caucus state, just like…Iowa.

And the sad fact is, the Nevada State Democratic Party, try as they might, might have just as much trouble as their counterparts in Iowa in actually off pulling the contest competently, and delivering results promptly and efficiently.  Nevada was planning to use the very same Shadow app that caused all the problems in Iowa.  The fact that they have switched to Google Forms, running on some 2,000 IPads, with just weeks to go does not provide much comfort.  There have already been grumblings about the level of training on the IPads.

When it comes to getting a handle on the race, or predicting the outcome, caucuses are much more difficult than primaries.  Polling can only take you so far; you have to adjust the results.  The complications include early voting in Nevada (there was no early voting in Iowa), so the final polls were fielded after a healthy portion of the votes had already been cast (very healthy, in fact, nearly 75,000 Nevadans voted early, not far from the total turnout in 2016, which was roughly 84,000).  Second, as in Iowa, there is a 15% threshold at the precinct level that a candidate must achieve, otherwise supporters are released to make another choice.  It is very difficult for polls to accurately account for “second choices.”  Third, the polls do not account for the “getting out the vote” capability of the organizations, which matters even more in a caucus, which demands far more time and commitment than simply going to a voting booth.  And finally, the debate and its aftermath coverage will likely have a difficult-to-measure late-breaking impact on the outcome.

Having said that, it does not take much, given these many factors, to predict a winner in Nevada, so we might as well get it out of the way.  BTRTN predicts that Bernie Sanders will win the Nevada caucuses by a healthy margin, though he will fall far short of a majority.

There have been three public polls in Nevada in February.  The results from Iowa and New Hampshire have amped the fortunes of Sanders, as well as Buttigieg and Klobuchar, as might be expected; each roughly doubled their level of support, give or take.  Biden fell a bit from January levels, and Warren, Steyer and Gabbard stayed about the same.

Average of Nevada Polls
Candidates
O/N (4)
Jan (2)
Feb (3)
Sanders
20
18
30
Biden
29
21
16
Warren
20
12
14
Buttigieg
7
7
14
Steyer
4
10
10
Klobuchar
2
3
10
Gabbard
1
2
2

Apart from the gaping lead in the polls, Sanders went virtually untouched in the debates – as the rest of the field either ganged up on Bloomberg or, in the case of Buttigieg and Klobuchar, went after each other.  Plus, Sanders has an extremely strong ground game, rivalled perhaps only by Buttigieg and Warren.  And finally, Bernie has money, the most of any non-billionaire, so he can keep up with any airwave war, except for that of Steyer, who has spent heavily here.

The main question in Nevada is where will the others, with five of them incredibly tightly bunched (Bloomberg is not on the ballot), place behind Sanders?  Joe Biden’s own campaign has said he needs to finish second to provide the required platform for a necessary South Carolina win.  And the fact is that a fifth or sixth place finish will be damaging to any of the candidates.

We foresee Buttigieg and Warren outperforming their polls based on their ground game, poll momentum and debate performance.  Biden and Klobuchar essentially fall the other way.  Steyer is a wild card, but has been steady in the polls at 10%.  Both Klobuchar and Steyer could get shut out in a number of precincts because of those polling levels, which could mean they underperform the polls.

Nevada
Final Polls % (Momentum)
BTRTN Prediction %
Sanders
30 +
34
Buttigieg
14 +
18
Warren
14 =
17
Biden
16 =
16
Steyer
10 =
8
Klobuchar
10 =
7
Gabbard
2 =
0
Other
n/a
0
Bloomberg
n/a
n/a


LOOKING AHEAD TO SOUTH CAROLINA

Next up will be the South Carolina primary, on Saturday, February 29, with its 54 delegates and pivotal position in the race, the last contest before Super Tuesday.  This is, of course, Biden’s infamous “firewall,” and he is still holding the lead in recent polling, albeit a slim one with Sanders coming on strong. Steyer is in third place in the polls, and this primary is crucial for him as well.  Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar are all doing rather tepidly in South Carolina, in the 10% or under range.  This is a major problem for them – beyond simply winning or losing here --- as it underscores their inability, as yet, to light a fire under African-American voters, who comprise roughly 60% of likely primary voters, and are, of course, a pivotal segment of the Democratic coalition.

Average of South Carolina Polls
Candidates
N/D (3)
Jan (3)
Feb (3)
Biden
35
33
25
Sanders
15
16
21
Steyer
4
17
16
Buttigieg
8
5
10
Warren
16
10
8
Klobuchar
1
2
7
Gabbard
2
2
2


AND TO SUPER TUESDAY

Super Tuesday will be on Tuesday, March 3, just 11 days from today, comprising 14 states plus American Samoa and Democrats Abroad, totaling a whopping 1,357 delegates.  This is 29% of the entire delegate pool of 4,750.  Needless to say, this will be a monumentally consequential day.  Much may be settled based on Super Tuesday results – the fate of several candidacies, the viability of Bloomberg and the inevitability of Sanders will all likely be determined.  The shape of the race, whatever it may be, will be clearer.  The field will certainly narrow.

Sanders is also well-positioned in Super Tuesday states, and bear in mind these polls, while recent, came before Bloomberg’s excruciating debate performance and two days of appallingly bad debate coverage of him.  (Note that there have been only one or two polls in each state.)

Super Tuesday
Cal   (415)
Tex   (228)
NCar (110)
Sanders
27
24
23
21
25
22
21
14
Bloomberg
15
14
21
12
14
22
9
20
Biden
15
21
18
14
12
18
9
12
Warren
11
15
11
20
9
5
16
8
Buttigieg
11
7
11
15
16
11
10
11
Klobuchar
5
6
6
9
4
9
27
6
Gabbard
2
3
3
2
3
1
4
0
Steyer
4
0
3
3
2
0
0
0

Apart from Sanders’ strength, of note in these polls is the reasonably solid platform Biden has if he actually manages to win in South Carolina.  Buttigieg and Klobuchar clearly are still fighting for name recognition.  And, even if Steyer manages strong efforts in Nevada and/or South Carolina, he has basically zero presence in the Super Tuesday races.

These Super Tuesday observations are supported by the national polling numbers, which is not a surprise.  Many Super Tuesday voters are not terribly different from others who have primaries later in the year, not terribly plugged in as yet.

Average of National Polls for the Month (last 12 months)
Candidates
M
A
M
Jn
Jl
A
S
O
N
D
J
F
Sanders
23
23
18
17
16
16
17
16
17
18
19
26
Biden
29
31
37
34
30
30
28
28
28
28
29
19
Bloomberg
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
4
6
15
Warren
7
6
8
10
13
15
17
23
21
16
15
13
Buttigieg
0
3
7
7
6
5
5
6
7
10
7
10
Klobuchar
4
2
2
1
1
1
1
1
2
2
3
6
Gabbard
1
1
1
0
1
1
1
1
2
2
2
2
Steyer
n/a
n/a
n/a
n/a
0
1
1
1
1
1
2
2


WHO CAN BEAT TRUMP?

In five polls in February that measure Trump head-to-head versus the leading Democratic candidates, both nationally and in five swing states (assuming one considers Texas a swing state), Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg are the field and more or less in the same place, with Biden and Bloomberg perhaps slightly better positioned in the swing states.  Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Warren do not do as well, and are also tightly packed.

Keep in mind these polls preceded the Nevada debate, but all followed the Iowa and New Hampshire contests.  Thus, as poorly as Biden did in the contests, he has not been hurt in the head-to-heads in the swing states (or nationally).  He can continue to make the “electability” claim, but he cannot claim to have much of an advantage here, if any, over Sanders.

Head-to-Head Polls Dems Vs Trump
Feb 2020 Polls
National
Swing state (polls in FL, MICH, PA, TX, WIS)
Bloomberg
+ 5
+ 0.8
Biden
+ 5
+ 0.4
Sanders
+ 5
0
Warren
+ 2
- 1.6
Buttigieg
+ 2
- 2.4
Klobuchar
+ 2
- 2.4


CAN BERNIE BE DERAILED?

Sanders is in a compelling position, to say the least.  But there are at least a few plausible ways one can see this turning.

·        Buttigieg could dramatically outperform in Nevada, closing the gap with Sanders (yet again), badly beating Biden (yet again), and Klobuchar as well -- thus laying a strong claim to the centrist mantle and turning it into a two person race.  Pete is a “straight A” debate performer with a strong likability factor, and Bernie’s constant rage could work against him at a time when America may prefer calm progress over a fiery revolution.

·        Biden could win South Carolina and turn the race into the Bernie/Biden match-up many had long expected.

·        Bloomberg could recover in the South Carolina debate, and his boosters – intent only on beating Trump with what they view as the best option available -- may overlook not only his debate debacle, but also the warts it uncovered, and rally to their man on Super Tuesday.

·        Warren could outperform in Nevada based on her outstanding debate night, and cut into Sanders’ margin considerably, throwing the progressive lane back into the mix.

·        Steyer’s performances in Nevada and South Carolina could not only put him back in the mix, but hurt Sanders.  Steyer is not a centrist; he is a flat-out progressive and he does well among minority voters.  This could put a dent in the Sanders bandwagon, especially since Steyer can stay in the race and outspend Sanders at will.

It is hard to see Klobuchar emerging at this point; she simply did not have a good night at the debates and is back to her perilous pre-New Hampshire position, trailing a crowded centrist field in Nevada.

To the extent that we head on to a contested convention, the key issue there will be the extent of Sanders’ plurality (assuming he has one).  If he is the dominant player in a large field, leading in percentage of delegates by, say 40% to a bunch of 10-15% counts for various others, it would be hard to deny him the nomination.  But if it is closer – say, Sanders at 30% and several other centrists in the 15-20% range who add up to a majority, then we can see the superdelegates – 700+ strong who can vote in the second ballot – coalescing around a centrist candidate.  The party regulars who comprise that superdelegate pool fear a Sanders’ candidacy, believing feeding a socialist (even a “Democratic” one) to Trump is not only a loser for the presidency but could also hurt the party down the ballot, as the GOP would ensure that every candidate bears the socialist label.

One telling question at the debate, raised by Chuck Todd, was whether the candidates believe that the delegate leader should get the nomination even if they fell short of a majority after the first ballot; all the candidates said the party should stick “with the process” rather than simply anoint the leader – except Sanders.


THE GOP RACE

Trump has accumulated 61 delegates thus far, of the 1,732 he needs to be re-nominated.  His only challenger, Williams Weld, actually managed to pick one up.  Having said that, this is not exactly a nail-biter, and don’t look for Weld to join Trump on any debate stage before the GOP convention.


THE FULL FIELD

Here are the entire Democratic and Republican fields as of today, ranked by the most recent national polls.

Democratic Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls (Feb 2020)
Bernie Sanders
78
2/19/2019
Senator, Vermont
26%
Joe Biden
77
4/25/2019
Ex-VP and Ex-Senator, Delaware
19%
Michael Bloomberg
77
11/24/2019
Ex-Mayor of New York City
15%
Elizabeth Warren
70
12/31/2018
Senator, Massachusetts
13%
Pete Buttigieg
38
1/22/2019
Ex-Mayor, South Bend, Indiana
10%
Amy Klobuchar
59
2/10/2019
Senator, Minnesota
6%
Tulsi Gabbard
38
1/11/2019
Representative, Hawaii
2%
Tom Steyer
62
7/9/2019
Billionaire hedge fund manager
2%





Republican Candidates
Age
Announcement  Date
Credentials
Latest national polls
Donald Trump
73
6/18/2019
President
86%
William Weld
74
4/15/2019
Ex-Governor, Massachusetts
2%

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