Swing State Pres

Friday, February 28, 2020

BTRTN South Carolina Preview: Can a Funny Thing Happen on the Way to Bernie’s Coronation?

Tom previews the South Carolina primary, including our BTRTN prediction – and then looks ahead to Super Tuesday and beyond. 

The Democratic campaign is over, right?  Bernie Sanders is the nominee. He basically won the first three contests.  After essentially tying with Pete Buttigieg in lily-white Iowa, winning New Hampshire and utterly clobbering the field in Nevada, showing strength in every demographic in that highly diverse state, what more does Bernie have to prove?  Nate Silver has run the numbers, Bernie is going to come out of Super Tuesday with an insurmountable 300+ delegate lead and, as the Boss would say, man, that was all she wrote.  Now it’s time for the Bernie youth brigade to figure out where the ballot boxes are in November and actually show up to vote, and for the rest of us to grit our teeth and unify behind Sanders, like it or not. 
 
Wait, what? 

There is something called the “South Carolina Primary.”  Have we forgotten?  Joe Biden’s firewall?  Hello, anybody home? 

Wake up, folks, because Joe Biden is going to win South Carolina.  He’s actually going to win big.  And by Saturday night, Nate will start re-spinning his numbers faster than I can say “2016.” 

Let’s go back to right after New Hampshire.  Biden has high-tailed it out of there fast, not sticking around for the results.  He knew the following:  he came in fourth in Iowa, fiffh in New Hampshire, and Sanders is polling way better than anybody in Nevada, has a great field organization and plenty of money.  

He arrives in South Carolina, takes a long walk on a beach there, and, lo and behold, stumbles across not one but a four-pack of genie bottles!  Twelve wishes! 

What does Biden ask for?  

1.      That Mike Bloomberg, coming up the entrance ramp and zooming directly into the centrist lane of the race, my centrist lane, qualifies for the Nevada debate
2.      And then Bloomberg does very, very poorly in that debate
3.      That Pete and Amy attack one another in that debate, and both look very bad in doing so
4.      That Elizabeth Warren has a great debate to keep her in the race to keep Bernie’s total vote down
5.      That I, Joe Biden, do well enough in that debate myself
6.      That I then come in second in Nevada (the genie told me it was out of bounds to wish for first)
7.      And I win the African-American vote there (the genie was OK with this)
8.      That Tom Steyer does poorly there, so he is less likely to siphon off my African-American vote in South Carolina
9.      That Amy does poorly enough in Nevada to start the drumbeat that she should exit the race after South Carolina
10.   That I then do well in the South Carolina debate
11.   While everyone else gangs up on Bernie
12.   But that no one else does particularly well enough to get momentum for South Carolina

The genie did indeed grant every wish, and look where Joe sits.  He is the frontrunner in South Carolina, Bernie got bruised, Warren got a bit of a lifeline, the Bloomberg is off the rose (quoting my brother here), Pete and Amy are fading, having won little support from people of color in Nevada, and Steyer did not get the bump he hoped for in Nevada to set him up for South Carolina.   Check, check, check, check, check, check.

Biden was smart enough not to ask the genie for James Clyburn’s endorsement.  The House’s number three, revered in South Carolina, was expected to step up to that, and his eventual announcement made for a nice pre-primary headline.  

The South Carolina polls, and there have been eight of them since Nevada, are clear.  For South Carolinians, it’s almost as if Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada never happened.  There have been eight polls since Nevada, and all show Biden ahead, on average by +13 percentage points.  In fact, these polls are not materially different from the January polls that preceded the first three contests.  Biden is almost doubling Sanders, with Tom Steyer, making his own last stand, well behind in third.  Pete Buttigieg is in fourth,  Elizabeth Warren next in single digits, and Amy Klobuchar is back to keeping company with Tulsi Gabbard.  

Perhaps it is worth noting that over the past year, there have been 36 polls in South Carolina and Biden has led in every one of them (inclusive of a tie with Sanders in mid-February, but he has led in the 12 polls since then). 

Average of South Carolina Polls
Candidates
Jan (3)
Feb Pre-Nev (6)
Feb Post-Nev (8)
Biden
33
26
36
Sanders
16
22
22
Steyer
17
16
13
Buttigieg
5
10
10
Warren
10
9
7
Klobuchar
2
6
4
Gabbard
2
2
2

Our BTRTN prediction is that Joe Biden will win the South Carolina primary by double digits, with Bernie Sanders well ahead of Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg for second. 

South Carolina
Actual %
Biden
38
Sanders
25
Steyer
13
Buttigieg
12
Warren
7
Klobuchar
3
Gabbard
2

What would this outcome mean?  Can Bernie really be de-railed? 

It would be extremely difficult.  The delegate math is unforgiving.  Based on recent Super Tuesday polling, Sanders would score roughly 550 delegates on Super Tuesday, 200 to 250 delegates more than the second place finisher.  And that kind of lead is extremely difficult to overcome because of two factors:  1) the proportional, not winner-take-all, allocation of delegates in Democratic primaries, and 2) a splintered field among the centrists, which divides the vote, of course, giving Sanders a better chance to win each primary. 

And who is most likely, based on today’s polling, to come in second on Super Tuesday?  Yes, Joe Biden.  Despite the terrible finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, the walloping in Nevada, the tepid fundraising and ground game, the inconsistent debate performances, Biden still stands to pick up somewhere north of 300 delegates.  He is in strong contention to win the next three biggest Super Tuesday states after California:  Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.  And he is well ahead of Bloomberg, who polling indicates will land in the 200+ range. 

And all that polling, of course, precedes the South Carolina results.  A three-day spate of “Joe is Back” headlines will be worth a heckuva lot more than the ad buys Bloomberg will make. 

All this makes Biden the only real alternative to Sanders at this point, the one best-positioned to de-rail the frontrunner. 

How does Biden get into realistic contention by next Wednesday morning?  He needs another genie bottle or three, to wish for the following: 

1.      To win South Carolina by 15+ percentage points
2.      That Klobuchar exit after SC (unlikely, since she’ll want to win in home state Minnesota on Super Tuesday, picking up 30 delegates or so that may be great leverage for her down the road)
3.      That Steyer does poorly
4.      That Buttigieg does poorly
5.      That he (Biden) gets a +5-point bounce in each Super Tuesday race, which would give him wins in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia, and cut the delegate gap with Sanders from say, 200+ to 100+
6.      That after Super Tuesday, Buttigieg, Steyer and Klobuchar (if she hasn’t already) drop out (Bloomberg, too, but I don’t think the genie will go that far)
7.      But Warren stays in

If all of these wishes came true, we’d be left with Biden and Bloomberg in the center lane and Sanders and Warren on the left.  And from there, presumably at some point Bloomberg and Warren drop out, but they’ve each amassed a material number of delegates. 

We thus get to the convention in a two person game, Bernie likely ahead but Biden within bargaining range.  Biden, of course, will have the 700 superdelegates in his pocket.  And thus he could pull it off on the second ballot.

Far-fetched?  I would give it about a 30% shot – just about what Trump faced on Election Day 2016.

The first piece to drop is a big win in South Carolina.

9 comments:

  1. One thing I'd point out is, when you say it's Bernie vs all the "moderates", that's not how the electorate works. Normal people are not divided up into these "lanes" for information on this I'd look at Warren's support, who a majority of who's 2nd choice is Amy. From the viewpoint of ideological lanes, this makes no sense. A vote for Amy is not a vote for anyone not named Bernie. Sam for Pete Joe and Mike and Warren. I'm sorry, the electorate as a whole does not view candidates in lanes. Again, look at Warren, she tried to run a "party unity" campaign, which makes sense to the 9 million or so people who watch cable news everyday, the rest, the general election hears someone talking about party unity and thinks "What?"

    Most people including pundits, newscasters, and strategists have a incredibly flase view of the political "center" if such a thing exists it is the majority of the electorate who is fiscally liberal and socially conservative. Which mean tax the rich, raise minimum wage, and most people aren't great on gender and race issues. The narrative that the center is fiscally conservative and socially liberal is just absurd. With this understanding, it's very understandable why since 2008 this crop of party elites think tanks and institutions have lost over 1000 seats.

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    1. You are incorrect. Warren's supporters' 2nd choice is Bernie (40%). Amy is the choice of only 12%. Morning Consult poll is source. Sanders' supporters pick Warren as their second choice, 35%. Lanes are alive and well and living in the USA.

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  2. Did you have a stroke when writing the paragraph numbering the amount of polls since Nevada? Is it right, five, or three?

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    1. Actually...8. New ones kept on coming out as I was writing this!

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  3. You best hope Biden rises like a phoenix from the ashes of NH because otherwise the fate of Britain's elections is staring you and the progressives right in the face.

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    1. There is zero correlation between Britain and America. We don't have a brexit dividing our movement. Labor voters wanted to leave, centrists wanted to stay. Corbyn listens to bad advice and took the middle road, a second referendum and it backfired. Corbin was never in the lead, in any polls, at any point. What the labor party needs to do, is learn the lesson Bernie is teaching, which is never stop organizing. Gotta build that coalition starting now. There is a left critique of the EU that has more salience to the general population

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  4. It is the day after Biden pulled a bigger than expected "big" win. He didn't quite reach a 30% difference, but came close. Sanders dropped 2-3% from polling, Steyer dropped 2, Buttigieg dropped by 4, Gabbard dropped by 1. And I think all of those drops went to Biden.

    Turnout was robust, too. Numbers came close to 2008 (though the population base went up by 11% or so). The turnout was 160,000 or so better than 2016.

    I'm looking forward to knowing a great deal more next Wednesday.

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  5. A great call - here we are with Biden, Bloomberg, Bernie and Warren.

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