Swing State Pres

Monday, March 16, 2020

BTRTN March 17 Primary Preview: Biden for the Knockout?

Tom previews the March 17 primaries, including our BTRTN predictions, and then looks ahead.  He also takes a look back at how we did on March 10.

There are no new polls today so we stick with our predictions from this article from last night.  But note that Ohio has decided not to hold their primary today, so ignore that prediction.

It was just a week ago that the Democratic Party held its first primaries with only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders on the ballot (and, oh yes, Tulsi Gabbard).  We noted that the Democratic race had finally been narrowed down to two contenders -- and “let the games begin.”

Those games, just begun, may very well end with tomorrow’s primaries.

It is yet another big Tuesday for delegates, the third in a row.  A total of 554 pledged delegates are at stake, with Florida (219) the largest prize, followed by Illinois (155), Ohio (136) and Arizona (67).  (And we note that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has just filed a lawsuit seeking a postponement of the primary due to the coronavirus and the CDC directive to cancel events that will have more than 50 people in attendance.)

By the AP count, Biden heads into the March 17 primaries with 894 delegates to 743 for Sanders.  (There still remain about 54 delegates that have yet to be allocated from prior primaries.)  Roughly speaking, Sanders numerically is in similar shape as he was in 2016, when he trailed Hillary Clinton by 211 delegates going into the March 15 primaries, and that faced by Clinton in 2008 when she was chasing Barack Obama (by roughly 100-150 delegates in this general timeframe).

Sanders has an even steeper climb now than in 2016.  Biden has thoroughly whipped him all over the map over the last two weeks.  The one bright spot that emerged for Sanders on Super Tuesday – the west – was eliminated last week when Biden won in Idaho, and is leading in a Washington race that has yet to be called, thus leaving Sanders to claim victory only in the tiny North Dakota caucus.   And these races also proved that Sanders’ core constituency, the youth vote, will not come out to vote, at least not in the numbers Sanders needs to overcome Biden.  Biden’s coalition of older, suburban and African-American voters, who do typically turnout for elections, turned out for Biden in these contests in droves.  It is “Incremental Joe,” not “Revolutionary Bernie, who is moving the masses to the polls.

Sanders also faces another problem – his chances tomorrow.  As badly as he fared four years ago at this time, with Clinton besting him by about 100 delegates, tomorrow looks like it will be a bloodbath perhaps twice that size, according to the polls.  “Joementum” is a force of nature at this point, and neither the 2016 Sanders nor the 2008 Clinton ever quite faced an outlook like this:

State
Poll
Date
Biden
Sanders
Margin
Florida
3/11 - 3/12
65
27
Biden +38
Florida
3/6 - 3/12
63
25
Biden +38
Florida
3/10 - 3/12
66
25
Biden +41
Florida
3/5 - 3/10
66
22
Biden +44
Florida
3/6 - 3/8
69
14
Biden +55
Florida
3/5 - 3/7
61
25
Biden +36
Florida
3/4 - 3/4
61
12
Biden +49
Illinois
3/11 - 3/12
57
36
Biden +21
Illinois
3/10 - 3/12
63
25
Biden +38
Ohio
3/11 - 3/12
57
35
Biden +22
Ohio
3/10 - 3/15
58
35
Biden +23
Arizona
3/11 - 3/13
51
31
Biden +20
Arizona
3/6 - 3/11
51
34
Biden +17
Arizona
3/3 - 3/4
45
17
Biden +28
Arizona
3/10 - 3/15
53
36
Biden +17


Given the inexorable delegate math to date, and the gruesome polls for what lay ahead, Sanders really only one potential catalyst that could turn the tide:  last night’s debate.  To stop, and reverse, the Joe Juggernaut would require Sanders to decimate Biden in the debate, even beyond Elizabeth Warren’s utter evisceration of Mike Bloomberg in Nevada.  And one can easily see the appeal of this strategy – Sanders is a superb debater and Biden is a terrible one.  Biden fared reasonably poorly or worse in most debates, but with eight candidates on the stage he could “hide” for long stretches of time.  But two hours of frontal assault by Sanders, with just the two of them, might indeed truly shine a spotlight on Biden’s deficiencies, so goes the theory.

But two factors mitigated against this strategy.  One was Sanders’ own recognition that such damage could truly backfire, and, instead of destroying Biden, might merely wound him – not enough to take the nomination away, but enough to damage Biden in the general election versus Trump.  And the other was the coronavirus, and how unseemly such a tactic might look to a nation hungry for statesmanship and unity.

Sanders played it halfway.  He was fairly diplomatic in the first half of the debate as they parried about what the pandemic required (Biden: action now, Sanders: a reshaping of our health care system).  The gloves came off in the second half, when Sanders went after Biden on a range of issues, recalling past Biden votes and positions that have not aged well.

But it did not work.  Biden, seemingly relaxed with more time to talk and no audience to wow, more than held his own and, if he did not win, played to a modest loss or possibly even a draw.  And, just in case he needed a headline to overwhelm potentially bad coverage, Biden deftly announced that he would select a woman to be his Vice President.  Which indeed was the post-debate headline.  (Sanders equivocated on this, when asked.)

Which brings us to tomorrow.  With Sanders unlikely to have re-shaped the race with the debate, it is hard to envision a scenario that looks promising for him.


BTRTN MARCH 17 PREDICTIONS

Our BTRTN prediction is that Joe Biden will sweep the March 17 primaries by significant margins in each.  He will emerge with approximately 200+ net delegates more than Sanders from these four states alone, giving him a lead of roughly 350 delegates.   

Those polls are not lying – that’s 15 polls since Super Tuesday across the four states that all have Biden ahead by double digits, ranging from +17 to +55 percentage points over Sanders. 


March 17 Primaries
Vote %*
Delegates
State
Delegates
Biden
Sanders
Biden
Sanders
Florida
219
74%
24%
165
54
Illinois
155
65%
34%
102
53
Ohio
136
61%
37%
85
51
Arizona
67
62%
37%
42
25
Total
577


387
180
* Figures do not as to 100% as some votes will go to Gabbard or others


WHAT NEXT?

A 350+ Biden delegate lead is insurmountable. 

Sanders may still stay in the race, for the “platform” it provides, a la Tulsi Gabbard.  His goal in that instance would be to continue to draw Biden leftward in his policy positions.  Biden has already embraced Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy bill and tuition-free college plan, and it is not unreasonable to expect that Sanders’ pressure could bring more progressive elements to Biden’s agenda.

But the view here is that Sanders’ hanging around is unlikely, for three reasons – all related to the coronavirus.  First, from a public health standpoint, limiting primary voting turnout is a paramount consideration.  Second, Sanders may have a platform as a candidate, but if he cannot hold rallies, it is a vastly reduced one.  And finally, it may be unseemly, as the virus spreads, for him to attempt to carry on a futile campaign.

The responsible action would be to withdraw and begin the process of trying to unite this fractured party.  And I believe that is exactly what Sanders will do on Wednesday morning.  Sanders could still push Biden left as a condition for offering full-throated support for Biden’s candidacy to his followers, which is something he fell well short of for Hillary Clinton.

If it continues, the primary schedule shifts into low gear from here until the end of April, with less than 200 delegates in play over the next six weeks.  Puerto Rico on March 29 up next (51 delegates), followed by Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming on April 4, three states that collectively barely have more delegates than Puerto Rico (53 total).  Wisconsin is the next reasonably large state (84) on April 7.

That’s it until the next mega-Tuesday, which is well down the road on April 28, when a whopping 663 delegates are up, New York leading the bill, along with a bunch of New England and mid-Atlantic neighbors:  Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.


HOW WE DID ON MARCH 10

We at BTRTN thought that Joe Biden just might sweep the March 10 contests, and he came close.  He has won four of them to date:  Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho.   Sanders took North Dakota, a caucus state.  And Washington has yet to be called; Biden has a 2-point lead with 94% of the precincts reporting, so that looks promising for him.  Winning or losing close races does not matter much for the delegate count, since with proportional allocation, both candidates get roughly the same number of candidates.

Here is a chart that summarizes how close we came.  Overall we forecast Biden would end up with 199 delegates and he has 204, while Sanders achieved 132 versus our call of 148.  The “miss,” while minor, was largely due to Sanders not achieving the 15% threshold in Mississippi, thus securing only two delegates there at the district level and none statewide.  (And we should note that there are 16 delegates yet to be assigned from these contests.)

Vote Margin
Delegates
State
BTRTN
Actual
BTRTN
Actual
Michigan
Biden +15
Biden +17
Biden 71/53
Biden 72/52
Washington
Biden +2
Biden +2
Biden 45/43
Tied 37/37
Missouri
Biden +20
Biden +25
Biden 40/27
Biden 44/24
Mississippi
Biden +45
Biden +66
Biden 26/10
Biden 34/2
Idaho
Biden +2
Biden +6
Tied 10/10
Biden 11/9
North Dakota
Biden +2
Sanders +13
Tied 7/7
Sanders 8/6
Total
n/a
n/a
Biden 199/148
Biden 204/132


So far we have called 18 out of 24 contests correctly, or 19 out of 25 since Washington seems a given.  We were wrong on Iowa (by one-tenth of a point), American Samoa (Bloomberg took that one with 175 votes – not by 175 votes, with 175 votes), North Dakota (another small caucus, Sanders racked up 7,682 votes there), and then the Super Tuesday shockers, Maine, Massachusetts and Minnesota.







2 comments:

  1. Primary voting soon ending. The big question is the impact of the corona virus on the voting. Crossing fingers - will be an interesting evening. If Sanders results are much better than predicted he might continue - however if worse - he might end his campaign.

    I would not have expected the corona virus have so much impact on US voting when the CBA stopped playing and Jeremy Lin returned to the US. Then the NBA seemed to be able to continue - now they have stopped playing - and now questions with primaries!

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  2. Unfortunately I think Bernie will keep going as he did in 2016 when it was very clear that he couldn't win. He may have some notion that he will have more input at the convention on policy. I think he is too stubborn to stop even though it may mean that many of his supporters become so locked in that they will never get out and vote for Biden. He will justify staying in, as I said, by the theory that it will maximize his leverage and his egotistical conviction that, no matter when he endorses Biden, his followers will almost all follow that endorsement. I hope I am wrong.

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