Things change in American politics in a matter of hours. At this point the Democratic presidential primary race is no exception. I hope you read this article soon after it is published because if you wait very long it will be a history lesson not a snapshot in time. Let’s explore.
Tuesday night seven hopefuls (Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren) took the stage in Charleston, South Carolina for the last debate prior to Saturday’s South Carolina Primary and Super Tuesday on March 3rd. The event was broadcast by CBS. It was far and away the worst debate of the cycle! CBS’s Norah O’Donnell was absolutely terrible as a moderator. Her “co-pilot” for the night, Gayle King, while better was unable to save her. For the most part the candidates simple ignored both the time limits and the moderators.
None of the candidates really distinguished themselves. The most interesting comment of the night was Joe Biden’s answer to the final question/closing statement when he promised to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. Considering the historical discrimination against black women I wonder how large his pool of talent would be.
Before I move on from the debate I have to declare a winner: Donald Trump.
Sanders is viewed by many as the clear frontrunner. While that may be true in the future the numbers certainly do not justify that moniker at the moment. The primary is a race for delegates. Like electoral votes in the general that is how we keep score. At this point the delegate count is Sanders 45, Buttigieg 25, Biden 15, Warren 8, Klobuchar 7 and everyone else zero. To secure the nomination on the first ballot you need 1,991 delegates; at this point 100 have been awarded. Using a 40 minute college basketball game and 100 points to win; at this point Sanders is up by one point two minutes into the game. Now the old coach in me certainly liked being up by one two minutes in but I was hardly thinking about clearing the bench.
Saturday South Carolina will award 63 delegates. Biden, whether he now wants to admit it or not, has put himself in a must win situation. Regardless of how well he does or doesn’t do he will compete in the Super Tuesday primaries as will all the others still in the race.
There are 1,357 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday and the results will start to narrow the field. After Tuesday several of the challengers will see that they have no reasonable path to 1,991 and their money will rapidly start to dry up. This next stretch of a few days is the political viability equivalent of life and death for most of the seven.
Bloomberg and Steyer have enough personal wealth that if they want to continue they can self-fund beyond viability. Bloomberg in particular is a unique political science experiment in that he chose not to compete in the first four contests and electorally is first jumping in next Tuesday. We have never seen a legitimate candidate do that before and with his personal wealth he can and has. Steyer has outspent the non-billionaire five combined by a wide margin, much of his spending was concentrated in Nevada and South Carolina in order to “game” the debate eligibility process. He went zero for Nevada and if he has another poor showing in South Carolina you have to wonder how far past Super Tuesday he will chose to beat a dead horse. Steyer is starting to look like Rudi Giuliani in 2008 when he spent tens of millions of dollars and failed to win a single delegate. The difference was that Rudi was spending other people’s money, not his own.
The other five are dependent on donors. If that funding source dries up – and all but Sanders appear in that possible situation – the “gas tank” will simple hit empty in short order. I expect to see several drop out after Super Tuesday.
We should have a lot more answers and perhaps what I will be comfortable calling a frontrunner (and it could be Sanders) by sometime next week. Here is something I’m willing to bet on: there will be fewer hopefuls on stage when CNN and Univision host the next debate on March 15th in Phoenix, Arizona.
The word for several of the seven may well be Shakespeare’s famous line, “Beware the Ides of March”. Some of you won’t make it that far.
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