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Biden looks likely to win South Carolina. A study throws doubt on Sanders’ electability.

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4 (Phil Roeder)
  • Joe Biden has risen in the South Carolina polls seemingly at the expense of the other center-left candidates.
  • Biden has also taken a commanding lead in the endorsement primary, most recently winning the support of South Carolina’s most prominent Democrat: Congressman James Clyburn.
  • Bernie Sanders has far less support from party officials, but he has won the endorsement of New York mayor Bill de Blasio, himself briefly a 2020 hopeful.
  • Biden needs a win in South Carolina, where one in six Democratic voters are black, to breathe new life into his campaign.
  • Sanders is wildly popular in California, the largest state to vote on Super Tuesday, March 3, but Biden leads in the few polls that have been conducted in Florida and Georgia. In North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Sanders are neck and neck.
  • Bloomberg won’t be on the ballot in South Carolina.

South Carolina polling averages

270toWin FiveThirtyEight RealClearPolitics
Biden 35.2% 37.6% 34.4%
Sanders 18.7% 17.8% 21.8%
Steyer 15.2% 12.9% 13.8%
Buttigieg 8.5% 7.7% 8.2%
Warren 8.3% 7.6% 8.2%
Klobuchar 4.3% 4.1% 3.8%

National polling averages

270toWin FiveThirtyEight RealClearPolitics
Sanders 29.4% 28.8% 29.5%
Biden 17.6% 16.7% 18%
Bloomberg 14.8% 15.4% 14.7%
Warren 13.2% 12.7% 12%
Buttigieg 10.4% 10.9% 10.3%
Klobuchar 4.4% 4.9% 5.3%

My take on the debate

Biden made a strong impression in the CBS debate in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday. The former vice president was able to broadcast his superior experience without appearing condescending. Coupled with the Clyburn endorsement and Biden’s improving poll numbers in South Carolina, it looks like he will the first Southern primary decisively, which could position him for a good showing on Super Tuesday three days later, when fourteen states and American Samoa vote.

Bloomberg did better than last week, but he set a low bar with his tepid performance in Las Vegas. The rationale for his candidacy — that he will consolidate the anti-Sanders vote — looks more doubtful now that Biden is rising.

Sanders was finally confronted about the sympathetic comments he has made in the past about far-left regimes and looked rattled. It reminded me of two things he has in common with Jeremy Corbyn, even though the British Labour Party leader is far to Sanders’ left in terms of policy:

  1. Neither likes to be challenged. Corbyn would respond to every interruption, whether from a journalist or a fellow politician, with an indignant “Can I finish?” Sanders’ inevitable response is to outshout his opponents, which usually works, but I long for a calmer politics.
  2. Neither will shut up about things that only matter to voters who already support them. In Sanders’ case, praise he heaped on communist Cuba’s education system. He may have a point — but why make the point? Who is he trying to win over when he says Fidel Castro may have been a dictator but did raise Cuban literacy? Worst case, it could make it harder for Democrats to win back Florida, when they have a real opening there with young Cuban Americans.

Buttigieg spoke in well-prepared lines that sounded well-prepared. Warren got positive press for accusing Bloomberg of mistreating women in the last debate, so she repeated the attacks, which this time fell flat.

I’m also unsure about the strategy here. Warren isn’t winning over any Bloomberg voters. If she’s trying to win over Sanders voters by appearing more woke, she should know by now that, so long as Sanders has a real chance of winning the nomination, his voters aren’t going anywhere.

The Bloomberg-Warren spat was particularly dispiriting to me. They are my two favorite candidates. Both project competence, which is sorely lacking in the White House. But a Bloomberg-Warren ticket is starting to look like a liberal-technocratic fantasy.

Klobuchar and Steyer were irrelevant. They need to drop out and give the other center-left candidates a chance to defeat Sanders.

Nonvoters don’t lean Democratic

The Knight Foundation has done a survey of nonvoters, which should give the Sanders campaign pause.

They argue a socialist can defeat Donald Trump by mobilizing nonvoters rather than appealing to swing voters. But the Knight study finds that Americans who did not vote in the last election split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Black and brown Americans, who lean Democratic, are overrepresented among nonvoters, but overall two-thirds of nonvoters are white.

It confirms what Amy Walter wrote in 2016, when Republican Ted Cruz similarly argued he could win a presidential election by mobilizing religious voters on the right: “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” in politics.

The very thing that will motivate the so-called “missing” evangelical and conservative voters to the polls will also bring out those loyal to Democrats, erasing any advantage a fired-up base will bring Cruz.

The same appears to be true the other way around. It’s why nominating Sanders looks like such a big risk to me, and — I’ve argued this before — when the alternative is four more years of Trump, I wouldn’t want to take any risks.

Read more

  • David Broockman and Joshua Kalla on Sanders’ electability.
  • David Frum on Sanders putting Democratic House seats in conservative-leaning districts at risk.
  • Michael Gerson calls for a return of professionalism and prudence: “What if the greatest need of the republic is not for an outsider to shake things up, but an insider to get things done on education reform, and immigration reform, and global health?” I’m telling you, Bloomberg-Warren 2020!
  • Ibram X. Kendi argues moderate Democrats are the ones not learning from their failures.
  • Chryl Laird and Ismail White on why even moderate and conservative African Americans tend to vote Democratic.
  • David Leonhardt on Sanders’ refusal (so far) to signal respect to voters outside his base.
  • Edward Luce believes Bloomberg is helping Sanders by confirming that American democracy “has become a plaything of billionaires” and by “diverting the other candidates’ attention” from Sanders.

What’s next?

  • February 29: South Carolina primary
  • March 3: Super Tuesday
  • March 3-10: Democrats abroad primary
  • March 10: Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Washington primaries, North Dakota caucuses
  • March 14: Northern Mariana Islands caucuses

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