Saturday, February 15, 2020

Race for the White House # 59

It has now been nearly a week since the New Hampshire Primary and still a week until we know the winner of the Nevada Caucus. So, this feels like an earlier than usual lull in the early primary season roller coaster, but of course many things are happening and there is no way that I will be able to remember it all.

Bernie Sanders is the back to back winner of the New Hampshire primary, doing what nobody has ever done before and winning two contests in consecutive cycles in open nomination years. John McCain once took two New Hampshire Primaries, but eight years apart. While he did not win the most delegates out of Iowa, it seems that Sanders has gotten more votes than any other Democrat in both of the first two states. Only Al Gore and John Kerry can lay claim to having done that in open nomination contests and both of course won their party's nomination.

So, on the surface, the Vermont Senator looks like he should be an overwhelming favorite. Yet upon closer inspection his victory in New Hampshire is somewhat less than meets the eye. To be sure, Sanders has a more loyal base of support than any other candidate. He is a threat to win just about everywhere, as long as the field is divided. If the "moderates" (which is pretty amazing they are called that considering) do not unite to stop him, he may win a very splintered field much like Donald Trump did in the Republican Party four years. A big difference is that while GOP states were largely "winner take all", the Democrats will divide up delegates, and this means that a "brokered convention" may actually happen.

The top three Democrats on Tuesday were both in the 20 percent range, which has not been seen since the 1996 Republican contest. Sanders held a lead all night, but things tightened toward the end and he edged out (no pun intended) Pete Buttigieg by about two points. Most would have expected a larger New Hampshire win for the neighboring Senator whom four years ago beat Hillary Clinton in the Granite State by more than 20 points. So, on the heels of a virtual Iowa win, this was an impressive showing for "Mayor Pete." It is almost incredibly impressive that on the heels of a middling Iowa showing, but a strong New Hampshire debate, Amy Klobuchar easily took third place with about 20 percent of the total vote. Both she and Buttigieg saw a surge from late deciders at the end. Needless to say, it looks like either one of them would have actually beaten Sanders if not for the other. A solid silver medal though for Buttigieg, and it should be noted that in his lifetime, four out of seven second place finishers, including the last two in New Hampshire, went on to be nominated by the Democrats.

The next two candidates had very disappointing nights and it is hard to sugarcoat the desperation thir campaigns now find themselves in. At one point, not long ago, many thought the nomination contest would come down to a showdown between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. In  New Hampshire, the neighboring Massachusetts Senator and former two term Vice President both failed to hit double digits in their vote percentage.Warren did beat out Biden for fourth place. The former Vice President who basically conceded New Hampshire earlier in the week, skipped out on the the state for South Carolina on Election Day when people were still voting and his volunteers were trying to still gather votes.

It has to be mentioned that Joe Biden has been running for President for 33 years now and has never finished better than fourth in any primary contest. He is expected to stay on through another expected loss in Nevada (although many feel he has to at least be third) and then face the "must-win" of all political "must-wins" the next Saturday in South Carolina. I just do not see it happening for Mr. Biden. This of course leads to all sorts of hypotheticals. Clearly, Trumpworld once feared him the most and that seemed logical at the time. So, they went to great lengths to try to harm Biden by weaponizing his son Hunter against him. Perhaps, they succeeded in knocking Biden out by doing just that, or perhaps Biden was always going to knock himself out and Trump wound up getting impeached for a pretty stupid reason.

I also think it is just about the end for Elizabeth Warren, who cannot even hope for a South Carolina type firewall. Her "base" has decided they prefer Sanders more. She lost support when she tried to water down her proposals and her Senate colleague seemingly never concedes an inch.For now, she is trying to present herself as a "unity candidate" who can unite "both wings" of the party (far left and further left?)  but it would take a lot of dominoes to fall into place for that. At least for Biden and Warren, there are now three fewer candidates. New Hampshire spelled the end for Michael Bennet, Andrew Yang, and Deval Patrick. It is hard to see how Patrick (who got less votes by far than his predecessor as Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld got on the Republican side in a landslide loss to Donald Trump) or Bennet saw a path for themselves in this race, but at least people now know whom Yang is. He is talked about as a potential future candidate for Mayor of New York City and we know all about the Presidential ambitions of New York Mayors.

In all seriousness about how far left the Democrats have gone and how "moderate" may be a misnomer, there does seem to be a battle being waged between ideology and electability. The combined vote of Sanders and Warren in New Hampshire was well behind that of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden. Of course there is also Michael Bloomberg spending his money on tv ads, gathering endorsements, including among many African-American, and waiting for Super Tuesday.

Just how low will Sanders "progressive" ceiling be? There is no doubt that many Democrats are (rightfully) panicked about his general election viability. To me, the main story in the near future will be who can survive in a sub-primary showdown between Buttigieg and Klobuchar. The former Mayor of South Bend seems to have more of a national organization at this point, but things can change quickly. I have a hunch that if Elizabeth Warren drops out, she might endorse Klobuchar. (The Minnesota Senator is touting her national experience as a gravitas edge over he younger more inexperienced opponent, but I read that she was unable to name the President of Mexico last night at a forum in Nevada, while Buttigieg got the name correct.)

So, we may be headed to a Bernie vs. Pete or Bernie vs. Amy Final 2. However, "Mike", is going to have a lot to say about that. Eventually, the now 78 year old will have to share a debate stage with his opponents and the pressure on him will be high. Attacks are mounting on Bloomberg for past statements that many feel were racist or misogynist. Bloomberg is trying to walk a balance between apologizing and defending his record in both private and public life. To the increasing number of anti-Trump folks who just want to beat the incumbent, all of this may not even matter. Clearly, Bloomberg gets under Trump's skin, as the two men are increasingly insulting each other on Twitter and in interviews.

So, unless something dramatic changes, we could be waiting for the Buttigieg vs. Klobuchar survivor to demonstrate they can also beat Bloomberg before they face off ultimately with Sanders for the right to face Trump. It sort of all makes sense to me. Others insist that Biden and Warren should not be counted out (unlike Steyer and Gabbard.) I think it will be pretty remarkable if Warren wins anywhere and if Biden survives to anything other than a potentially weak victory in South Carolina which would be his highmark. At this point though, I do not even expect him to win there two weeks from now. Nevada comes first though and there could be quite a muddle at the top. The powerful Las Vegas Culinary Union, which was heavily courted by both Biden and Warren decided not to endorse anyone, which on the surface is a boost for Sanders, yet the Union is definitely making it known they oppose Sanders because of his "Medicare for All" proposal which would cancel labor-union negotiated healthcare.

While 14 percent of Republicans did vote against Donald Trump in New Hampshire, he still took every delegate in a primary which he fared better than any incumbent in recent history. It has to be mentioned that his base is very motivated to turn out and support him, even when he is virtually uncontested. It is also true that the very high Democrat turnout in New Hampshire was aided by moderate Republican types who voted in the other primary four years ago but who crossed over this time, largely to support Buttigieg and Klobuchar. Had they kept their Republican registration, the incumbent's percentage would have been down. Supporters of Trump can find things out of New Hampshire to be both heartened about and scared of.

In the midst of all of this, Trump of course continued to make news by his Tweeting and attempts to involve himself in going Justice Department actions. Many feel that Attorney General Bill Barr took action to try to lessen the sentencing of original Trump lackey Roger Stone this week, only to then publicly complain about Trump undermining him on Twitter. Critics of the Administration think that was all just an "act." I ask if Trump is secure enough to let him pretend that one of his people thinks he did something that was not "perfect."

I am almost certainly skipping something else worth mentioning. Perhaps I can think of more areas to delve into next week as we will assume the results pouring in from Nevada will not be the debacle that the Iowa Caucuses were.


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