Joe Biden is back. A couple days ago it became clear South Carolina would revive him, but the did more than that. He won by almost 30 points. His victory was almost a mirror image of what Bernie Sanders did in Nevada a week ago. Almost. Both fell just short of 50%. But Biden did that on raw popular votes. While Sanders has nothing to be ashamed of, he only pulled 35% on the first alignment in Nevada, the closest thing a caucus has to a popular vote.
Any and all Biden alternatives gave up ground over the final week. Tom Steyer went from close to 20% to just over 10% to out of the race. Pete Buttigieg was never going to win South Carolina. But a decent amount of polls had him in double digits. Had he closed the way he did previously, he’d have wound up somewhere near 15%. It didn’t happen. He barely cleared 8%. That was more than double Amy Klobuchar’s result. She only got 3%. Even in Nevada, those two combined for a little more than 25% on the first alignment. In New Hampshire, they got 45%.
This was not just a matter of ethnic demographics helping Biden. Yes, his victory was sealed by tremendous support from African American voters. In the counties with the largest percentages of black voters, he regularly got 60% or more of the total vote. Yes, Buttigieg and Klobuchar once again failed to get voters of color to choose them. But Biden did far better with white voters here. He did better than he had previously with liberal and somewhat liberal voters. He didn’t get clobbered with voters under 45, though that’s still not his strength.
Biden’s affiliation with Barack Obama helped. His longstanding ties to South Carolina helped. The endorsement from Jim Clyburn helped. But Bernie Sanders may have helped most of all. It’s very clear Biden was seen as the last, best, hope to prevent a quick Sanders nomination. And that happened today. The FiveThirtyEight model now thinks there’s a 60% chance no candidate earns a majority of delegates through the primary process.
Bernie is still favored. If there is a majority winner, they think it’s more than twice as likely him, than Biden. Nobody else can get a majority. The rest of the field is given a 1% chance. Combined. If there was no such thing as early voting, Biden would be in great shape right now. He’s getting momentum at a perfect time. Except in many Super Tuesday states, a large proportion of voters have already made their choice. It will matter in different ways.
In California, it’s a matter of delegates. Sanders will win by a lot, and would win by a lot regardless of how the state lets people vote. Several other candidates, Biden included, are on the precipice of the 15% cutoff. Even if voters rally to him, and they will, safely pushing him above the threshold in most congressional districts, Sanders may still benefit if the other candidates fall short, leaving a lot of delegates to go to him. We’ll look at this more closely tomorrow, but it’s a mess, and Bernie stands to do very, very well.
In Texas, this could be huge for Biden, and even if he’s unlikely to post a big delegate advantage, can at least keep himself from losing ground to Sanders. And a win there would give the two a split of the two biggest states. Places like North Carolina and Virginia were looking very competitive between Biden, Sanders, and Bloomberg. Maybe this pushes Biden past both of them. Same in Tennessee and Arkansas.
You can now be 100% certain Biden will win Alabama, and by a good amount. The biggest difference between there and South Carolina is Bloomberg. So when we get the results, we’ll know how much it mattered that he wasn’t on the ballot today. It helped Biden’s margin. But perhaps he would have been better served if he’d defeated him today. Sanders is likely to win several of the paler states on Tuesday. Biden needs most or all of the more ethnically mixed states to keep Bernie within reach.
The gap in California is probably too much for Biden to make up elsewhere. But if they’re within 100 delegates, and split the amount of states won, then it’s not too late for him. Given the resistance to Sanders from the establishment and older voters, and the pushback against Joe from younger voters and the left, it’s going to be very difficult for either to get the nomination if they don’t have the most delegates. Biden needs to pass Bernie, not just prevent him from getting a majority. Or failing at that, have won the majority of the final 20 contests.
Tomorrow, we begin the Super Tuesday previews. It just got a lot more interesting.