Warren Manifests an Opportunity

Pete Buttigieg finished ahead of Elizabeth Warren in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. He has more than three times as many delegates. He’s gone. Amy Klobuchar got double the support Warren did in New Hampshire, a state bordering Massachusetts, not Minnesota. Klobuchar was favored to win her home state tomorrow, Warren is not. Amy is done. Tom Steyer has a bottomless bank account, finished ahead of Warren in South Carolina, and has outperformed her among voters of color. He quit before South Carolina finished counting.

While it was time for Steyer to turn back in to a pumpkin, and Mayor Pete and Klobuchar both made smart strategic decisions, it’s telling that they’re all gone while Warren persists. I’ll admit, as recently as Saturday afternoon, I didn’t see a path for her. She’s not likely to win a single state. She was at extreme risk of being embarrassed at home (still possible.) Despite any and all evidence or results, Warren continued insisting she would both stay in the race and be a potential consensus nominee. Even if she loses Massachusetts.

Candidates say all sorts of things. Usually they’re bluffing. Klobuchar was “focused on Super Tuesday.” Buttigieg was going to “shock the world” with all of his Super Tuesday delegates. They’re both endorsing Joe Biden in Dallas tonight. When they run out of money and/or they run out of real hope, they exit. Each 2020 ex-candidate, except for future third party participant Tulsi Gabbard, has done this. None have continued once it was clear they couldn’t make a positive impact toward their goals.

What a difference a couple days and a couple departures can make. There’s a more than decent chance Elizabeth Warren is the most important person in the Democratic nomination contest. Continue reading “Warren Manifests an Opportunity”

Super Tuesday Preview: CA, TX—There’s Delegates in Them Thar Hills

Between them, California and Texas have 643 delegates to assign. That’s more than 15% of the total. In a world where the same candidate won all of the delegates from both states, it would give them about a third of what they need to get nominated. Super Tuesday has a lot to pay attention to, but from a pure math standpoint, these two matter more than the rest. These two mega states will likely determine whether Bernie Sanders has a good chance at winning a delegate majority before the convention. They’ll also decide if there’s a way Joe Biden can catch up to Sanders before Milwaukee. For good measure, they’ll weigh in on whether Mike Bloomberg is a factor, and whether Elizabeth Warren can continue trying to earn delegates, or needs to slink away sooner than later.

In California, it’s a margin thing, not who will win. Bernie has this. He’s favored in Texas, and early voting might make it impossible for Biden to catch him, but there’s at least a little drama about the winner. Again though, it’s by how much, more than who wins. Let’s take a closer look:


2016 Results: Hillary Clinton won by a few points. It was close, but in a state this big, we’re talking about a few hundred thousand votes. The margin was similar to Nevada. As we saw this year, Bernie has made progress out West, particularly with Latino voters. His California poll average (33%) is close to his first alignment caucus results in Nevada (35%.) His formula is simple. Increase the age range of Latino voters from his 2016 results, while monopolizing the youngest and most progressive voters of any ethnicity. Appeal to a wider range of African American voters than he does in the South. None of the first four states have large Asian-Pacific Islander populations like California does. Bernie is polling competitively, though not overwhelmingly with them so far. His results will influence his prospects in Washington on March 10.

For Biden, his key opportunity is to consolidate as much as he possibly can from the Clinton 2016 supporters. He has some cross-over with Warren here. Along with more moderate voters who thought Sanders was too far left then, and still do. If he were to take some late-deciding Warren supporters who are not part of the base that won’t abandon her, along with taking back Bloomberg supporters who were originally Biden’s, plus getting those who preferred Buttigieg before he dropped out, or Klobuchar but know she can’t win here, it adds up to a lot.

Early Voting: Californians are notorious early voters. All residents can request mail ballots. They began casting them on February 3, the same date as the Iowa caucus. Bernie started surging in polls here a few weeks ago, so he likely didn’t miss out on any potential early votes. Biden’s position today is the best it’s been since the beginning of the process, so he stands to lose the most from early decision making. However, maybe not as much as we’d think. An elections expert who has tracked vote-by-mail returns is claiming a smaller than normal percentage of frequent primary voters have sent theirs in. It’s particularly concentrated among those who have participated in the last five presidential primaries.

Rather than the normal 60-65%, only 47% are in so far. Anecdotally, the frequent Democratic voters I know in California have delayed to the last minute too. This is great news for Biden. I’d be extremely surprised if it’s enough for him to catch Sanders. But it will be enough to ensure he reaches the 15% delegate threshold statewide, and in most/all of the 53 congressional districts.

Warren is right on the precipice. Overall, this probably isn’t great news for her, and could be enough to deny her the necessary 15% in most places. It’s distinctly bad news for Bloomberg and Buttigieg. Especially Mayor Pete. His results with voters of color in Nevada and South Carolina were disappointing. And that was after significant outreach efforts and a good amount of advertising. He hasn’t had time/money to do either in California. That leaves him with the type of white voters who were most likely to stall. Amy Klobuchar can similarly expect a problem. She’s not finished ahead of Pete yet, and won’t here.

NOTE: Above paragraph was written before Pete dropped out. And it’s part of why he dropped out. It’s also why early voting a month ahead of the primary is a bad idea. I’d imagine his early voters would like to have the chance to pick Biden, Bloomberg, or Warren right now.

Delegates: With Pete out, the odds of Bloomberg and/or Warren qualifying decently often have increased. Biden will do even better. The best outcome for Joe is having Bloomberg fall short in most districts, but Warren just clear the barrier. No matter how you slice it, this doesn’t help Sanders. Ex-Buttigieg supporters are less likely to pick him than his competitors. Between this and Biden’s recovery, his dream scenario of having everyone else fall below 15% in most places is off the table.

Current Polls: Buttigieg was dipping below 10% in most California polls, hence his withdrawal. Klobuchar really isn’t registering. She’s not a factor. Neither was Steyer, so his withdrawal won’t move enough votes to concern ourselves with. Biden, Bloomberg, and Warren were all close to the line. I’m comfortable assuming Biden will exceed the pre-South Carolina polling, which had him a little ahead of the other two anyway. Very curious to see if we get any data between now and Tuesday that would give a clearer idea of where Bloomberg and Warren will land.


2016 Results: Hillary clobbered Bernie here in 2016, winning by a 2:1 margin in both popular votes and delegate allocation. His current polls have him with about the same support he had in a one-on-one race last time. That’s not absurd. While he lost badly to Biden in South Carolina yesterday, Bernie did get about 80% of the support he had in a two-person contest. If you add him and Warren together (which you probably shouldn’t), it adds to more than he got in 2016.

Texans weren’t ready for him yet four years ago. Clinton had already won Texas in 2008. It wasn’t a great combination. Tejanos particularly, and Texas Latinos in general, are more conservative than Latinos in places like California and Nevada. The Latin community skews a little older in Texas too.

Early Voting: A lot of Texans participate. Unlike California, they only got started on February 18, which means almost entirely after Bloomberg bombed his first debate. I’m tempted to suggest he was more impacted by that in Texas than many other places. He’d reached 20% in selected polls, and unlike Florida, where he can rebound for March 17 if Biden doesn’t knock him out on Tuesday, the one-two punch of struggling and then having Biden jump forward, is almost guaranteed to keep him in third at best.

I think it was probably a neutral factor for Warren. Her ability to reach 15% has gone up with Mayor Pete’s abdication, but he booked a few votes in early voting. Clearly Biden would have been better served if nobody voted before Tuesday. We’ll see if Bernie’s head start makes it impossible for Joe to close the gap.

Delegates: Very similar story to California. We know Sanders will get a lot of delegates, even if he doesn’t win. We can now assume the same for Biden. Buttigieg’s absence drops the odds of Sanders having a big delegate gap in Texas. You can see either or both of Bloomberg/Warren rallying a little and staying above the line in many places, or center-leaning voters abandoning Bloomberg for Biden, while progressives pull the plug on Warren for Bernie.

If both California and Texas delegates are almost entirely Bernie or Biden, it greatly improves the odds that one could get to a majority, or close enough to end debate, in time for the convention.

Current Polls: If you believe NBC/Marist, this is over. They showed Sanders up 15 points on Biden, which, accounting for early voting, would make his lead insurmountable. A YouGov poll from a similar time period had Biden within four points. If that’s true, Biden is likely to catch or surpass Bernie. NBC/Marist doesn’t tend to favor Sanders, and YouGov doesn’t favor Biden, so there’s no reason to believe one while rejecting the other.

If you prefer averaging and figuring the truth is somewhere in the middle, Bernie has a clear advantage, but one that Biden could make up if the cards fall correctly for him. Texas is distinctly more in doubt than California. Biden has polled well in general election surveys here, finishing within the margin of error against Donald Trump on a regular basis. He also led here when he was leading nationally. That wasn’t always true in California.

A week ago, it looked like Sanders could use California and Texas to create a delegate gap Biden wouldn’t surmount, regardless of how well he did later. Once Barack Obama got an early lead on Hillary, she couldn’t catch up, regardless of how many important states she won later. Thanks to the voters of South Carolina, Jim Clyburn, and Pete Buttigieg, the odds have shifted tremendously. Now it’s possible Biden could win more Super Tuesday delegates than Sanders. If this happens, a late recovery in Texas, and to a lesser extent California, will make it possible. At the same time, early voting has made it very difficult for Biden to create a lot of space ahead of Sanders.

Super Tuesday Preview: MA, MN, VT—Favorite Daughters (and a Son)

Once upon a time, in a nomination system far, far away, there was something called a favorite son. Nominations were decided at party conventions. Some states did have primaries, but many didn’t. Often, even when there was a primary, the active candidates wouldn’t contest it. The state party would put up a popular governor or senator. Someone who wasn’t truly running for president, but was strong enough at home to scare off the leading candidates from out of state. The Favorite Son would then win the primary and delegates attached.

When the convention rolled around, the state party would have full control of the delegation, and negotiate accordingly with the contenders to see what platform and other concessions they could get if they chose a particular horse on the first ballot. For example, in 1960, California Governor Pat Brown ran as the favorite son in the Democratic primary, while JFK, Hubert Humphrey, and the other contenders stayed away. Kennedy then needed to bargain with the California delegation before and at the convention to win their support. His first ballot victory would not have happened without it, as he barely cleared a delegate majority.

When the system changed for 1972, with most states holding primaries or caucuses open to the public, and most serious candidates contesting most of them, the gambit fell out of favor. We think of candidates having an edge in general elections because they can win a key home state, but usually ignore it during primary season. This created a different primary season element. Avoiding embarrassment. Continue reading “Super Tuesday Preview: MA, MN, VT—Favorite Daughters (and a Son)”

The Biden Resurrection

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%. Continue reading “The Biden Resurrection”

South Carolina Preview: Final Predictions

Joe Biden is going to win. Sorry if I ruined the fun. But the margin matters. As does the order others wind up in. Also the delegate count. A candidate needs 15% statewide or 15% in a congressional district to qualify. Biden and Bernie Sanders are going to be over the threshold. Will any of the others? How many candidates finish behind Tom Steyer? There’s no way looking up at him will qualify as momentum going in to Super Tuesday.

For reference, here are the final poll numbers, and here is the FiveThirtyEight projection. One more wrinkle. South Carolina is a truly open primary. In Iowa and Nevada, voters were either registered Democrats or needed to register as such at the caucus. In New Hampshire, Independents could participate in either primary. South Carolina allows both Independents and Republicans to participate in the Democratic primary. And this year, there is no Republican primary. The Trump campaign and its’ various allies have encouraged GOP voters to show up and vote for Bernie (or whomever they think the weakest choice is.)

Personally, I think a party primary shouldn’t include voters from the other team. I’d question the inclusion of Independents, but you can argue that they’re the ones who decide elections, so it’s useful to include their thoughts. Given the level of support Trump has among those still registered as Republicans, this seems like malpractice. However, these rules are made by the state. Caucuses are operated by the state parties, primaries by the state itself. I saw a projection that 29% of South Carolina Democratic primary participants will be Republicans. If this is true, it will help Sanders. Continue reading “South Carolina Preview: Final Predictions”

South Carolina Pumps the Brakes

The Palmetto State is 48 hours away from officially salvaging Joe Biden’s candidacy. A week ago, Biden and Bernie Sanders were effectively tied in South Carolina polls. Today, Biden is up by 20 points. Twenty. It’s the best he’s looked there in weeks. You might think he was boosted by Tuesday’s debate and/or the endorsement from Jim Clyburn. Didn’t hurt, but if you check the poll dates, you’ll see the worm started turning right after Nevada. Some of these surveys were completed before the debate.

To recap the chronology, Biden led by a lot for all of 2019. Nobody was close to him in poll averages. Maybe an outlier here or there would put someone within 10 to 15 points, but his lead was dominant. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were the closest two candidates, and as neither of them are a great fit for the state, trailed by big margins. Pollsters skipped most of January. Then, as Biden flagged in Iowa and then New Hampshire, his South Carolina numbers suffered. He never trailed, but the margin narrowed significantly. Sanders was up to the low 20s, Tom Steyer was upper teens, while Biden fell to middle/upper 20s.

At this point, looking at the trend line, FiveThirtyEight’s model saw Sanders as a narrow favorite. It was a reasonable conclusion. Especially if Bernie got a good Nevada result and Biden didn’t. Well, Sanders hit the jackpot, getting near 50% of the county delegate equivalents. As much as the Biden campaign tried to spin his second place finish, he was closer to sixth than first. You could imagine he did well enough to stop the erosion, but not that losing by 26 points would launch him. Continue reading “South Carolina Pumps the Brakes”

Sh*tshow at the O.K. Corral

Folks, the fact of the matter is, this was awful. Yeah, it’s fun to watch Elizabeth Warren beat on Mike Bloomberg, but those fireworks were confined to the first 20-30 minutes. After that, it was a bunch of presidential aspirants channeling their third grade selves, leaning forward, hands raised, hoping to get called on, and then interjecting anyway when they were ignored. The networks set debate rules in conjunction with the national party. The goal is supposedly to win in November, and carry as many senators and representatives along as possible.

This did not help that. Nor did last week’s installment of Survivor. The candidates are desperate. That’s normal for this stage of the campaign. Except for Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Bernie Sanders, they’re out of money. Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar are working overtime to justify their existence. None of the those three are a sure shot to hit the 15% needed statewide or in a given congressional district to win delegates. Warren and Klobuchar should get delegates in their respective home states on Super Tuesday, but they’ll need more than that.

It’s their job to do whatever they have to. It’s the job of the party to make sure the field doesn’t look ridiculous in the process. The combination of desperation and moderators who weren’t skilled at keeping answers to a consistent time frame (either mostly staying within the official limits, or evenly allowing overages), nor were they clear about who was allowed to talk next. So candidates spent much of the evening talking over each other, cutting each other off, and commenting on the debate process.

The moderators weren’t great, but they don’t choose the format. And it’s not like they have extensive training as referees. Everyone was put in a position to fail. Once they lost control, there wasn’t much chance of making sure to balance out the difficult questions and the softballs. Not much opportunity to get the higher polling candidates a little more time, but make sure everyone gets to go first sometimes. So what to do to avoid this nightmare from repeating? Continue reading “Sh*tshow at the O.K. Corral”

Debate Preview: A Debate for Old Men

This debate is about two candidates. Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg. The others are garnish. Props. Facilitators. They exist merely to test our two protagonists. But what about Elizabeth Warren? See above. If Bloomie can’t handle her assault after getting a practice round, then he and his half-billion dollars (and counting) project is doomed.

The first couple national polls (YouGov and Morning Consult) to have data from immediately before and after the Nevada debate indicate Bloomberg lost a couple points and Warren picked up a couple. That’s not enough to make her a factor. Even if she fillets him again, it will be worth a couple more points at most. Perhaps enough to get her a few Super Tuesday delegates. Maybe enough to spare her the embarrassment of losing Massachusetts. Not enough to contend for the nomination. Bernie Sanders is just too far ahead of her.

She has her motivations to continue, and at the margins, she matters. But if you’re expecting her to do well in South Carolina just because she can cook Billionaire flambe, think again. Her presence is Bloomberg’s opportunity, not the other way around. It might not be fair, but it’s so. Continue reading “Debate Preview: A Debate for Old Men”

The Power of Caucus Math

As I type this, 88% of Nevada precincts have reported. Close enough to done for us to look under the hood a bit. And we’re finding the conversion from first alignment (i.e. popular vote), to final alignment, to County Caucus Delegates, changes the story. A lot. If it weren’t for Bernie Sanders, we’d lack this information. Nevada would have reported CCDs only. And without the transparency and the extra time it takes to make sure the numbers add up, he’d have been declared the winner with almost half of Nevadans supporting him by late afternoon on Saturday.

I’m sure he’ll be fine the way it turned out. Everyone knows he crushed it. Sanders wound up making the same statement Donald Trump did in 2016, when he ended the idea there was a 30-35% ceiling on his support by getting 47% in Nevada. Bernie is tracking along at 47% himself. But these two numbers are not the same. Republican caucuses don’t have realignment or conversion to state/county delegates. When Trump got 47%, he got 47% of all voters who participated.

Right now, Sanders has 34.3% of the initial popular vote. That’s not a bad number at all in a six person contest. It’s almost exactly double Joe Biden’s 17.9%. But when we move from first to final alignment, Sanders jumps to 40.7%. He then leaps again to 47.1% when assigning the CCDs. A solid win becomes a rout. Continue reading “The Power of Caucus Math”

Nevada Recap: Tio Bernie!

So they’re still not done counting. But it’s plenty clear who won. When the Associated Press calls the caucus for you with 4% of precincts reporting, you had a good day. Unlike Iowa, where Bernie Sanders underperformed his polls by a couple points, and lost out to Pete Buttigieg by the narrowest imaginable margin on the State Delegate Equivalents measurement, or New Hampshire, where he won, but by a way thinner margin than 2016, Nevada was a beat down.

With 60% of precincts reporting, Bernie has as about as many first alignment/popular votes as Buttigieg and Joe Biden combined. His final alignment numbers are even better. The CCD measurement (the Nevada version of Iowa’s SDE) is working further in his favor this time. Biden can say Nevada revived his campaign all he wants, but this wasn’t a close second place. He’s not even guaranteed to wind up in second when the tabulating is done. Mayor Pete has closed the gap as the count went on, and only trails him by 77 final alignment votes now. The CCD margin is larger (1496 to 1172) so we’ll see.

As a rule, if the first place finisher does more than twice as well as the second place person, it doesn’t matter who wound up second. Entrance polls indicate Bernie did almost as well with African American voters as Biden. And he wound up with absurd percentages of Latinos under 45. This wasn’t a fluke. The Sanders campaign has focused on this since the 2016 contest ended. A combination of money, planning, and a huge volunteer base produced tangible results yesterday. Continue reading “Nevada Recap: Tio Bernie!”