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Can Joe Biden Survive Until South Carolina?

Joe Biden, fresh from a disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa, is about to lose in New Hampshire as well. Although the Biden campaign has downplayed the former vice president’s chances in the two opening contests of the 2020 primary season and focused on South Carolina and Super Tuesday, voters are now asking themselves if the Biden campaign can survive that long.

The Granite State is in the backyard of both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As one might expect, current polling shows Sanders leading but with Pete Buttigieg nipping at his heels. Warren and Biden bring up third and fourth respectively.

The Biden campaign may have recognized that it was weak in both early states, but the worse than expected finishes still land a psychological blow on his supporters. Finishing fourth raises serious questions about the electability of a candidate whose chief argument is that he is electable.

Granted, the electorates of the Democratic primary and the general election are worlds apart, but the Democratic nominee must be competitive in both. Biden’s strengths in the general election are his weaknesses in the Democratic primary. He is a moderate and sometimes sounds like a Republican. He isn’t radical or woke. He isn’t exciting.

It is not surprising that Biden fared poorly in Iowa and will do so in New Hampshire. In the caucus state of Iowa, successful candidates have to generate zealous excitement that spurs supporters to go spend hours at caucus sites. In New Hampshire, Sanders is the favorite son as the well-known senator for a neighboring state. The big question is what comes next and whether the early disappointments will doom the Biden campaign.

Losing both Iowa and New Hampshire does not mean that it is impossible to stage a comeback and win the nomination, but it does make it against the odds. The feat has been accomplished only once before, by Bill Clinton in 1992. Even with a majority of states to go, it is difficult to overcome the initial lack of momentum.

After Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, the next contest is the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, February 22. There has not been any recent polling in Nevada and, as we saw in Iowa with late polling that showed Biden in a near tie with Sanders, caucus polling is not the most reliable. Biden narrowly led in the last polls, which were taken in early January, but was trending downward at the time. At this point, it seems likely that Biden’s showing in Nevada will be disappointing as well.

It is not until Saturday, February 29, three weeks from now, that Joe Biden gets his chance to prove himself in South Carolina. The Biden campaign is betting the farm on his popularity with moderate southern voters, particularly black Democrats.

Most polling seems to support the notion that Biden will win overwhelmingly in South Carolina, but there is doubt even there. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Biden with a double-digit lead, but, as we reported last week, one new poll from the Post and Courier shows a narrowing race with Sanders gaining in the Palmetto State. As we discussed, there are reasons to believe that the Post and Courier poll is an outlier and now another new poll from Eastern Carolina University shows Biden up by 18 points. A wild card is the campaign by South Carolina Republicans to cross party lines and vote for Bernie Sanders, a tactic that they may eventually come to regret.

If Biden finishes strong in South Carolina, it will bode well for Super Tuesday, which follows a few days later on March 3. There are a total of 16 Democratic contests on Super Tuesday and the outcome will make or break several campaigns. If Biden has a bad day in South Carolina, it could sour Super Tuesday voters on his chances and lead to cascading losses. Early voting influenced by losses in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada could chip away at his margins as well.

The problem of Biden’s early losses is compounded by his fundraising problem. The vice president started the year with less cash on hand than his rivals and The Hill reports that the Iowa result is making fundraising even more difficult. Biden almost certainly has enough money and momentum to limp to South Carolina and Super Tuesday, but if those states don’t pay off for him, he could conceivably decide to cut his losses and call it quits.

If Biden does perform well enough to stay in the race, the Democratic primary looks to be a long, hard fight to the finish. While there is a possibility that the bruising primary could leave the eventual Democratic nominee weakened and vulnerable, there is also a possibility that the opposite is true. For evidence, we need only look back to 2016 when Donald Trump won a lower percentage of Republican primary votes than any candidate since 1968 in a nominating contest that was in doubt until late May. Resurgent readers no doubt know the rest of that story.

Here is a rundown on the Super Tuesday races with polling averages from Real Clear Politics when available:

Alabama primary – No polls

American Samoa caucus – No polls

Arkansas primary – No polls

California primary – Sanders is a five-point favorite with Biden in second place, followed closely by Warren.

Colorado primary -No polling since August

Maine primary – No polling since October

Massachusetts primary – No polling since October, but Warren would be favored in her home state

Minnesota primary – No polls

North Carolina primary – Biden is a double-digit favorite followed by Sanders and Warren

Oklahoma primary – No polling since July

Tennessee primary – No polls

Texas primary – Biden held a double-digit lead through December but a recent poll shows him statistically tied with Sanders

Utah primary – Sanders led by 13 points in the sole poll, taken in January. Warren was second with Biden in third place.

Vermont primary – No polls, but this is Sanders’ home state

Virginia primary – No polls since September

Democrats abroad – No polls and voting extends through March 10

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