The surprises from the New Hampshire primary were not the top two finishers. Everyone knew Bernie Sanders would take the Granite State. The big news above the fold was how poorly Bernie fared relative to his performance in 2016 when he did not face a bevy of challengers. Likewise, Pete Buttigieg’s strong second-place finish was not unexpected after his win in Iowa.
The big news from New Hampshire came from further down the list with Amy Klobuchar’s surprisingly strong showing in third place. Last week, Klobuchar was polling in single-digits and this week her share of the vote pegged at just below 20 percent. What happened in the meantime?
There were two big reasons for the shift in polling. First, there was Klobuchar’s formidable performance in last week’s New Hampshire debate. Second, there was Joe Biden’s underwhelming finish in Iowa and his subsequent self-immolation moment in which he called a voter at a town hall meeting a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier.”
Aside from the question of what a pony soldier is and how it would apply at a town hall meeting, the lesson here is that candidates should probably refrain from insulting voters if they want to win votes. Even if Biden was joking, he has now built a history of attacking town hall attendees after calling an Iowa man “a damn liar” in December.
If we compare the recent polling trends on Real Clear Politics with the actual results, we see that Sanders, Biden, and Warren all underperformed relative to expectations while Buttigieg and Klobuchar did better than expected. I don’t think it is unreasonable to speculate that part of Klobuchar’s surge (dubbed the “Klobucharge” by the FiveThirtyEight podcast) came at the expense of Biden and Warren who both had lackluster performances in the recent debate. With Biden failing and Sanders’ success alarming the party, it is possible that Klobuchar is emerging as the moderate in the race.
When I discuss moderate Democrats, I always get comments that say that no Democrats are moderate so let me stipulate that the term is relative. A Democratic moderate is not the same as a Republican moderate, but there is a range in the Democratic platforms. Biden and Klobuchar are not identical to Bernie and Buttigieg by any stretch of the imagination.
The big question is what comes next. Well, next after Nevada where no one has any real idea of what is going to happen (but where Sanders is under attack by the Culinary union).
What about South Carolina?
Joe Biden has been betting big on South Carolina with its large black population, which has been the base of his support. But now new polling shows that Biden’s support among black voters is falling as blacks turn to… Mike Bloomberg? [Checks notes.] Yes, Mike Bloomberg has cut sharply into Biden’s minority support in a new Quinnipiac poll that shows the mayor at 22 percent in the demographic versus 27 percent for the vice president. If Biden’s support among blacks is slipping then he’s toast.
But will blacks stick with Mayor Mike? Bloomberg is already in hot water as an embarrassing clip has resurfaced in which he blames “male minorities, 16 to 25” for “95 percent of your murders.” The comments relate to the unpopular stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD in which police were permitted to stop and search minority men.
Black voters represent the kingmaker of the Democratic primary in almost every presidential campaign. The question is who they will coalesce around if they desert Joe Biden. The three remaining likely contenders are all white northerners with little minority support.
Bernie Sanders has not caught the imagination of black voters even in his second campaign. Pete Buttigieg has little traction in states after Iowa and New Hampshire and may be too liberal for black voters. That could conceivably leave Amy Klobuchar as the heir apparent to the moderate lane. Notably, just prior to the New Hampshire primary, Klobuchar became one of the few Democrats to welcome pro-life voters to the party.
However, it is premature to count Joe Biden out. Despite the media narrative that his campaign is freefall, he is still the frontrunner in national polling, if only just so, and still holds a double-digit lead in South Carolina polling. As I pointed out last week, there is a dearth of polling in most Super Tuesday states so no one is really sure what will happen.
The most recent polling average in South Carolina shows Biden with 31 percent, surprisingly followed by Tom Steyer at 19 and Sanders at 17. Warren, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar are all at less than 10 percent. Mike Bloomberg doesn’t even register.
However, South Carolina is still two weeks away and the field is in a state of upheaval. A poor showing in Nevada could deepen Biden’s descent in the polls and impact his performance in the Palmetto State.
With the situation changing rapidly and little hard data to look at, especially relating to the minority vote, all eyes are on South Carolina and Super Tuesday. This year, the race could be described like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates.
“You never know what you’re gonna get.”