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Bernie Is Now The Sole Frontrunner

Bloomberg and Biden are splitting the moderate vote, allowing Bernie to take the top spot.

New national polling shows that Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is now the undisputed frontrunner in the Democratic national primary. A spate of new polls shows that Sanders now has approximately 30 percent of support from national Democrats with Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and Elizabeth Warren vying for second place.

Three polls released over the past two days confirm that Sanders now enjoys a double-digit lead over his nearest rivals. Here are the results of those polls:

ABC News/Washington Post conducted Feb. 14-17 with 408 registered voters:
Sanders – 32
Biden – 16
Bloomberg – 14
Warren – 12
All others are under 10 percent.

Emerson College conducted Feb. 16-18 with 573 likely voters:
Sanders – 29
Biden – 22
Bloomberg – 14
Warren – 12
All others are under 10 percent.

NBC News/Wall St. Journal conducted Feb. 14-17 with 426 likely voters:
Sanders – 27     
Biden – 15
Bloomberg – 14
Warren – 14
Buttigieg -13
All others are under 10 percent.

The polling undisputedly shows that Bernie Sanders is moving away from Joe Biden. Sanders has not only climbed in the polls after his strong showing in Iowa and his victory in New Hampshire, but Biden has also dropped off sharply.

But it isn’t only Sanders – and perhaps it isn’t even predominantly Sanders – who has benefitted from Biden’s misfortune. A look at the Real Clear Politics polling average graph shows that Biden’s decline mirrors Bloomberg’s rise almost perfectly. It appears that Bloomberg is drawing many of the moderate Democrats who were once Biden supporters.

However, as with the Electoral College, the nuts and bolts of the delegate race are at the state level. As I pointed out last week, there is a dearth of polling in Nevada, South Carolina, and the Super Tuesday states so there is room for surprises. What polling there is shows a muddled race. Some various recent state polls show Sanders up by 19 points in Nevada and somewhere between four and 18 points in California. Meanwhile, the most recent South Carolina polling shows Joe Biden with a narrowing lead, last reported at eight points. In most cases, Bloomberg and Biden are competing for second place.

Biden’s concern for his South Carolina firewall is evident in the fact that his campaign is deploying John Kerry, famously described by Wall St. Journal columnist James Taranto as “the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat, who by the way served in Vietnam,” to rally his forces in the Palmetto State. The State reports that the 2004 presidential nominee will join a bus tour with Biden’s surrogates as it swings through the state.

I wrote several times earlier this year that the Democratic primary might follow the model of the 2016 Republican race in which the moderate candidates split the vote, allowing the radical outsider to win with a plurality. Only this year, I surmised, the effect might be the reverse with progressive radicals splitting the vote and allowing the moderate Biden to cruise to victory. Michael Bloomberg’s late entry into the race changed all that.

Bloomberg’s ad blitz paired with Biden’s underwhelming performance seems to have established the New Yorker as a spoiler. With Bloomberg drawing from Biden’s support, both of the moderates are weaker than Bernie Sanders, but their combined shares of support are larger than Sanders’ share in most cases. If both candidates stay in the race, Bernie seems likely to come out on top.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Bernie will win, however. There seems to be a growing chance that none of the candidates will be able to claim the nomination outright, leading to a brokered convention in which a deal has to be struck to determine a nominee. The FiveThirtyEight model recently put the chances of a brokered convention at about 25 percent.

Even if Bernie emerges with a plurality of delegates, he may be denied the nomination in a brokered convention. The fail-safe scenario in which moderate Democrats unite to prevent a Bernie nomination could give the Democrats a more electable candidate, but it could also split the party. Either scenario could make it difficult for Democrats to beat Donald Trump.

The next big tells will be South Carolina and Super Tuesday. If Bernie strongly outperforms Biden and Bloomberg, he could be unstoppable on the way to the nomination. If Biden’s Southern firewall holds, it may be a close three-way race to the convention.

Tune in next week to see what other changes happen in this topsy-turvy race.

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