Joe Biden’s stunning turnaround and the decision of most of the Democratic candidates to suspend their campaigns have dramatically reshaped the primary campaign. A race that looked likely to be contested up to the convention now looks as though it may be resolved within the next month.
The Biden campaign had been all but written off by many observers when two solid debate performances and blowout victory in South Carolina turned the tide of the campaign. Realizing that the only way to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the nomination was to line up in support of Biden, the other moderate Democrats suspended their campaigns and endorsed the former vice president, paving the way for Joe’s surprisingly extensive victories on Super Tuesday. Since the middle of February, Biden has gained 10 points in the national polling average while Sanders has dropped three points.
Following Super Tuesday, Biden now leads Sanders in the delegate race by 595 to 528. To win the nomination, a candidate needs 1,991 delegates.
The big prize for the March 10 wave of primaries next week is Michigan with 125 delegates. None of the other five primary states that day have more than 100 delegates.
Recent Michigan polling reflects the same shift that has been evident in the rest of the country. A mid-February poll showed Sanders up by nine points while a poll taken between February 28 and March 3 found Biden up by six.
The Sanders campaign has been confident about Michigan, having won there in 2016 and with Biden have very little in the way of organization there. However, Politico reports that Biden led the Vermont senator by 20 points in early absentee voting even before the momentum of Super Tuesday was apparent.
“This thing could be over for all intents and purposes in three weeks,” Paul Maslin, a top Democratic pollster who worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Howard Dean, told Politico. “It’s done unless Joe makes some horrible mistake. He will win blacks 75-25 minimum from here on in. He doesn’t have Hillary’s negatives. And people want to beat Trump big time. This race is over.”
“Everybody wants to get on the bandwagon now,” Barry Goodman, a bundler for Biden in Michigan, said. “I think if Joe wins [Michigan] by 10, Bernie may not leave yet. But the following weeks, when he loses by 10 in Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia, I think it’s done.”
March 17 is a big day for Democrats with primaries in four states, three of which have more than 100 delegates. Florida, Ohio, and Illinois are big primaries on St. Patrick’s Day. Biden leads in Florida, the only state of the three with recent polling.
Georgia, another strong Biden state, follows on March 24 with 105 delegates. The next big primaries after that are not until April 28 when New York and Pennsylvania vote.
If the Biden surge continues, he can be expected to start opening his lead on Sanders over the next few weeks. While Bernie Sanders is not the sort of candidate who can be expected to easily fall in line and join the Biden train, at some point, it will become apparent that he will be mathematically eliminated from winning a plurality of delegates.
As Bernie falls behind Biden in the popular vote, he will also lose his ability to claim a right to the nomination if no one wins the nomination outright. Democrats are speaking and what they are saying is that they want a more moderate candidate than Bernie. Democratic voters are prioritizing the ability to appeal to a large share of the electorate to beat Donald Trump over the radical change preferred by social media progressives.
Perhaps a bigger question for the next few months than who will be the Democratic nominee is how Sanders supporters will react to a loss by their candidate. Will the Bernie Bros rally around Joe Biden or will they repeat their mistake from 2016 and stay home, allowing Donald Trump to repeat his narrow Electoral College victory?