Even as votes continue to get counted, three clear messages emerged from the Super Tuesday Democratic primaries: Party voters see Joe Biden as their safe harbor, Michael Bloomberg ain’t got game, and Elizabeth Warren has nothing going for her now but inertia.
And add in Bernie Sanders’ failure, again, to mount a revolution.
The big surprise was Biden’s resiliency, with unexpectedly strong showings in Texas (where he had been surging in recent polls) and Massachusetts adding to his Southern sweep. In a dominant win in Virginia, Biden outperformed recent polls at the expense of Bloomberg and Warren, as exit polls showed voters making last-minute decisions to back Biden.
But in a system based on allocating delegates, wins are tempered by how well or poorly rivals did. So even as Biden basks in the glow of more victories than Sanders, each continues to gather delegates even in states they lost. And with just over 60% of total committed delegates still to be awarded in upcoming contests, Biden is just one gaffe away from creating his own headwind.
Bloomberg dropped out Wednesday morning, and if his goal was to offer himself as a moderate alternative, he just wasted half a billion dollars — and that was just on ads (it’s OK, he has plenty of money left).
And while Warren told supporters Tuesday night that she intends to keep fighting, her relevance is quickly sliding away, highlighted by a third-place showing in her home state of Massachusetts — behind Biden and Sanders.
So what does all this mean? The Democratic National Convention will likely be a lot more interesting than usual, as it is more likely than not that neither Biden nor Sanders will collect the 1,991 committed delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first ballot. That will then free some delegates (depending on the state) to change their support and let more than 700 “superdelegates” vote on the second ballot. That could determine the nomination right then.
But in whose favor?
During a recent debate, Sanders said he thought that the candidate who won a plurality of the contested delegates should be the party’s nominee. Of course, at the time Sanders was leading in the delegate count.
Now that Biden has moved past him — and could well not only retain but build on the plurality through the rest of the contests — it will be interesting to see if Sanders has a change of heart heading into the convention. His credibility hangs in the balance.
One other thought. Four years ago, many Sanders supporters believed (with good reason) that the Democratic Party leadership favored Hillary Clinton, and even though she won the nomination cleanly, many Sanders supporters felt they had been cheated as the superdelegates lined up behind Clinton.
That cost Clinton support from some of them (as many as 12% may have ultimately voted for Trump) and became part of the drain of enthusiasm for her candidacy, helping Trump sneak past.
It’s a different environment now, though. In 2016, when there was no incumbent to run against, Democrats viewed Trump as a buffoon who couldn’t possibly win, and many Democratic voters stayed home. But then Trump won.
Now the enthusiasm, at least among Democrats, is to oust Trump, which may be sufficient to overcome any hard feelings over the next three months of Democratic primaries. Or not.