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The Democratic Presidential Race After Iowa and New Hampshire

After the disaster of Iowa, where the results were late and confusing regarding who was the winner, the New Hampshire primary provided some clarity.

As in the past, the New Hampshire “First in the Nation” presidential primary eliminated several “also rans.”  Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, and Deval Patrick pulled out of the race.

The election also sorely weakened some once formidable candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Biden’s results were so bad that he left New Hampshire even before the voting ended.  Warren, who comes from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, finished in fourth place and below the 15% necessary to garner delegates.

In terms of exceeding expectations, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota came in a surprising third place, some attributed that to a good showing in the latest debate.

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg came in a very close second place and may end up gaining more delegates than Sanders, who came in first.

However, before anyone claims that these two states have decided the winner of the Democratic nomination, it’s important to remember that the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination needs 1,991 delegates in order to win on the first round.  Currently Buttigieg has 23, Sanders has 21, Warren 8, Klobuchar has 7 and Biden has 6.  Interestingly, Buttigieg has more delegates, but Sanders has won more votes.

Obviously, there is a long way to go and some of the leaders in the delegate count may have problems in some of the upcoming primaries due to the differing demographics.

Sanders may have the slightest bit of momentum over his opponents, although the results don’t seem to show it.

Senator Klobuchar has gained some momentum, but her third place showing in New Hampshire has usually gone to candidates who pull out of the race.  For instance, in the 2012 race, Jon Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire and ended up pulling out of the race a few days later.

The Klobuchar campaign may eventually help Sanders defeat Buttigieg.  Klobuchar targeted Buttigieg in the last debate and she did very well.  Her New Hampshire showing may keep some Democrats from backing Buttigieg now in order to stop Sanders.

Although Buttigieg has attracted some attention as the “anybody but Sanders” candidate, he has some weaknesses going into the rest of the primaries.  He is openly gay and has a male partner – something that will turn off many Democratic voters in the South and Midwest.  He also appeals to white voters who have degrees – a demographic found on the coasts, but not in heartland America.

This is where the next two upcoming presidential nomination contests will hurt Buttigieg – South Carolina and Nevada.  Neither state has a preponderance of educated whites and the Hispanics of Nevada aren’t likely to favor a gay candidate.  Nevada, which holds its caucus on February 22, is also a strong union state thanks to the SEIU union that represents much of the casino industry.  They are more progressive and likely to side with Sanders or Warren.

Nevada is a caucus state, which means organization is important.  And, it has been over a month since a poll was taken.  In those polls, Biden was ahead, with Sanders in a close second place Warren was in third place.  Depending on Biden and Warren voters, this seems to give Sanders an edge, however slight.

South Carolina’s primary is on February 25th.  This is Biden’s last hope for a clear road to the nomination.  The hope is that more conservative Democrats will prefer the former Vice President to the more progressive candidates.  The last poll was taken two weeks ago, and it shows Biden leads Sanders with a comfortable 18 point lead.  However, much of Biden’s loss in support came after this poll was taken.

However, remember that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are a small percentage of the votes needed for the nomination.  It will be “Super Tuesday” on March 3rd that will have a major impact on the Democratic nomination, especially since two major states, California and Texas, hold their primary elections that day.  On that day, 1,344 delegates, about one third of the delegate total. will be awarded.  If one candidate wins an overwhelming number of the states that day, the presidential nomination race may be over.

That will be difficult to do, however.

Super Tuesday was originally a primary day for southern states in order to have a bigger say in the nomination of the Democratic candidate.  That has changed as states outside of the Old South have moved their elections to that day too.

The varying demographics of the Super Tuesday states make it harder to sweep.  Three states, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have their native presidential candidates, Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar, who have the edge in winning those states.  And, while Sanders is doing well in liberal California with 29%, his chances of winning conservative states like Alabama and Texas are nearly impossible.

However, California has 416 delegates, which is over one fifth of the number needed to win the nomination.

Assuming no Democratic candidate gains the momentum necessary to sweep Super Tuesday in the next two and a half weeks; the situation may be very complicated and may lead to a brokered convention in July.

While Sanders can be expected to do well in California, Colorado, Vermont, and Maine, Biden (if he survives) can take states like Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Buttigieg may have few outright wins but can be expected to pick up delegates in California, Virginia, Maine, and Colorado.  If the Klobuchar surge continues, she may do well in the southern states, where Sanders and Buttigieg are weak.

The candidate who comes out of Super Tuesday with the most delegates should have the momentum for the rest of the month of March.  And, by the end of March, over 50% of the Democratic delegates will have been picked.

However, the March primary states have different demographics.  Rust Belt Ohio and Sunshine state Florida have different demographics, but both have their primaries on March 17th.  These states are both swing states in the general election in November and how they vote may indicate who has the best chance of taking these states (who both voted for Trump in 2016) from Trump.  If Klobuchar survives, several Midwest states like Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota, and Michigan may give her several delegates.

If there is no clear winner by the end of March, the chance of a brokered convention is much greater.  However, there is another factor to consider – the late entry of billionaire Michael Bloomberg. He is self-funding his campaign and has reportedly spent $100 million to$ 200 million in advertising.  Polls show him in third place in national polls, behind Sanders (1st place) and the rapidly plummeting Biden (2nd place).

Depending on the poll, either Buttigieg or Warren is in 4th place.

Given the number of candidates still in the race and the very good chance that they will split the delegates still to be awarded, there is a chance that the candidates will go into the Democratic National convention without a clear winner – what is called a “brokered convention.”  The last brokered convention was in 1952.

If the Democratic convention is brokered, the two most important factors will be the super delegates, who are uncommitted by the primary and the candidates, who don’t have any chance of winning the nomination, but have a significant number of votes.

The super delegates are usually politicians who are considered Democratic Party leaders and elected Democrats.  Unless there is a clear majority for a candidate, they can’t vote until the second ballot.

Most of the super delegates oppose Sanders, so unless Sanders comes into the convention with most delegates, he will have a hard time winning the nomination.  If Biden has survived the primary season and has enough delegates, the super delegates are likely to vote for him in the second ballot to give him the nomination.

If Sanders has the plurality of the delegates from the primaries, he may work a deal with some of the other candidates like naming one of them as vice presidential nominee in return for their delegates.

If no one has enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot and Biden has faded as a potential candidate, the super delegates may decide to pick someone who has a better chance to beat Trump in November and even from outside the names of the candidates.
Here is where Bloomberg comes in.  Although he is missing from many primary ballots, which means he has less chance of acquiring delegates, he is hoping for a brokered convention.  As someone more mainstream than Sanders, can put a lot of money into his presidential campaign, and who can donate lots of money to other Democrats, he is an attractive second ballot choice for establishment Democrats.  In fact, there are news reports that Bloomberg is preparing for a brokered convention by meeting regularly with Democratic congressmen, who are usually super delegates.

Of course, if Bloomberg takes the nomination from Sanders after Sanders has campaigned nationally, he will face considerable backlash.  Undoubtedly, there will be accusations that Bloomberg “bought” the nomination and some Democratic voters will sit out the election.

However, it’s important to remember that while the super delegates can vote in the second ballot, the regular delegates are also released from supporting the candidate who won their vote in the primaries.  In fact, some delegates may be committed to voting for one candidate on the first ballot but may really favor one of the other candidates.

As exciting as a brokered convention is, the leaders of the Democratic Party don’t want one.  Conventions are geared to be a week-long advertisement of the presidential nominee.  Speakers and votes are scheduled for prime time, so they get the largest number of TV viewers.  Controversy is the last thing they want because too many remember the 1968 Democratic Convention that spiraled out of control and let Republican nominee Richard Nixon win the election.

Consequently, if it looks like a brokered convention, expect the Democratic leadership to meet ahead of the convention and try to negotiate a solution.  However, will the candidates be willing to negotiate?

Although he did well in the primaries in 2016, Sanders lost the nomination to Clinton.  Consequently, he is unlikely to negotiate his delegates away if he has the plurality of the delegates.  But, if the party takes the nomination away from him again, his supporters may sit out the election, which will guarantee a Trump win.

The next 20 days will be critical for the Democratic Party.  They want a candidate that will unify the party and win the White House in November.  Whether they get that will be seen by midnight on Super Tuesday.

However, remember that old political adage – two weeks is an eternity in politics.  And, there are a lot of eternities between now and the general election in November.

Source: Center for American and Arab Studies

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